There seems to be quite a divide in the general opinion of Rome II. There are those who adorn their shrines with copies of the game. They sacrifice their first born to it, and, swearing by its glorious name, spring forth in a frenzied charge. Others wail and gnash their teeth and lament it like the coming of a prodigal son to a grand and honored father. O great tragedy, they cry, that such greatness is to be followed by such wastefulness. Both sides meet on the field of battle, and, each imagining the other as a great villain, lifts its banner in defense of what is true and right.
Let’s just all calm down.
Rome II is not a monumental catastrophe, nor is it the tour de force many imagined it would be. It is a good, solid core game with many flawed mechanics, and its important to acknowledge both to properly understand the game.
The Good Part 1: Great New Features
Amazingly enough, much of what excited us about Rome II has delivered exactly as it was advertised. The tactical map is an absolute triumph, and the many campaign changes make the game deeper, more strategic and tactically challenging, and more intellectually rewarding. The game has continued its evolution towards a truly cerebral experience akin to that of Civilization and its 4X bretheren. At its inception, TW’s campaign was not more than an excuse to engage in giant battles. Over the passed few iterations of the series, particularly Shogun II and now Rome II, the campaign has truly evolved into an enjoyment in and of itself.
The Bad Part 1: The Game Needs Polish
If we are all honest with ourselves for a moment, we can agree that the game needs polish. There are many, many examples of the game requiring greater smoothing out. Numerous graphical problems have been reported. The game doesn’t even start for many who waited till midnight (or later!) to start playing it. The diplomatic AI, especially at harder levels, needs significant tweaking as it still gives nothing to, and expects everything from, the player. Unit types are bugged or broken (such as shock cavalry), while other mechanics like missile damage and fire are heavily hampered. The game needed weeks more for the team to fully polish it into a true gem, but it was rushed out to meet expectations from both the greater community and the publishers. It is unfortunate, but it is also quite fixable.
The Good Part 2: The Grand Scale
The maps are the biggest we’ve ever had. We can field forty units at a time. I’ve played games with friends where there is no clearly defined center player, right player, left player. Everyone’s units were everywhere. The armies were truly synergized, not simply three one vs ones taking place at one time. This might seem small to some people, but the result in momentous. It truly is something CA should be congratulated on: Rome II is the most epic game Total War has ever had, and that is truly saying something.
The Bad Part 2: Balancing
There is a seven hundred or so bucks unit that has a hundred armor and a phalanx mode. I’ve fought armies of Spartans with eight or nine spartans, six to seven cav, and still able to field a decent missile core. Legions are un-Godly powerful and amazingly cheap. Super heavy infantry can stand through a shower of missiles and blast through a line of infantry — all the while costing relatively cheap. At the same time, Royal Cataphracts, who simply dissolve when charging into legions, cost 1020. Archers are almost without use, while slingers are very versitile (who knew? The ancient world was sorely mistaken). We still can’t figure out what the hell is wrong with the cavalry. What irks me more than all these individual things, however, is that CA has a dynamic, vibrant multiplayer community it could have easily used to beta test. Instead, it chose to release without it, and the amount of imbalance is amazing.
The Good Part 3: Still a Great Core Game
Rome II has plenty of small polishing issues, but that’s also the good news. It is still a majestic core game, a riveting simulation based on an imagination of history that is both compelling, cinematic, and engaging. These issues, if acknowledged by the developing team, can easily be ironed out. Rome II is a diamond that has not yet reached its true shine. How horrible would it be if the polish was great on a giant turd, instead!
The Bad Part 3: Too Familiar
In the end, much of the problem we have with Rome II is that it’s too familiar. I remember Shogun II. I remember opening it up and finding something completely different from what we’d seen before: a dynamic, almost cell shaded, artistic game; beautiful oriental music; and an utterly unfamiliar and exciting multiplayer experience. Rome II, though completely different from Shogun II, is a return to the familiar for the series. It is a move away from the exoticized and unfamiliar far East to the all too familiar setting of Europe, North Africa, and the Middle East. Perhaps we thought the return would feel a breath of fresh air. Instead, it was something familiar, and maybe we just weren’t ready for that.