Rome: Total War Review

In addition to the other families of Rome, the Roman Republic itself is a faction as well and is the military and diplomatic arm of the Republican Senate. The Senate is a powerful force in Ancient Rome and you best not challenge its authority until you have the might to back it up. In the mean time, it is a good idea to work your relationship with the Senate to your advantage. The Senate will assign you missions to help carry out its will such as capturing a city or taking on a foreign faction and the reward for succeeding can be great in terms of riches and influence.

Sooner or later (but almost always sooner) you’ll find yourself squaring off against another army in battle. If you’re a pure strategic thinker, you can allow the game to auto-resolve battles, but you’d really be missing out as the real-time battles are the highlight of the game. The game includes just about every type of unit found in the Ancient World, from peasants with sharpened sticks to crack Legionnaires. All of the Ancient powers are represented, from the barbarian Germans and Gauls to the highly civilized Egyptians and Carthaginians. Each power’s units reflect the units and tactics they employed in Ancient times, so you’ll have to face Greek phalanxes, Egyptian chariots, and Carthaginian elephants, and execute effective tactics for dealing with each. Although battles can involve thousands of troops battling it out in real-time, the game’s interface makes it easy to manage your forces. Your army is divided by unit type into groups of fifty or fewer units. You issue orders to these groups and the men making up the group will carry out the command. You can also pause the game and issue orders while the game is paused to give you a chance to size up the state of the battle before committing to your next big move. Proper tactics are everything here – you need to attack the right unit at the right time or face dire consequences. Sending a cavalry unit into a frontal attack on spearmen is suicide, but flanking those same spearmen with Legionaries will crush them.

The battles simply look fantastic, from the maps with their varied topography and topology, to the individually animated units. The battles look so good in fact that the History Channel uses the game to recreate ancient battles for one of its series. You can watch individual arrows arc through the sky and into enemy formations or zoom in closely to see pairs of warriors locked in deadly melee duels. And it is all very smooth; from the map scrolling to the unit animations everything is fluid and natural. Siege battles are particularly exciting as you’ll see men fight from the walls of the city, wheel up war engines in an attempt to breach the walls, and then watch as street to street fighting rages as the city begins to burn around the combatants.

The battles are so well-implemented and tuned that it is hard to find much fault with the game. The only things worth mentioning are that when an AI-controlled ally is on the battlefield with you there is no real way to coordinate your actions. Perhaps this is an intentional design decision meant to reflect the command and control issues of the day, but I think that is really just a limitation you have to live with. Also, the game includes navies and naval combat, but the AI control of navies seems a bit suspect and your only option is to let the computer auto-resolve naval battles.