PC total-war-rome-II-preview

Published on April 2nd, 2013 | by Richard Motokovsky

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Total War: Rome II – Preview

If there was one thought running through our minds while watching Total War: Rome II in action it was that it’s time to get a new PC. Gamers tend to look to the heavy hitters like Crytek or Epic to push the graphical boundaries of their machines, but Creative Assembly’s new battle engine is an impressive beast which we suspect will push modern PCs to their limit.

As is usually the case with Total War, the devil is in the detail with this new graphics engine offering enough fidelity that each individual soldier on the battlefield boasts enough variety in their animations, insignia design and facial expressions to successfully put across the impression that they are more than just copy and pasted clones. This is all part of Creative Assembly’s ambition to eliminate the problem of players feeling too remote from the action they’re orchestrating. Instead they want to humanize units to such an extent that players feel connected to them, in a way that means they’ll feel more than a tinge of regret as they send them to their deaths for good of a much larger strategic plan.

To show off this new side of this acclaimed strategy franchise, we were shown one of the standalone historical battles based on the Roman Empire’s infamous defeat at the Battle of Teutoburg Forest in 9AD. This standalone battle, which is able to be played independent of the campaign, was prefaced by a gloomy cut-scene showing the deranged Caesar Augustus screaming out to the heavens, “Quintilius Varus, give me back my legions!” before the camera swooped into the sky and panned back down, centering on a member of the Roman legion marching single-file in a desolate forest while Germania’s barbarian horde watched, silently waiting for the perfect moment to strike. This ambush scenario is one of the famous battles of the Roman period thanks to a military commander with German heritage, known as Arminius, betraying his adopted homeland for his natural one leading the 17th, 18th and 19th Roman legions into a deadly ambush.

Rome II achieves its goal of making battles appear much more human

All of this historical context is portrayed with a combination of cinematics and in-engine cut-scenes, and the dramatic impact of these scenes far outweighs anything achieved in Shogun 2. Rather than historical battles acting as the redheaded step-child to Rome II’s sandbox-like campaign, we think this mode will have a bigger impact this time around.

Back in 9AD, The Battle of Teutoburg Forest involved 10,000-15,000 combatants and lasted around three days. Rome II’s take on the battle involves just as many men and lasts around 30 minutes, with the ambush mission involving Roman forces fighting to get to the end of a narrow path located at the end of the map, while Germanian archers and berserkers appear from the trees with irregular frequency to slim down their numbers. Aided by battlefield deployables, like rolling fire boulders, the Roman forces, consisting of mounted cavalry, archers and legionnaires, were outnumbered and outmatched. As forces were marshalled further up the path, more enemy ranks appeared and with Rome II’s new line-of-sight system, which hides units based on your unit sightlines (surprisingly this is a new addition to the series), now it’s possible to orchestrate and be victims of proper ambush attacks.

The sight of sending in mounted cavalry to dispatch some troublesome fire archers only to have the versatile force swamped immediately by newly emerging German berserkers was enough to make us wince in tactical agony. Watching the felled horses and routing soldiers getting hit with armor-piercing axes was genuinely uncomfortable viewing. That isn’t due to the game’s inherent gore or anything like that, soldiers still keep their appendages when they perish. It’s just having the camera get this close to the action – potentially to the detriment of your overall strategy – means that Rome II achieves its goal of making battles appear more human.

Likewise they also look a lot cooler, be it the Legionnaire’s testudo formation, or soldiers switching from their primary spears to second sword weapons as they charge into another unit. Rome II has reached a new level of battle emulation, and it’s simply a wonder to behold.

The battle ended with one solitary Roman unit, plus standard bearer, making it to the safe zone on the outskirts of the forest, which was enough for the battle to be considered a victory. The amount of bloodshed and bodies scattered around the battlefield made this apparent success seem very hollow indeed. While watching the battle unfold we did witness some other interesting new additions, like a 2D map view which allows players to instantly survey the battle and a dynamic cinematic camera which highlights key moments as they play out, such as a new unit emerging or forces routing.

Obviously the battle engine is just one part of Rome II, with the other being the campaign map and even though we weren’t show that side of the game, we did get to chat to Lead Campaign Designer Janos Gaspar. He told us of a new stance system which means forces can now be made to ambush forces on a particular part of the map, build up portable forts or be forced to march to a location much quicker than their default stance, as well as a new province system with players able to take over just key parts of a province like mines, ports and camps rather than invading the territory wholesale. No doubt more details will be revealed about this side of Rome II closer to game’s undefined ‘2013′ launch.

The Roman period has always been the best fit for the Total War series in our opinion, and it’s clear Creative Assembly have waited for their own tech to get good enough to give this cherished era the kind of emulation it clearly deserves. Yes this new battle engine will cause us and many others to buy new rigs to get the most out of it, but you know what? It’s going to be absolutely worth it.

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