Sunday, December 20, 2009

25 Days of Christmas - #6: Rome: Total War

Few strategy games can hold a candle to the Total War franchise. Shogun: Total War started the acclaimed series, bringing plenty of new ideas to the table. Medieval: Total War solidified the game mechanics and expanded the world and units available to the player. And while both of these games are great in their own right, Rome: Total War towers over the other two as the greatest game in the series.

Rome: Total War puts players in control of various nations during the height of the Roman empire. Initially, players will be constrained to the three Roman houses of Brutii, Julii, and Scipii. There are two campaign modes available, each with different objectives. The shorter campaign is a good way to unlock more nations quickly, but puts a greater constraint on resources for the entire campaign. The longer campaign requires players to take hold of fifty provinces and capture the city of Rome. While these objectives are far more challenging, the time allowed and long-term resources available help ease stress on players.

Each city requires its own specific attention, and players will be required to attend to these in order to prevent revolts from occurring. In conjunction with this, players must also balance their troops in the field with those left behind to defend cities. Building types range from religious temples to gathering halls to military barracks and stables. Early on, cities will require the most basic construction, laying out roads and setting up defensive walls. Thankfully, all of the construction management requires the player to merely select what they want to be completed and the buildings will be erected over a predetermined number of turns.

Military units vary from one nation to the next. The houses of Rome, for instance, use the Vilites as their range spearmen, the Equites as cavalry, and the Principes as their elite swordsmen. The Egyptians on the other hand, rely on axmen as their grunt footsoldiers and horse-drawn chariots as their cavalry. Some nations, such as Carthage, will have exclusive units such as the war elephant. Apart from the traditionally trained units, mercenaries can be hired while travelling in territories outside of the player’s home nation. These units are expensive, but do not require time to be trained. Recruiting mercenaries improves a general’s reputation as a commanding officer.

Other specialist units can be trained, including diplomats, spies, and assassins. Diplomats can bribe the troops of other factions to disband or sometimes convince military leaders to defect to your army. Diplomats can also develop friendly relations with other nations, setting up trade routes and alliances. Spies are useful for scoping out the number of troops in a unit or confirming the defenses of an enemy city. Spies will level up with each successful infiltration. Assassins are the most limited unit reserved mainly for an easy kill on an enemy general or royal family member.

The overworld map of Rome: Total War is set up as turned-based strategy. Each group of soldiers is limited more or less in their range of motion depending on whether their army is comprised primarily of footsoldiers, cavalry, or a combination of the two. The combat system switches to real-time, and players can pause the game at any point during the battle to issue new orders to their units without being distracted by the chaos of the ensuing battle.

Outside of the main campaign, players can set up their own custom battles in a large number of battlefields. They can include up to four nations on two sides of the conflict, and can alter the rank of each individual unit. Even tiny details, such as the weather and time of day can be tinkered with, and have a major impact on the outcome of the battle. Players can also engage in historical battles, which are some of the most challenging in the game. An online mode of play is also available, further expanding the extra material available outside of the main game.

Rome: Total War is a unique PC gaming experience that few other strategy games can even come close to rivaling. The controls are fluid and the menus are easy to navigate. While the main mechanics remain consistent through the entire game, each nation has its own strengths and weaknesses, as well as unique units. Rome: Total War forces players to think twice before making diplomatic decisions, as declaring either war or an alliance has its consequences.

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