Rome: Total War is brilliant at recreating some epic, full-scale realtime conflicts. If you loved the heroic battle scenes from Lord of the Rings, where the invigorating music plays and a sea of men rush forth into the skirmish, you will absolutely treasure Total War. You’ll be fighting daunting foes (such as elephants and chariots) as well as besieging huge towns with fortified stone walls. What’s different this time is that you have control over the outcome. This, coupled with the great turn-based management system to string it all together, makes for an epic strategy game sure to please just about anyone.
Rome: Total War Gameplay
You start off Rome: Total War on a huge map dominated by many different colonies (some enemies, some allies) and it’s up to you to battle it out until a victor is found. This portion of the game is turn-based, where armies are represented as towering statues that you move around the board. It also enables you to manage your towns and villages, recruit new units and construct buildings. You can only move an army so far in each turn (each lasting 6 game months), and it can take up to 5 turns to fully create a new structure in a town.
After each turn you are given an update on your earnings during that time period, letting you know if you are working at a loss or a gain in denarii (the game’s currency). Armies cost money to maintain and feed and so do hosting arena fights, but towns provide tax through trade and mining. It’s really a balance between villager happiness and income. Do you lower tax and host arena fights daily to settle public unrest, only to work at a great loss for that settlement, or invest in a sewer to decrease squalor? Or just do nothing at anything. Squalor is annoying in that it’s mostly unpreventable (sewers have limited effect) and it ruins public order. If public order gets too low, the populace can revolt and kick you and your army out of the city.
When you have your units lined up for battle, either against another army or enemy city, this is where the real fun begins. Unlike other realtime strategy games like Age of Empires where creating a unit just creates just one singular person, in Rome: Total War recruiting a ‘Roman Cavalry’ will result in about 30 units. This creates battles on an epic scale.
When attacking a city, you can choose to maintain siege, to create specific siege attack equipment like battering rams, siege towers, ladders and sap points if needed. Once you decide to fight, you’ll be placed on the battlefield in a realtime environment. This means units move when you tell them to, not periodically. You can pause the action to reformulate strategies, asses the battlefield and order units to new positions.
Fighting a village requires strategy from your part. If the odds are totally in your favour then going gung-ho on the enemy advance won’t put you in muddy water, but when it’s more evenly split, or against you then that’s where strategy comes in. Using you men effectively, horses to charge flanks, archers to ward off enemies from afar and general militia men to use their human-sized shield to provide a defensive line, can win a losing battle. Hiding half of your men in a small forest and luring the unsuspecting enemy into an ambush is the ultimate satisfaction.
Rome tries its best to be as realistic as possible on the battleground. From the moral gauge to the fact that sprinting up a hill tires out your troops more than going down it, it does such a good job at creating a very real conflict. Frightening an elephant with a war dog or flaming arrows may cause it to trample over its own men, whereas mounting an attack from behind enemy lines with some charging horses greatly decreases moral, you really get the sense that your men are people with fears and thoughts, and react just like any normal soldier would. If things are going horribly, your men may just flee from the battlefield. You can start off a whole wave of panic amongst the enemy which may win a battle, even if the numbers are not on your side. This attention to detail is greatly appreciated and allows heavy strategists to delve deep into the experience, looking for even the slightest advantage in an assault.
On the flip side, Rome includes sea conflicts, but doesn’t allow you to take part in them on the battle map. Instead they are just automatically resolved, which feels like a real letdown compared to the other great sections of the game.
Rome certainly isn’t the prettiest game out there. Zooming too close on the environments and armed soldiers reveals lack of detail, but when looking over a huge army, the game does well to communicate the scale of the war. On the world map though, environments look great as you are forced to look at things from a high perspective. It doesn’t stack up graphically to other games on the market, but it’s the best on the Mac App Store by far.
There are 21 different factions, all with their individual special units and abilities, and this allows for a very long shelf life for Rome: Total War. Other than the main campaign (which will last you a long, long time) the game includes the expansion Barbarian Invasion, as well as the ability to create your own custom battles.
Multiplayer has a lot of potential, but unfortunately is only compatible with other Mac App owners of the game. You can’t play with the huge PC online community meaning finding a game to play with someone else is a tall order.
Rome: Total War is a game that you will go to your friends and share how you won your epic battles. How your fire pigs sent your enemies into a panic, or how your millions of flaming arrows flew over the hill to take on an army of militia, how you destroyed a siege tower with an armoured onager. It’s stories like these that make Rome: Total War a blast to play. Where its turn-based components provide variety and make each battle count to something on the world map, the realtime battles are absolutely fantastic with huge depth and realism. Strategy game of the year anyone?
Publisher: Feral Interactive
Price: $19.99 (£19.99)
Description: Real-time Meets Turn-Based in this Strategic Battlefield and Resource Management Title
Pros: Great scale, realistic yet immensely fun battleground, depth of strategy, good turn-based elements to mix things up, great sound.
Cons: Some AI knocks, no sea battles.