Total War: Rome 2 Gets Barbaric at GDC 2013
Playing as the Romans, a Creative Assembly developer was charged with escaping to a safe zone at one end of the map, outside the forest. Cosmetic improvements were obvious as soon as the demo began: sun, glinting spears, improved textures, leafier foliage, and more realistic terrain. The game’s environments have been completely overhauled for Rome 2, so expect more varied climates, more varied topography, and more fortifications to siege (particularly welcome after Shogun 2).
A new window in the lower left-hand corner of the screen gives detailed information about a selected unit’s vital statistics including, most crucially, morale. Players can now zoom up to a birds-eye view of the battlefield, which displays units as simple colored rectangles. Give a unit a movement order, and a golden arrow will appear, showing the path and destination; this feature previously required a special keystroke. With more battlefield real estate and more units, these interface improvements are well chosen.
Frustratingly, the developer at the controls insisted on spending most of the demo in extreme close-up, making liberal use of the zoom feature and the follow-cam. Sure, it is initially cool to see hundreds of individual soldiers duking it out, but this viewpoint has little to do with actually playing the game. Moreover, for all its technical accomplishments, Total War still tends to look a little stilted at that range, with too many sprites standing around doing nothing or cycling awkwardly through animations ill-suited to their position on the battlefield.
After the initial attack, German units continued to emerge from the forest with a frequency that was almost certainly scripted. They had a bucketful of tricks: archers on cliffs, huge balls of fire a la Gladiator, attack dogs, etc. One wild charge stood out: a group of berserkers across a picturesque marsh, product of the new terrain system. At certain points, a break in the action would deliver a brief bit of story — Quintus Varus wondering where his went; Arminius getting his long-awaited revenge.
Despite their advantage in numbers, the morale of the Germans seemed to crumble as soon as they clashed with the doughty Romans. Deft maneuvering and occasional use of the legions’ famed Testudo had them kicking up dust. Rome still took heavy losses, and the developer at the controls took a good-natured ribbing from his colleagues when a meager handful of soldiers stumbled into the safe zone at the end of the demo.
With no look at the campaign map, and a demo style that was couched towards spectacular screenshots rather than battlefield tactics, it’s still hard to get a sense of how Total War: Rome 2 will play in comparison to its predecessors. That said, fans can look forward to unprecedented scale; the map reputedly stretches from Portugal to Persia. Improvements to the battlefield environments are similarly welcome, along with UI changes that will make the game easier to play (and play well).
There’s also the pedigree. Creative Assembly may be working on free-to-play, MOBA-style title, Total War: Arena, but this is the game it’s built to make: a sweeping blend of history, turn-based strategy, and tiny men getting trampled by elephants. Maybe they could stand to change things up a little. Try telling that to people who argue about what kind of make-up Egyptian troops wore (or didn’t wear) into battle. Their mandate? “Bigger, better, Rome this time.” Do you think they’ll deliver?