I’ve been trying to sort out my puzzled feelings about Total War: Rome 2. I had waited for it for so long, like many others, and bid my time as best I could playing previous installments of Creative Assembly games, games like Medieval 2: Total War and Rome: Total War. It’s easy to get hopeful when playing an older game, imagining optimistically what that experience will be like with newer and better things.
Even when Rome 2 was finally (and some say prematurely) released, I didn’t get to play it. At least not fully. It was poorly optimized and had several critical bugs that made it literally unplayable. I hadn’t had so much trouble with a game crashing to desktop or freezing since the days of Windows 95.
After the first hurdle was successfully jumped after a few patches (and more than a few weeks) I finally got to play the game without worrying that it would crash any time a screen loaded (it took me quite some time to not feel on edge about that). I was finally free to dig into the game, take my time to explore my options, peel back the layers of depth, and get into the nitty gritty of the gameplay that had taken me months or years to discover in previous Total War games.
What I found is that this game went about as deep as a puddle on the street, at least compared to its predecessors. Despite the improved graphics and a handful of new features like province management, naval battles, and a host of new factions that really make the world feel alive, all the immersive qualities I came to expect from a game in this franchise were gone.
Most bothersome, the political system changed greatly:
No more family trees. No more intra-faction politics among competing generals (at least as you are used to it). No more princesses to marry unrelated generals or princes of other factions. No more brothers vying for leadership, and no more watching your generals descend into madness or alcoholism or even experimenting with other men or women.
Instead you get randomized generals that belong, arbitrarily, to your faction. Said faction is one of at least two that compete within your kingdom for percentage points of favor, and eventually for obvious reasons and yet mysteriously random circumstances you engage in a civil war against those other factions.
Why does this matter?
If you are looking for ancient world combat and strategy, then you won’t care. If you are looking for the same immersive experience provided in all the previous titles, then it does matter. Sure there are other games you can play if you want to simulate dynasties and things like that, but I guess I’m used to not settling for less with a Total War game. I enjoy strategy games, the conquests against odds, the cooperation with allies, the lucky chances that provide narrow escape from disaster.
But the randomly named and irrelevant generals provide no sense of progression. A son will never take up arms against the Gauls that slew his father, for instance. Instead Quintus Maximus is replaced by Marcus Brutius unceremoniously and all of the previous general’s accolades are swiftly erased by his likely early death (which comes sooner since now all turns are 1 year instead of 6 months, a minor quibble, but still…)
So what does this mean for me?
It means I am caught in a holding pattern. A game for which I paid lies before me, tempting me with adventures that I can’t have because it isn’t as well equipped as older games. At the same time, playing older games is a sure bet to provide me with the things that are familiar even if they aren’t new, but those older games are a bitter reminder that a newer incarnation exists, and so the cycle repeats.
Creative Assembly developers have promised many things and delivered a few, including many patches to improve technical gameplay as well as operation of some of the features, and a mini-expansion of sorts that centers around the campaigns of Julius Caesar in ancient Gaul. However, they have been silent on matters pertaining to complaints that many of their customers have, and we are left hanging without any hope.
At least modding tools are being released soon, and we can make for ourselves what we deserved to get in the first place.