With the release of Emperor Edition, Total War: ROME II has finally launched the game they meant to make back in 2013, a full year ago. What this means is ROME II no longer has fatal bugs, crashes, humorously rendered faces, poorly designed building trees, poorly designed tech trees, or painful wait times between turns. The bugs are gone, the polish is there, it is safe to say this is a completed game.
This might be too long for people, so I'll put my final thoughts here and then if you wish you can read the justification for them below:
Rome 2 is more of a management game than a strategy game. There are very few strategic descisions to be made in this game after 30 turns into a campaign. You simply build buildings, train troops, give movement orders, and upgrade generals because if you don't the game gives you a pop up telling you what you forgot to do. There's a shameful lack of interesting battles to be fought, and it hardly matters what buildings you choose to upgrade or build, and it certainly doesn't matter what general traits you choose. So you click the buttons to get the pop ups to go away, and eventually you start wondering why you started the game up in the first place, because there's no game to be had here.
I'll start with the Campaign.
The map is pretty, but a pain to navigate when your empire is large, as the camera does not zoom out enough on the main screen, forcing you to go into 'strategic mode' and double click and have the game zip the camera over there. Despite there being several views of the map: the normal camera, the strategic map, and the diplomatic map (the latter of the two having options to change different overlays) there is still no good way to get a picture of what is going on in your empire. The Strategic map will show you the position of your armies and enemy armies, but it doesn't tell you how big the armies are, or how much movement they have left. So when you see an enemy flag in your territory, you still have to zoom your camera over there to see if its a full army or one of the small, threatless stacks the AI likes to create.
On the campaign you will develope your cities and move your armies. The UI for these functions is minimalistic with lots of tool tips that pop up. This allows you to get a good look at the graphics, and a poor look at what the buildings do and what affects are on your armies and generals. To compare two different buildings you have to hover over one, wait for the tool tip, memorize the stats then hover over another, wait for the tool tip and mentaly compare the stats of the first option. There is no side by side view, or a list of effects or anything. This leaves you mousing back and forth frequently trying to pick which building you want. The buildings themselves often offer small percentage bonuses to one type of income (cultural for example) and cost food. Thus one must balance their food and food-demanding buildings appropriately. This is an ok mechanic. It's not great, but it's something to break up the monotony or the linear upgrades of other Total War titles. However once you have a large empire, it is very easy to lose interest in min-maxing your buildings, because you end up conquering so many cities so quickly that you always have food and you always have money, so balancing the economy and food tends to go away at a certain size. The technology tree feels rather pointless and linear. It provides either a flat bonus to troops (like upkeep, movement speed, or combat effectiveness) and access to buildings which allow higher teir troops to be trained. This mechanic is hollow. It primarily serves to gateway what troops are available at what times of the game, because the flat bonuses are small and inconsequential. Some of the religious buildings will increase your research rate by a small amount, but the technology tree still fees shallow and arbitrary. In Rome 1 units were gated by buildings, and occasionally (in the case of Roman legionaries) the date. This functioned better, and was more transparent, which allowed for better planning.
I like the feature of generals and armies leveling up, but they get too many bonuses and they seem so small and unnoticeable. This leaves me clicking one at random and not really caring, similar to buildings.
Other aspects of the campaign map are simmilar enough to the other Total Wars that I can't expect anything more or less from them.
On to the battles.
Battles are pretty. There's plenty of nice effects that let you see your army of antiquity on the battlefield in high fidelity. However, due to the nature of Total War AI (which is SLIGHTLY improved in Rome 2) the battles are boring. As long as you line your men up to face the enemy properly and prevent any sad attempts the AI makes at flanking you, you'll probably win. This is a problem because the battles are supposed to be the best part. That's where they spent all the money, right? Right?
The unit variety is nice, and I could complain about the way pikemen don't really feel like pikemen, and that the difference between heavy cav and light cav is very minimal, but there's no point, because it takes a special kind of idiot to lose to a Total War AI. I haven't played much multiplayer, I presume the battles are decently interesting when they're both controlled by a human.
There's a mysterious and unfortunate paradox to the Total War series. If you are playing correctly on the strategy map, you would make sure you have the highest chance to win a battle as you possibly could. This means that most of the battles you fight you will have overwhelming odds and you can auto resolve them with 95% of your army remaining. Fighting it out would be boring, and you probably wouldn't save that many casualties commanding yourself so what's the point? This means that there's a small 20-30 turn window at the start of a game where you actually fight the battles because you only have one or two armies and you need to put them in 'risky' situations. And since in a fair fight you will always defeat the AI you win those risky situations. But once you're large enough you tend not to fight battles, and just auto resolve as you blob over the entire map. Which leads me to the short sampler from the top of the page.