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Game Over Online ~ Rome: Total War (c) Activision

Rome: Total War (c) Activision

Published: Wednesday, September 1st, 2004 at 05:51 PM
Written By: Lawrence Wong

Instead of going forward in time with the Total War franchise, the developers behind the successful Shogun and Medieval series are now taking their winning formula to ancient Rome. Perhaps the most enduring force in western history, the little city with its seven hills grew to envelop the entire Mediterranean, building infrastructure and services equivalent to a modern third world nation and governing a diverse population that at its height numbered fifty million. With those achievements, it's no wonder all roads lead to Rome.

Creative Assembly has largely kept Rome: Total War similar to its spiritual predecessors. The title is part turn-based and part real time strategy. The management of your faction is done in turns. This includes raising resources, building fortifications and hiring troops. The other part of the game involves battle. This is real-time but shouldn't be mixed up with traditional real time strategy titles like Command and Conquer or Warcraft. It has more of an emphasis on tactics and timing than excessive clicking and arcade reflexes.

The scope of Rome: Total War has been capped between the Middle Republic period at mid third century BC to the beginnings of Early Empire in first century AD. This is far from the height of Roman achievement but it covers a colorful period when Rome emerges to become a force in the Mediterranean world. Although it may not feature the usual "empire" that people are accustomed with (through popular films like Gladiator), it is a smart choice. Many forces, including the remnants of the Greek empire, Greece itself, Carthage, Parthia and the barbarians of Europe can be formidable foes to a Rome that may not have seen and done it all yet.

Of course, it also covers a tumultuous political period that Creative Assembly is trying to capture. The Roman faction is subdivided into three families: Brutii, Julii (yes that Julius) and Scipii families who with their military and patronage could actually influence the direction of the nation. Think Rockefeller, Du Ponts or any other influential family. Heirs were part of the diplomatic game in Medieval: Total War. Now instead of monarchies, as a Roman, you'll be managing the faction's family, which lets you designate heirs and marry off daughters to create heirs with preferred traits. This enables you staff provinces with trusted and enhanced lieutenants and put your own people in the Senate.

As part of the Roman faction, you'll also deal with the demands of the Senate. They act as a non-playable faction that gives orders to the families to carry out - pacifying provinces or fending barbarians off the borders. But at the same time, other families are operating their own agendas and the Senate's wishes could go against your own wishes or even Rome's wishes. Costly civil wars between families or between the Senate and some upstart could leave the doors open to a foreign power.

The strategy is really all about maneuvering military units in and around the map. There isn't a lot of micromanaging over the economic parts of the game (for example, getting supplies from point A to point B) as it is in a game like Civilization. Now you get absolute positioning for units within a province so this means the terrain generated for battle can be different at any time. Rome: Total War still allows for very complex battles. Fortifications can be thrown into the mix. Siege weaponry can be built and brought to the battlefield by the attackers. Computer-controlled allies can appear and join the fray. Or all three of these could be mixed together in varying degrees.

The actual battles are carried out in 3D and in real-time. If you've ever played any Total War game you'll most likely get most of the controls. There is, however, a pretty comprehensive tutorial that teaches you the use of the basic units (infantry, archers cavalry) as well as the rudimentary fundamentals like how to use the camera. The game is a tad more mouse driven now than before, although you'll still find yourself using the arrow keys to move around the battlefield.

Unit selection and behavior is similar except the units now reply with their unit type (i.e. cavalry) and then speak their commands in English. Previously, you got shouts in Arabic or Latin - which I thought was more authentic but obviously this feature is more useful. Formations are now more limited but that's because the soldiers are more autonomous. For example, troops that are built to harass others will automatically retreat. Horse archers will even ring around immobile enemies and fire down a constant barrage. And of course, the classic turtle formation for Roman legions is included.

The sheer options and number of troops on field will likely scare a novice to the game. That's why Creative Assembly included an advisor to the family. He can offer tips from time to time that will help you with the mechanics of the game or even suggest some tactics that will help you reverse or increase your fortunes on the battlefield. This was a very smart addition and will go a long way to making the huge gigantic battles less intimidating to newcomers.

Previously, the battles were depicted in 3D with 2D sprites as the units. Creative Assembly has since revamped the entire battle engine to support 3D units as well (part of the reason why the game has been in development for so long). This gives the game a more fluid look especially when you swing the camera around to get a better view in combat. The engine can support thousands of troops on screen at the same time. Throw in siege engines and forts and you can only guess how massive the battles can be. The battle portion is so complex and rich that it will get its own section on the menu of the final game. There will be a number of historical battles included to allow players to re-enact some of the actual situations that happened before.

In campaign play, Rome: Total War will offer much depth. Although it is not as complex on domestic management as Europa Universalis or something like Civilization and its many sequels, it will feature a dynamic campaign with historical events that will occur at specific junctures. Of course, the dynamic part comes if you manage to change history to negate or alter those events. If you manage to vanquish a faction that was supposed to do something, say Rome itself, those events wouldn't happen in your game.

Whether you approach the game militarily or politically, Rome: Total War promises a lot for strategy fans. But a peaceful approach doesn't necessarily mean a boring approach. After all, peace for Romans is: si vis pacem, para bellum - if you want peace, prepare for war. You can start preparing for total war in Rome next month.

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