Rome 2 looks to continue building Total War's empire

Rome 2 looks to continue building Total War's empire

Showing off a strategy game like Total War: Rome 2 at a convention can't be easy. With only so much time to show off to the awaiting journalists, games have to rely on spectacle. Yet the greatness of Total War derives from longer play sessions. There, the series' two halves – tactical battlefields and grand strategic decisions – work in harmony. Those moments are impossible to achieve in a single gameplay demonstration, but developer Creative Assembly still has to make that attempt, which it did, with the historical Battle of Teutoburg Forest.

The most notable part of the demonstration was that the game's graphics are fantastic, but that's also the least surprising aspect of a new Total War game. After all, the Total War series has taken major leaps forward in graphics ever since its inception over a decade ago. 2011's Shogun 2 may still look great, but Rome 2 appears to surpass it. The background geography, like the trees, cliffs, and marshes look particularly detailed, while the soldiers had a slightly grittier, less cartoonish look than their samurai counterparts.

It was left to a question and answer session after the demo with three of Rome 2's developers to understand what might make this installment particularly interesting. Much of what they said indicated that they understood the series' flaws and were actively working to fix them. Although not directly stated, many of their statements implied a move away from micromanagement, the bane of Total War and many other strategy games.%Gallery-167504%

To those ends, they said that they wanted to make it so that Roman players would be moving legions around, instead of individual units – as the Emperor would be doing. Excitingly, they also mentioned that over time, each legion would take on its own characteristics over time, so, for example, one with a string of defeats might be weaker. Seeing how that might work in practice would have been far more interesting than a single historical battle.

Likewise, they mentioned as an aside that Creative Assembly is planning on having provinces in Rome 2, the core geographic unit of every Total War map, be consolidated into regions. A move like that could do wonders for moving players away from spending most of their strategic time picking new buildings and tax rates for each individual province.

Rome 2 looks to continue building Total War's empire

The original Rome's split of the Republic into three different familial factions was an effective way to get to a meaningful civil war, but the developers recognized that it was artificial, and claimed to be working on systems that would allow for meaningful political maneuvering in a more organic fashion. It's certainly plausible – the remarkable success of Paradox's Crusader Kings 2 at making relationships and politics fun and compelling says it can be done in a grand strategy game – but how will it be achieved in Rome 2? Asked about modding capability, one of the main draws of the original Rome, they said they were very keen on releasing tools to make the game moddable – although the original was customizable straight out of the box.

Some of the answers to questions revealed a curious lack of detail. The historical battle used in the demonstration took place in the time of the Roman Empire, while the original Rome: Total War focused entirely on the Roman Republic. But the developers didn't want to say exactly what the chronological scope of the game would be. Nor were many details given about whether the political structure of non-Roman factions would be, although the designers expressed interest in making playing those factions as interesting as playing the Romans.

Rome 2 looks to continue building Total War's empire

The Q&A sections about the tactical battle engine were more revealing, thanks to that engine actually having been demonstrated. When the developers talked about how they were able to build battlefield terrain in more diverse fashion than Shogun 2's flat-with-some-hills method, the impressive Teutoburg terrain jumped out. Had it been possible to see the implementation of the strategic ideas as well, the mind might have been dazzled as well as the eyes.

Given Creative Assembly's excellent track record, it's reasonable to assume that the rest of the game is coming along as well as the its combat engine and graphics. If so, that would make Total War: Rome 2 a very special game, but skepticism is still warranted.

Rowan Kaiser is a freelance writer currently living the Bay Area, who also writes for The A.V. Club, and has been published at Salon, Gamasutra, Kotaku, and more. He still occasionally finds Ultima VI Moongate maps and mantra notes when he visits his parents' house. Follow him on Twitter @rowankaiser.