I’m going to throw a number out at the onset: 212 hours. That’s how long I’ve played Rome: Total War.
Obviously there are only three options. First, I really loved the game and want it buried with me in 300 years when I die. Second, I kept running my characters into walls and didn’t know how to exit so I kept it up because technology frightens me. Third, I was hacked by pineapples who are learning strategies to defeat humans.
After checking with my pineapples, I’m now more confused than ever on which of those three it is….
Rome: Total War was the first full-board war strategy game I ever played. The approach is simple, I love the Roman timeframe, and the battle setups are streamlined wonderfully. Boom. Review over.
Fine, more words. The open field battles are stronger to me than sieges as there just isn’t enough ways to sway the course of a battle inside of a city. If you’re going against a full Macedonian army, for instance, in open field, you have to pray that you brought shield units alongside phalanx horse units alongside light artillery – all in great enough numbers to survive their low-tier soldier ranks. Use the terrain to give you more time, or shield your full numbers in the trees, especially if you have spear-chuckers or bowmen.
Siege battles? Just clog the entries or fall back to your city square if you’re defending. Done and done.
Rome: Total War certainly doesn’t skimp on the artistry of battle, nor does it lack the heavy feel. Siege equipment lumbers forward with both strength and vulnerability depending upon your preparedness and that of the wall you’re crashing. Certain implements become useless as time goes on for anything but distractions, which is the single point of interest in sieges themselves. There is a cat-and-mouse sense to which of their 5 pressure points will finally crash down the walls.
Zooming out to your overall objective shows that it’s not all slaughter and plunder in Rome: Total War. Cities and settlements are their preset selves with historically accurate names and locales, as are the many flags. For the standard campaign, you’ll start as one of three factions of Rome tasked with taking over the world, basically, through any means deemed necessary. You’ll fight Spartans, Egyptians, Germaics, Spaniards, and more with your actual goal being to amass enough wealth and military might to eventually take over Rome yourself. Or at least, that’s how I played, probably thanks to an Oedipal complex. Take that military dad!
Diplomacy isn’t exactly deep but it does feel streamlined to a certain extent. You can offer any faction anything you own, but I lament the missing third option for resolution. You’ll either cave or attack, give a settlement or take back your offer. The ability to bribe, which is way too rarely utilized already, is your only real option to use as far as shifting away from bloodshed. While I wish it were possible to push your way through in a pacifist run, I’m quite sure that’s balanced as a minority decision.
City and general management is also a big part of Rome: Total War. You can choose your marriage partners for family members as they pop up with traits both good and bad, but as you expand, there’s a serious void that takes form. Do I really want to ship my 12 generals to my new colonies in northern Africa and the Middle East, across hostile waters and for little gain? I wish you could birth these generals in cities of your choosing instead of just the capital, giving them a real purpose as you expand your empire.
City management can be a double-edged sword if you leave everything on cruise control. As assassins and rebels roam the maps, full on revolts can leave a skeleton army completely outnumbered at a settlement to where you’ll have to wait for reinforcements before retaking and *ahem* pacifying the locals.
A big fail for me is how the titular Rome behaves. Rome is the center of power with a handful of armies that it’ll take twice as many of your strongest forces to come near to besting. So why are they relegated to weird council missions that make no sense for my army or theirs? There’s no cooperation beyond sharing map information between the three factions, no call to purify Rome during a rebellious era, nothing. I never play Rome: Total War feeling like a part of Rome; I’m a growing army under a green flag that will eventually take over Rome, nothing more.
That’s me and mine after over 200 hours in Rome: Total War, and with another 200 still to come if I were to guess. Despite the failings, I absolutely adore the strategy elements and how I can win with maneuvers just as much as with brute force. I can run a squiggly Hannibal to counter a zig-zag Fabian, and I can do it with a named general that is never defeated in a hundred years. That’s…just badass.
Rome: Total War Score: