I wanted to love Rome II, but couldn't. I wanted to like it,.. to enjoy it,.. I tried for over a year but ultimately it just fell flat.
I've played Total War games since the first Shogun. They've never been perfect, but have always been thoroughly enjoyable and value for money. The following is mainly based on the main campaign as updated for the emperor version, although I did try the emperor campaign but soon gave up.
What is good?:
- The battles are good; after much patching, balancing etc. they are the strongest part of the game, which is rather important considering the nature of the game! Sometimes they can look stunning, and the size is vast.
- There are many, many units, and many playable factions (even without DLC)
- The game is easy to pick up and play, there are no over-fiddly interfaces
- The developers have provided support for this game so far (it needed it)
- There are many mods that can be easily implemented
- (External) Diplomacy - this works better than any other TW game. Truces, alliances all work well.
What is bad?:
- The lack of feeling/immersion/atmosphere, particularly without any Mods. There is very little going on when viewing the campaign map. There's no driving force behind your actions other than simply choosing a province to completely control or a new one to invade. There seem to be a few events early on in a campaign but these dry up and the benefits of them I've always found to be a bit 'well so what?'
- Limited battle maps - I got very tired of seeing the same small fishing village layout very quickly
- The overall campaign map looks open, but for areas such as Italy/Gaul in particular there are effectively just wide 'roads' linking each settlement flanked by impassable forest. This would seem historical, but seems to just feel like you are on a motorway between settlements. Particularly so as you can often move from settlement to settlement in a turn. Deserts are not like this but have themselves attrition rates that effectively force you to take the same path to cross them. The apparent freedom of movement often felt to me like simply moving from cell to cell similar to Medieval I !
- Generals -I simply don't care for them, why should I? They have no connections, no background, the traits come along all too easily that you can stockpile them and they have no 'wow' value.
- Armies - you cannot have an army without a general. Previous TW games enabled you to have small groups of units led by a non-detailed 'Captain'. The lack of captains prevents you from moving units from one area to another to join up with a different army without taking the whole army or designating a general as a taxi driver. Often not possible if you have multiple fronts. Armies also always tend to be huge, (perhaps as a result of no captains), this means there are no small skirmish engagements, always large battles.
- Battles still have their issues, mainly too short and often it feels like just throwing whatever unit is to hand into the fray, they can just be frantic mouse clicking sessions without being able to take time to flank, or watch units weaken against holding lines. (But, they have worked hard to fix many issues in the battles.)
- Graphics - one moment they are great, the next not so. The drawing distance seems rubbish, if you're viewing from on high it all looks jagged and rubbish. Up close, yes it is nice, but as mentioned there is often little time to enjoy this. I have spent a lot of time messing about with settings in game and through Nvidea, also tried a mod, trying to get things better, even just the lighting. But there's always something spoiling it
- The weird one year is a season set-up, best try some mods to balance that out if you can.
However the main issue I have with Rome II is that it SHOULD be good, it seems to have a lot there, but when you get into it, it just seems so hollow, it doesn't add up to the sum of its parts. Idly clicking 'end turn' waiting for your army to be big enough to attack the massive garrison, or waiting to be attacked yourself.. with nothing to look at. I found locating the elephants in Africa and listening to their trumpeting the best way to pass time. But the truth is I often ambled off and did some washing-up instead, this is not what entertainment should be!
The makers actually shot themselves in the foot with Rome II. 100 hours of my RII game-time was spent in the dark post-release days, (fiddling with settings, running benchmarks, restarting campaigns when patched, finding killer glitches) and what a criminal release it was too, but by about patch 12 (I think it was) things were relatively playable. I only stuck with this game because I have utterly adored previous Total Wars. However, during this time (8 months or so), I found two games made by Paradox, which immerse you and make you care! They made looking at a much blander map a far more rewarding and enjoyable experience, when on paper they perhaps shouldn't have. This may of course just be me, maybe I'm tired of the Total War format and you should look to reviews about those games judging them there. However, after sampling the immersive, engaging, passionate events of those, which kept me glued to the computer, Rome II simply plays like,...erm, doing the washing up as quick as you can, or alternately peeling potatoes slowly.
In fact there have been many other games of completely different genres during the time I;ve had RII which have simply provided good quality entertainment and much better value for money/time.
On a side note the marketing/PR activity around RII leaves a sour taste, this is possibly common across the industry, but from the terrible release through to seeing the official web forum remove comments that might spoil their one-sided celebration of the upcoming Attila release, all seems a little anti-free-speech. I'll be interested in seeing how TW games are in future, I hope they return to being an entertaining, engrossing challenge, but for now I fear the Total War franchise is a shadow of what it once was and to put it simply, you'll have more fun with somethign else.