While this game is definately playable (Though ideally when heavily modded), this is by far one of the worst Total War games i've played to date. Its controversial released combined with the dumbed down approach to campaign management (the province system, general system and recruitment system) means that I would recommend any other Total War title (with the exception of possibly Empire) over this one.
On top of this, the game seems to have shed some of the aesthetic features which made the first Rome so immersive. The lack of a family (while not required) means that you feel little to no immersion to your generals. They're just "spawn general and give him a random name", a tool to be used worn out and thrown away.
The same can be said for the politics system. While the concept is great, the exectuion leaves a player feeling likes its strapped on to the side, since there is no actual politcal positioning involved other than gathering Gravitas (The resource the game uses to increase politcal support percentage). In the original Rome, having a high ranking general in the senate (Consul or other high ranking positions) felt like it was of immense importance in terms of your standing with the senate. But you don't feel that connection to your generals. Its like theres supposed to be a connection to the senate but there is none to be seen.
The armies and recruitment system is also a step backwards. The number of armies you can field at one time has been hardcoded with a limit based on your faction's Imperium level. This severely restricts your capability to spread your forces, as they limited to working only within an army. You cannot detach a small force to bolster a garrison and you find your self forced to move an entire army in order to swap a few units between them. The recruiment is linked to these armies aswell, so you cannot have an army on the move and produce reserves at the same time. This all has a severely negative effective effect on your ability to field armies in a dynamic manner.
Navies in this game are virtually useless due to uncanny strength of transport vessels. This is due to the fact that armies now automatically form a fleet of transports the moment they are ordered into the sea. Considering that a considerable portion of Roman conflict occurred around the Mediterean, this ability to magically make a transport navy appear out of thin air is a major oversight, as it renders navies pointless, as transports make equally effective fighting vessels. The ramming mechanic is messed up to the point that a light skirmisher bireme can sink a heavily loaded quintareme filled with marines in a few hits, rendering most expensive naval vessels useless.
The province system restricts your ability to build your cities by hard coding them into two presets, provincial villages and provincial capitals. Capitals can build practically any structure and have pre-built walls which cannot be improved in any manner. Villages by contrast can only build certain building types and cannot be fortified in any manner. This greatly diminshes the ability to customise your empire as it existed in the original Rome. In other Total War games, every settlement was the same preset, it could be built up, fortified and garrisioned as needed. You could created industrial or military cities where you wanted and when you wanted. This is something you simply cannot do in Rome 2. On top of this, the limited number of build slots which has haunted the last few Total War games also makes a return, limiting what you can do with the city's space.
[Edit] After more than 10 patches the vanilla balance of units atleast feels good enough to credit the combat in this game. Graphically stunning with only a few things to nit pick such as the inccorrect modeling of the hoplite phalanx.[/edit]
Rome 2 is by no means unplayable, but with out mods its bland and I would never recomend it. Instead you should consider other Total War titles like Shogun 2 or the original Rome.
[Edit] After over 10 patches the base game has reached a state somewhat similar to Empire. It is now a decent game and newcomers to the Total War series should have no problems with this game. Regardless because of the cost of the game (60$) combined with the misgivings I've provided above, I still will not recommend this game when the other Total War titles provide a better experience at a better price at the cost of only graphical quality.
To address the questions regarding my over 300 hours of game time, yes I've continued to play Rome 2 despite my concerns, however I feel that my concerns mentioned above are still legitimate.[/edit]