We're big fans of Creative Assembly's Total War series. Like the original games, you have the option of playing through various campaigns, or jumping straight into the tactical game with historical scenarios or custom battles.
We're big fans of Creative Assembly's Total War series. The original Shogun: Total War achieved what no other game could: the perfect blend of top level world domination, mixed with one of the deepest and innovative tactical battle simulators available. The strategic component played like a board game, where armies, diplomats, spies and assassins were moved between territories. When armies invaded enemy territories, the tactical engine kicked in giving you command of thousands of troops as you lead them on the 3D battlefield. The two modes of gameplay were executed so well that they could have shipped as separate games.
Moving from medieval Japanese warfare to the European continent, the second game in the series, Medieval: Total War, was bigger and better. It contained more factions and more units than its predecessor, and brought some fantastic battlefield weaponry with devastating siege and artillery weapons. The strategic campaign was also given a revamp and injected a distinctly European flavour where religious campaigning and marrying into powerful alliances would win the day. Finally, Creative Assembly has finally delivered the first classical warfare period with Rome: Total War.
Like the original games, you have the option of playing through various campaigns, or jumping straight into the tactical game with historical scenarios or custom battles. R:TW's campaign puts you in command of one of three Roman factions with the goal of taking over the Roman senate, and the rest of the known world. The campaign map now looks great in full 3D, and your territories are now livelier as ships leisurely dock into your ports and traders move along highways between major cities.
The new 3D strategic map isn't the only place that Creative Assembly added an extra dimension. The original games featured a 2D/3D hybrid on the tactical interface, where battles were carried out on vast 3D landscapes, but the armies were represented by rudimentary 2D sprites, often resembling cardboard cutouts gliding into battle. This was something of a compromise by the developers to get as many units as possible on the screen as possible without taxing our graphics cards at the time, but with today's graphics capability, we can now experience these massive battles as they were meant to be.
And it's not just eye candy. Unit types are meticulously detailed and come with an appropriate set of animations to give each army and nation a distinct flavour -- Roman Legionaries can move into the defensive testudo formation, while the Gauls wildly scream and sprint into battle. Given the amazing amount of units types -- over 100 -- this is testament to Creative Assembly's unsurpassed attention to detail and dedication to providing the most comprehensive Roman era strategy game out there.
The tactical interface has been given a slight overhaul, and is more streamlined and accessible for new players. That's not to say that the tactics have been dumbed down -- angle of attack and terrain still play a massive part in winning a battle, where a smaller, weaker army can still win the day with superior tactics. Additionally, morale still plays its vital role -- charging war elephants are sure to make even the staunchest legionary turn and run. But the tables can be turned on the seemingly unstoppable armoured elephants with a strategic use of incendiary pigs. That's right, flaming pigs will send an elephant bolting in the other direction.
A special mention should also be given to the excellent tutorials and advice provided at key points throughout the game. While the advisors appear throughout the campaign map and tactical screen, it's the historical scenarios where it really shines. Before each scenario, the advisor sets the tone and provides the historical context before the fighting starts, complete with camera fly overs. This documentary-like feature is a great addition for those players that want to know more, and if you find that you want to just jump straight in, you can skip it accordingly.
Overall, the screenshots and words don't do it justice. You need to see the camera sweeping over your massive armies as they roll massive siege towers up to a heavily fortified city before you really appreciate it. We don't give six stars for games too often, but Rome: Total War really is the quintessential strategy game of the last five years. It's the pinnacle of Creative Assembly's dedication in delivering the finest balance between historical accuracy, and fun gameplay and we can't recommend it enough.
This Review appeared in the March, 2005 issue of PC & Tech Authority Magazine