Rome: Total War


posted 10/12/2004 by Randy Kalista
other articles by Randy Kalista
One Page Platforms: PC
Which brings an impressive level of political intrigue into play. Forget about the Bush/Kerry debates: it’s time to get serious. Assassinate rival leaders, bribe away armies, bribe away entire cities, send war-threatening ultimatums, blockade ports. Destroy them all.

Implementing RTS naval battles would have pushed this title over the top. As it stands, your fleets are at the whim of the auto-resolve gods. The sea battle results are handed over without any tactical input from you. This feature exists optionally for land battles too, but you are unworthy of purchasing this game if you intend to use it. Utter blasphemy! Besides, casualties tend to be much higher if you do not oversee the battle yourself.

While you deserve every ounce of criticism for auto-resolving battles, “automanaging” your cities may help preserve your sanity as your empire grows larger and more unwieldy. Type A micromanagers will cringe at the prospect, but automanaging cities frees up a lot of time for more important activities. Like putting the Holy Roman hurt on your enemies. And, in the endgame, everyone (everyone!) is your enemy: the two rival Roman families, the Senate, not to mention the foreign sons and fathers of those you’ve buried along the way.

A constantly impressive element is the rousing speech your general hollers before a battle. While never waxing too philosophic, the general gets medieval, er, Roman, on their ass. The troops rally and cheer as your general enunciates the enemies’ weaknesses and denounces their strengths. Your legions answer back with resounding warcries, banging sword and spear against shield, until you’re practically ready to toss your keyboard aside and join them in the ranks. Such inspirational voice acting is pretty good throughout. In most cases. I understand that The Creative Assembly operates out of the UK, but does every Mediterranean nation from first and second century BC have to speak with an English accent?

The soundtrack, frankly, is awesome. Flowing orchestral themes course through the campaign map, and adrenaline pounding drums stomp their way across the battle map with your cohorts. Even the Roman wardogs, Carthaginian elephants, and various cavalry units add to the deafening cacophony. The sounds of battle are Doomsday in proportion--and it’s music to the ears.

Of course, what strategy game is complete without an online multiplayer component? It’s well known that human players are infinitely more ruthless than computer-bred AI. And, honestly, the AI here is occasionally lacking. For one, the enemy does nothing to counter your naval blockades. Secondly, your military advisor will warn against poor battlefield strategies, such as sending cavalry charging into a phalanx of pikemen, but will do it anyway.

Otherwise, the enemy puts up an impressive fight for novice players. They utilize terrain for a height advantage, tall grass and trees for cover, or even recognize a hopeless cause--and flee! You also need to watch your flanks and rear around the enemy, since toe-to-toe is the preferred way to engage the enemy in ancient warfare.

Rome: Total War has to be seen to be believed. It’s not perfect, but it’s close enough on a multitude of fronts to receive our Gaming Nexus Editor’s Choice Award. Don’t sleep on this instant classic. Strength and honor!

In-depth city management. A touch of RPG character development. And the most incredible 3-D land battles to hit the PC screen. Ever.

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