Roughly two months ago, Creative Assembly made waves with its announcement of a sequel to the nearly-decade old Total War: Rome. It's hard to imagine where I was in 2004 when it was released, but my God, do I remember that game. I relished in the whole package; from its tactics and formations, to its gameplay and music. At that point I had an MP3 player onto which I played my ripped songs from the game – the original came with the soundtrack (no price gouging here!). Hither and thither I would listen to those pugnacious odes to Mars, the war drums thumping in my ears. It was enough to kindle my inner Napoleon for the next gaming session – these would last well over many hours – and I would mull strategies needed in my current save file.
Eight years later, fresh with mods (I'm looking at you, Roma Surrectum and Europa Barbaborum), Rome: Total War is just as playable as ever. Sure the graphics leave a little to be desired, but back in the day they were revolutionary. To have so many 3D models in an RTS was impressive, so impressive that it was even used in a short-lived BBC show Time Commanders (hosted by Top Gear's notable Richard Hammond). While the original game was great, seminal even, the mods really added the spit polish. Whereas Total War: Rome was a bit lacking in historical realism, the mods fully made up for it. They removed the nonsensical, fake factions and warriors, and added real historical events and characters (Hannibal Barca, Pyrrhus of Epirus!), and even threw in gameplay elements such as seasons. For me, the game was almost like chess or Tetris ; eminently playable no matter the age. And you don't get to say that about too many games these days (see: Goldeneye). Hell, it even aided in my decision to become a Classics Major and learn all that Latin gobbledygook (lingua Latina melius alio).
But enough gushing about the past, let's discuss the future in Total War: Rome 2.
What Is It Good For: Surprisingly very little has been revealed since Creative Assembly's initial announcement. It would behoove them to strike while the iron's hot, but hopefully I can keep the momentum going until Eurogamer Expo, where the first public demonstration of playable code is going to be showed off. Until then, there's been few interviews leading to the following known improvements.
Out With The Old, In With The New…Engine: This kind of goes without saying, as every Total War game since Rome has exhibited an improved engine, capable of great power and ever greater detail. This engine is a unique increment in that it enables the game to be much more cinematic and to have much more verisimilitude. To wit: there are in-engine cutscenes, instead of just a token speech in the beginning; there will be simultaneous naval and land-based battles; the cities are much more intricate involving more than just making a dash for the city square. The scale will also be different in this iteration. The Total War franchise always been about the big and massive, but Total War: Rome 2 has the aim of looking smaller, more focused. The goal is to show individual soldiers fighting as a unit, rather than a mass of robots fighting as a bloc.
The Humanitas Effect: Creative Assembly has stated its desire to capitalize on the human element of war. They want you to see the soldiers jitter and quake, and then be spurred on to victory. They want the player to be vested into the outcomes of their units, leading to greater tangibility and less abstraction. These units are not just bits and bytes on a field, they're Marcus, Gaius, Publius, Titus, and Lucius. Ostensibly, all have families and friends…but I don't think we'll be seeing any wailing women in the game anytime soon.
Macro-management, Bitch: Good on Creative Assembly to try to achieve more than just cruel, efficient action gameplay. Although I have no doubt that the combat will be sublime. A promised upgrade to combat – including the aforementioned naval/land battles – will be better macromanagement of units. You will be able to summon a battle overlay allowing you greater macro control over the battle.
Art Imitating Life, Imitating Awesome: Impressively, Creative Assembly has gone out of its way to greatly improve the art assets. No longer will cities be cookie-cutter facsimiles of Hollywood tropes. This time around, the developer has visited the original sites and explored the archaeology (here's hoping that they consulted some Classicists too) in order to make this sequel as true to life as possible. Creative Assembly has looked at the remaining jewels of antiquity, and I hope the team can translate that to compelling 3D models. Truth be told, I'd give my right arm to be able to explore a reconstructed ancient Rome, but then I'd be at a loss when it comes to controls…
With all these considerations and improvements, Total War: Rome 2 is shaping up to be one hell of a sequel, one that will surpass its predecessor in every conceivable way. I just hope that Creative Assembly can remain true to Ancient Rome and not introduce anymore flaming pigs or war dogs. After all, what Roman army needed archers when they had the Maniple Formation? And while your're at it, throwing in some of the later Roman/Byzantium Empire military tactics would make for some interesting gameplay…or depressing, if you know how history played out.