Exitus acta probat - the outcome justifies the deed. Remember that rule; it will serve you well in the Roman world. Thanks to the talented folks at Creative Assembly, we have a new Total War game right around the corner, and it promises to be the mother of all tactical strategy games. Bigger, better, and more streamlined than the excellent Medieval: Total War, Rome: Total War has been causing quite a buzz since the very first screenshots were released. Read on and see what all the hubbub is about. Or, skip to the bottom line.
Believe it or not, RTW has in fact been in development for over four years. The team started work on the game immediately after the release of Shogun: Total War. Yes, that means Medieval: Total War was created and published during the development cycle of RTW, not prior to it as you would think. Toms Hardware make the point that having had four years of time devoted to it, as Doom 3 and Half Life 2 did, one would expect an exceptional amount of polish on the game. I'm happy to say that certainly is the case. Let's take a look a some of the ways the Total War franchise has evolved.
The most obvious change is the fantastic graphic improvements. It is beyond impressive. The days of blocky, "Please don't zoom in on me" models is gone. All models are now incredibly detailed, down to the intricate designs of the armor they wear. Even on low detail the game looks great. You can zoom in and watch the action at a level that puts you there in the battle and might make you a little nervous about various pointy items stabbing you in the back if you really got into it. Interesting enough, with my 5700 Ultra, the game defaulted to low detail units and "low anti-aliasing".
Animations are also vastly improved. You can feel the impact of cavalry smashing into lines of troops, sending some soaring and trampling others. Even the melee units fighting looks remarkably real, with combatants attacking and death animations smooth and in the correct places. Elephants crashing through your lines will scare not only your soldiers, but you. It really looks like the real thing, and conveys a sense of power that was previously missing from games of the series.
In the campaign game, you start as one of three Roman families: the Julii, the Brutii, or the Scipii. No faction has a real advantage over the other. All view the others with a heaping spoonful of disdain, and all have dreams of power. They all know that they will have to fight to put down the other families, as well as the Senate, to meet their ultimate goal of being Emperor of Rome. Starting out, however, you can expect a firm alliance between the families and the Senate, and help when you need it. Don’t be fooled though; the goal of all of these factions is the conquering of all 50 provinces (unless you’re playing the small version of the campaign which I believe only requires the conquering of 15 provinces and your main rival).
The Senate will assign you missions for the glory of Rome, and these often serve their own will. Thankfully these goals will often benefit you also and a high standing with the Senate will be very valuable to you. Success within the given time will reap rewards such as denarii and offices for your family members. These offices provide bonuses to attributes after they have served in that position. Failing the Senate means lower standing and less likelihood of promotion (or perhaps worse). In addition, these missions give the player something much easier and shorter term to achieve than the truly monolithic goal of conquering the world. Eventually you will become so powerful that the Senate will order you to kill yourself. It is at this point that you must turn your attention toward the Senate and the other families as the power struggle begins.
The new campaign map is a fully 3D version of Medieval’s map of Europe, North Africa, the Middle East, and the Mediterranean. This is more than mere eye-candy however, as the landforms on the campaign map match what the real terrain is. If your army is on top of a big hill on this map and are attacked, you will start on top of that hill in the real time battle. The same goes for rivers and other land forms. This is one example of the many ways Creative Assembly has made the game more accessible to the masses; in Medieval you had to right click on a province and then mouse over adjacent provinces to see what the LIKELY terrain for a battle from there would be. The terrain for an area would change however, making planning the strategic use of terrain hit or miss. Now gamers can simply look at the map and choose where to do battle.
Movement and positioning have been changed a good bit. While previously each province counted as one “space” for the units, now each province has many different “spaces”. In this way units can be within the same province but not within a battle in that province. This adds even more strategic depth to the game. Movement of troops by ship has also been streamlined; you no longer have to have a ship in each sea space to your target. This has been abandoned for the more realistic and intuitive “take an army to the docks, load them on a ship, and sail to your destination” method. It makes a lot more sense.
If you're intimidated by all the aspects and features of RTW, keep in mind that from the get-go, Creative has said its goal was to create an experience with Rome where gamers who had never played a game of the series could pick it pick and never have to look at the manual. Indeed there are many features besides the short campaign to make the game more attractive to mainstream gamers. Battles can still be simulated, but now not only the tax rate within cities can be auto-managed but also unit and building creation with a broad set of goals to choose from. Should you wish to see battles in real time but not feel comfortable commanding, you can put AI captains in charge of the whole or groups of your army. There is always advice from advisors on what to build in a city, what units to train, etc. When battle time does come around, your general makes a rousing speech to his army that is worth listening to, as he will sometimes give insight on the battle ahead. You also have a battle advisor who will help you to make good decisions and fix bad ones.