Total War: SHOGUN 2 - SEGADEV
Total War: THREE KINGDOMS is Now Available for Pre-Purchase on Steam!

Three heroes, sworn to brotherhood in the face of tyranny, rally support for the trials ahead. Scenting opportunity, warlords from China’s great families follow suit, forming a fragile coalition in a bid to challenge Dong Zhuo’s remorseless rule. Will they triumph against the tyrant, or will personal ambition shatter their already crumbling alliance and drive them to supremacy?

Total War: SHOGUN 2 - [FERAL] Edwin
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Ultimate Doom
15 most brutal mods of all time


Remember when buying a game didn’t feel like a guarantee of seeing the ending? There are still hard games out there, Dark Souls flying the flag most recently, but increasingly, the challenge has dripped out or at least softened, often leading to sadly wasted opportunities. What would Skyrim be like, for instance, if its ice and snow wasn’t simply cosmetic, but actually punished you for going mountain climbing in your underpants?

With a quick mod – Frostfall in this case – you’re forced to dress up warm before facing the elements, and things become much more interesting. That’s just one example, and over the next couple of pages you’ll find plenty more. These aren’t mods that just do something cheap like double your enemy’s hit-points, they’re full rebalances and total conversions. Face their challenge, and they’ll reward you with both a whole new experience and the satisfaction of going above and beyond the call of duty.

Misery
Game: Stalker: Call of Pripyat
Link: ModDB



All those weapons scattered around? Gone. Anomalies? Now more dangerous. Magic mini-map? Forget it. Valuable quest rewards? Good luck. Things you do get: thirsty, and factions who send goons after you if you anger them. On the plus side Pripyat is much more active, with a complete sound overhaul, and new NPCs to meet – who all have to play by the rules too, with no more infinite ammo. If you can survive here, you’ve got a good chance when the actual apocalypse comes.

Project Nevada
Fallout: New Vegas
Link: Nexus Mods



Nevada is a good example of making things more difficult without being openly psychotic. Levelling is slower, players and NPCs get less health, and obvious features are now in, such as armour only being a factor in headshots if the target actually has head protection. It’s also possible to toggle some extra-hardcore options, such as food no longer healing and taking care of hunger/thirst/ sleep on the move. There’s a sack of new content, and an Extra Options mod is also available, offering even more control.

Brutal Doom
Game: Doom
Link: ModDB



Despite what modern ‘old-school’ shooters would have you think, Doom was a relatively sedate experience – fast running speed, yes, but lots of skulking in the dark and going slow. Not any more! Brutal Doom cranks everything up to 11, then yawns and goes right for 25.6. We’re talking extra shrapnel, execution attacks, tougher and faster monsters, metal music, and blood, blood, blood as far as your exploding eyes can see. It’s compatible with just about any level you can throw at it, turning even E1M1 into charnel house devastation. The enemies don’t get it all their own way, as Doomguy now starts with an assault rifle rather than simply a pistol, and a whole arsenal of new guns has been added to the Doom collection – including the BFG’s big brother.



Full Combat Rebalance 2
Game: The Witcher 2
Link: RedKit



This streamlines the combat and makes the action closer to how Geralt’s adventure might have played out in the books. He’s more responsive, can automatically parry incoming attacks, begins with his Witcher skills unlocked, and no longer has to spend most fights rolling around like a circus acrobat. But he’s in a tougher world, with monsters now figuring out counterattacks much faster, enemies balanced based on equipment rather than levels, and experience only gained from quests, not combat. Be warned this is a 1.5GB file, not the megabyte Hotfix that’s claimed.

Requiem
Game: Skyrim
Link: Nexus



Elder Scrolls games get ever more streamlined, and further from the classic RPG experience. Requiem drags Skyrim back, kicking and screaming. The world is no longer levelled for your convenience. Bandits deliver one-hit kills from the start. The undead mock arrows, quietly pointing out their lack of internal organs with a quick bonk to your head. Gods hold back their favour from those who displease them. Most importantly, stamina is now practically a curse. Heavy armour and no training can drain it even if you’re standing still, and running out in battle is Very Bad News. Combine this with Frostfall, and Skyrim finally becomes the cold, unforgiving place it claims to be.

Radious
Total War: Shogun 2
Link: TWCenter



Not only is this one of the most comprehensive mods any Total War game has ever seen, its modular nature makes it easy to pick and choose the changes that work best for the experience you want. Together, the campaign AI is reworked, as are the skills and experience systems, diplomacy and technology trees. There are over 100 new units. Campaigns are also longer, providing more time to play with all this, with easier access to the good stuff early on in the name of variety. There’s even a sound module that adds oomph to rifles. Add everything, or only the bits you want. It’s as much of a tactical decision as anything else on the road to conquering Japan.

Game of Thrones
Game: Crusader Kings II
Link: ModDB



Real history doesn’t have enough bite for you? Recast the whole thing with Starks, Lannisters, Freys and the rest and it will. This doesn’t simply swap a few names around, but works with the engine to recreate specific scenarios in the war for the Iron Throne. Individual characters’ traits are pushed into the foreground, especially when duels break out. Wildlings care little about who your daddy was. It’s best to know a fair amount about the world before jumping in, and the scenarios themselves contain spoilers, but you’re absolutely not restricted to just following the story laid down in the books.



Realistic Weapons
Game: Grand Theft Auto IV
Link: GTAGarage



Guess what this one does. A bowling league for Roman? Cars that drive themselves? A character who appears to tell Niko “You have $30,000 in your pocket, you don’t need to goon for assholes” after Act 2? No, of course not. These guns put a little reality back into the cartoon that is GTA. The missions weren’t written with that in mind, obviously, but there’s nothing stopping you from giving it a shot. Worst case: murdering random civilians on the street is much quicker, easier and more satisfying. At least until the cops show up to spoil the fun. Range, accuracy, damage, ammo and fire rate are all covered, though be warned that you shouldn’t expect perfect accuracy from your upgraded hardware. This is GTA after all. Realism is not baked into its combat engine.

The Long War
Game: XCOM: Enemy Unknown
Link: NexusMods



You’re looking at eight soldier classes, many more missions, invaders as focused on upgrades as your own science team, and a much longer path to victory. Research is slow, not least to make early weapon upgrades more useful, while the aliens are constantly getting more powerful. Their ships are better, their terror missions are more regular, and more of them show up for battle. In exchange, you get to field more Interceptors, the council is easier to appease, and the ETs don’t cheat as much.

Ziggy's Mod
Game: Far Cry 3
Link: NexusMods



Ziggy makes Rook Island a more natural place, removing mission requirements for skills, cutting some of the easier ways to earn XP, increasing spawn rates to make the island busier, and throwing away the magic mini-map in favour of a compass. The second island is also unlocked from the start. Smaller changes include randomised ammo from dropped weapons, being able to climb hills that you should realistically be able to, and wingsuit abilities made available earlier to get more out of them.

Terrafirmacraft
Game: Minecraft
Link: Terrafirmacraft



Minecraft has a Survival mode, but it’s not desperately challenging. Terrafirmacraft takes it seriously, with hunger and thirst that must be dealt with at all times, and key elements added such as the need to construct support beams while mining to prevent cave-ins, and a seasonal cycle that determines whether or not trees will produce fruit. Many more features are to be added, but there’s enough here already to make survival about much more than throwing together a Creeper-proof fort.



Synergies Mod
Game: Torchlight II
Link: Synergies Mod



This adds a new act to the game, over a hundred monsters, new rare bosses, a new class – the Necromancer – more and tougher monsters and the gear to take them on. There are also endgame raids to add challenge once the world is saved yet again, and more on the way – including two new classes (Paladin and Warlock). It’s the top-ranked Torchlight II mod on Steam Workshop, and easily the most popular. Be aware that it’s still in development, and has a few rough edges.

Civilization Nights
Game: Civilization V
Link: Steam Workshop



While Brave New World has officially given Civ V a big shake up, for many players Nights remains its most popular add-on. It’s a comprehensive upgrade, adding new buildings, wonders, technologies and units, with a heavy focus on policies and making the AI better. The single biggest change is how it calculates happiness, citizens adding cheer simply by existing, but the slow march of war and other miseries detracting from the good times. Annexed a city? Don’t expect too many ticker-tape parades. Yet keeping happiness up is crucial, as it’s also the core of a strong military. This rebalancing completely changes how you play, while the other additions offer plenty of scope for new tactics and even more carefully designed civilisations.

Ultimate Difficulty Mod
Game: Dishonored
Link: TTLG Forums



This makes Dishonored’s enemies more attentive, faster and able to hear a pin drop from the other side of the map. When you get into a fight, it quickly becomes an all-out street war. The biggest change is to Dishonored’s second most abusable ability: the Lean (Blink of course being #1). Corvo can no longer sit behind scenery, lean out into an enemy’s face and be politely ignored. He’s now much more likely to be spotted – especially in ghost runs, where his advantages are now limited to the Outsider’s gifts rather than the Overseers’ continued lack of a local Specsavers.

Hardcore
Game: Deus Ex
Link: ModDB



New augmentations! Altered AI! Randomised inventories! Also a few time-savers: instead of separate keys and multitools for instance, a special keyring has both, while upgrades are used automatically if necessary. Difficulty also changes the balance considerably, from the standard game to ‘Realistic’ mode where you only get nine inventory slots, to ‘Unrealistic’, which makes JC Denton the cyborg killing machine he’s meant to be, but at the cost of facing opponents who warrant it. In this mode he gets double-jumping powers, and automatically gobbles health items when he gets badly wounded. Good luck though, I still got nowhere.
Total War: EMPIRE – Definitive Edition
28186TWRII_Battle_Formations


In 61 BC, Julius Caesar levied Legio X Equestris, a legion of several thousand fighting men who fought with distinction in his campaign against Gaul. They were disbanded in 45 BC, shortly before Caesar's assassination. In the ensuing civil war, the 10th Legion was raised again and fought for Lepidus, Marc Antony, and finally Emperor Augustus.

Over that 20-year period, thousands of men died or retired as veterans with lands they had helped conquer in Gaul. Equestris' individual legionaries are not remembered by history. But as a unit, Legio X Equestris were instrumental in Caesar's conquest of Gaul. Creative Assembly wants to give every army in Rome II: Total War a similar legacy, to make them more than masses of faceless troops.

And here history and gameplay merge in a really exciting way: as an army accrues victories, it will also accrue traditions, transforming a generally skilled army into a highly specialized one.

Every upgrade system in Rome II—from the revamped military and civic tech trees down to the abilities of generals, agents and armies—encourages specialization. On the macro level, military and civic developments are now divided into three subcategories (management, tactics and siege for military, economy, philosophy, and construction for civic) you can hop between at will. Teching for naval superiority or a strong farming economy, for example, is much more direct than it was in Shogun II: Total War.



But army traditions are what have me most excited for Rome II, and not just because the historical basis behind them is really cool. Traditions have the potential to completely change how battles play out by the end of a 20 (or 30, or 40, or...) hour-long Rome II campaign, because traditions outlive the poor legionaries who die earning them.

As you might expect from Creative Assembly, Studio Communications Manager Al Bickham explained the army tradition system with a historical comparison. "Think about the 101st Airborne," Bickham said at a recent preview event for Rome II. Remember Band of Brothers? He's talking about those guys: "They're all about their small unit tactics and being in enemy territory and working, effectively, guerrilla warfare. That's what they do. They do that really well. They've done that for the last 100 years, right? That's what is all about."

In Rome II, traditions extend the upgrade system used for commanding officers to whole armies. But that system has been reworked, too. Instead of progressing a general through a tech tree as he levels up, you now assign one skill at every level (with a cap at level 10). Previously acquired skills can also be leveled up in place of acquiring new ones. If you mainly use your generals to rally and inspire troops, focusing on those abilities will make them horse-mounted masters of morale.

In Shogun II, you could specialize generals by choosing a path through the tech tree, but you'd probably be wasting a few points along the way. Rome II simplifies choosing the abilities and buffs commanders bring to the battlefield. The same system also applies to Rome II's agents.



And where armies previously just grew stronger and gained morale with experience, they'll now gain their own set of specializations in the form of traditions for siegecraft, cavalry, and infantry types. Bickham detailed an example:

"I've spent six of my possible 10 points as an army's been leveling up in siegecraft and heavy infantry. Those guys are going to be city smashers, you know? They're going to be really good shots and very damaging with their onagers and ballistas and scorpions and stuff. I'll have those on my front line doing my city bashing for me."

Rome II tracks the history of each army, listing wins and losses and years in service. Armies can be renamed, and whatever symbol you set as their standard will appear on the legionary character models. And if that army is slaughtered to the last man, the traditions they bled for aren't lost.

"Say you have the 13th Legion," Bickham said, referencing a legion he took into battle at the Rezzed game conference last month. "The 13th Legion cops it. They all die. You can go back to one of your cities, you can recruit a new general, you can give him the banner of the 13th Legion, and you can recruit a new army along with that new general under the banner of the 13th Legion. Get all those traditions back. The whole idea is it's a symbol of the traditions of a fighting unit...The standard, what that army represents, is always there."



By endgame, using the right army in the right battle will be key, as even green troops can strut onto the field with 10 traditions backing them up. Bickham's city smashers, for example, could be torn apart by a heavily trained legion of cavalry. But losing an army of seasoned troops shouldn't spell disaster, either.

"It's no longer about--putting it in the context of previous games, armies were stacks of troops, and you just kind of mashed troops together, and you'd add more, and you'd build the stack," Bickham said. "I think by the end of the game you'll have some incredibly experienced guys you'll be really attached to because you've crafted them over time. They're like macro RPG characters made of thousands of men."
Total War: MEDIEVAL II – Definitive Edition
TWA Featured


We still don't know much about Total War: Arena, the PvP strategy spin-off that will pit teams of up to 10 players against one another, each controlling small units led by historical generals. We don't even have concept art to speculate over yet. But in a recent interview with Edge, Lead Designer James Russel has shared some tidbits about the game's free to play business model, and the reasoning behind it.

It may sound incredibly obvious, but Creative Assembly says it's going with free to play because they feel they need as many players as possible in their multiplayer pool. “The first is the reason why we’re doing this is to make this great multiplayer experience…to have a player population on a different level,” says Russell. Previous games in the series have suffered with long matchmaking times and deserted lobbies—something I docked Shogun 2's otherwise great Avatar mode for. Thus, it stands to reason that something would need to change for a Total War title intended to stand on the strength of its multiplayer.

Creative Assembly also reassures that "pay to win" won't be a concern in Arena. Rather, the plan is to sell accelerators that "let you level-up your character faster so you get to high-level content more quickly." Again, nothing we haven't seen before in the free-to-play space, and nothing all that unexpected. If you haven't already, you can head over to the Total War: Arena site to sign up to be informed of when the closed beta goes live.
Total War: EMPIRE – Definitive Edition
is rts genre dying?


Last week, Ironclad Games’ director and co-owner Blair Fraser called the RTS genre “a dying market.” The genre convention of base building is “done,” Fraser says, and while a handful of games like Company of Heroes “may be profitable,” it’s his belief that RTSes are “very niche.”

Hearing these comments from a strategy studio we respect sparked our own discussion: what’s the state of real-time strategy? In this Face Off debate, T.J. and Evan talk about the health of the genre, and debate whether its popularity has waned to never return, or if it’s actually seeing a resurgence.

Jump over to the next page for more opinions from the PC Gamer community, and make your own arguments in the comments. Debate team captains: construct additional arguments.

Evan: Let’s be clear: this isn’t something that I or we are rooting for. We love RTSes. Command & Conquer was one of my formative games. But the decline of real-time strategy as a popular experience is indisputable. RTS has shrank from the smorgasbord of experiences it offered in the ‘90s and early ‘00s—the era of Warcraft, Age of Empires, Ground Control, Homeworld, and Total Annihilation. I don’t think there’s any hope for a comeback.

TJ: Oh ye of little faith. Well, I’m sure you expected I’d play the eSports card. So... bam! There it is, on the table. All of the most popular eSports are either traditional RTSes, or spins on traditional RTSes. Competitive strategy gaming is drawing millions of viewers in hundreds of countries. How can you say a genre that’s driving that kind of revolution is dying? It looks vibrant and energetic from where I’m sitting.

Evan: The eSports “revolution” you’re describing can be attributed to the increased access to fast, high-quality internet video. eSports is in a better state than it was in the age of DSL and dial-up, sure, but StarCraft is the only conventional RTS with any success as an eSport.

TJ: So far. We’re only two and a half years in. That’s like saying sports were dead back when all they had was Throw the Rock Through the Hoop.

Evan: I’m glad to see eSports doing as well as it is. But really, this is about what we play and pay for, not about what we spectate. It’s about how few games are being made in a genre we used to count as a pillar of PC gaming. Most RTS studios are either closing or scrambling to change their core competency. Relic released a shooter in 2011. Petroglyph laid off 19 people in December and saw its game, End of Nations, brought in-house by its publisher. Sins of a Dark Age, which was initially pitched as an RTS-meets-MOBA, just ditched a “Commander Mode” RTS component that seemed promising. And Gas Powered Games, after declaring that it’d stop adding new content to Age of Empires Online, and after laying off most of its employees, is clinging to a Kickstarter campaign that seems doomed.

I don’t want to see any of these studios shuttered. We need independent, creative groups like Gas Powered in the industry. But this is simply not a healthy genre. Real-time strategy doesn’t have enough fans to support it.

TJ: I don’t have the numbers in front of me, but I would be really, genuinely surprised if there were actually fewer total people playing RTS than in the days of WarCraft III. Gaming, and even PC gaming specifically, have only gained traction since then. Huge traction. I think the fans are definitely there. If anything is dying, it’s the idea that RTSes should be given the same treatment, as shooters or action games, whose audiences have grown faster.

If anything, not enough devs have caught on to how you make and market an RTS in the modern market. You don’t spend Call of Duty money on an these things. And that’s hardly a stubborn enough problem that it would leave us without “any hope for a comeback.”

Evan: Not enough devs have “caught on” because it’s such a challenge for an RTS to make the money of a modern budget back. Again, look at Age of Empires Online. Its parent games were beloved and immensely popular. It reinvented itself as a free game. Gas Powered abandoned it just eight months after release. Very few people are playing it.

Should base-building be retired as a game mechanic? Will Kickstarter allow more studios to market RTS games directly to the people that want them?

TJ: I pin the failure of AOEO on a weak launch. There just wasn’t enough content—and only two factions? Really? If it had launched as the fleshed-out experience it became, I think it would have had a lot more success. Once the gaming masses have decided your game is lackluster, there’s not a lot you can do to bring them back.

Evan: I don’t know... if a free Age of Empires can’t make it, what chance do lesser-knowns like End of Nations have of surviving? I expect a similar fate for the next Command & Conquer, which will also be free to play. Face it: all the recent experiments with RTS have failed.

TJ: So did all the experimentations with human flight for hundreds of years. And they’ve only failed if your definition is pretty narrow.

Evan: This isn’t science—it’s business, and consumers continue to leave the genre. I think a lot of those people are flocking to a genre that was originally a spin-off of Warcraft III. Dota 2 and League of Legends are more popular and successful than StarCraft because designers realized that most people are intimidated by base building and managing a whole army.

TJ: Most people don’t play PC games (in the core audience sense) in the first place. What I’m saying is that RTS is a niche, but it’s no smaller of a niche, in terms of number of players, than it was in the glory days when it represented a higher percentage, because there just weren’t as many gamers. And if you want to talk about consumers expressing themselves, look no further than the 2.2-million-dollar Planetary Annihilation Kickstarter. That’s about as RTS as RTS gets, and it shows that there’s still plenty of vitality in the space beyond the traditional model of publishers bent on spending more than they can make back on these types of games.

Evan: Planetary Annihilation looks terrific! Like any rational human, I’m looking forward to weaponizing asteroids. But Planetary’s “success” is still just 44,000 people. Compare that to another recent spiritual successor made by another small studio—MechWarrior Online, which made 5 million dollars through its pre-order program. Mech games aren’t exactly mainstream—publishers have been afraid to back them for a decade.

Calling RTS a niche is accurate, I guess. But compared to the “glory days,” as you’ve labeled them, I think the genre as it exists now is a clump of lifeboats that’ve escaped from the capsized Titanic.

TJ: You’re comparing apples to robots here. Pre-orders and Kickstarter aren’t necessarily the same thing. I’m not arguing that RTS is as lucrative a genre as, say, shooters or action games. But there are plenty of people on those lifeboats to start a thriving island society. Which is arguably what PC gaming is: a series of thriving, passionate communities.

Evan: Perhaps that island society of yours can gather enough resources to build a second base, tech up, then construct air units. I hope they won’t have to resort to cannibalism.

For more opinions on PC gaming, follow Evan, T.J., and PC Gamer on Twitter. On the next page: more opinions from the community.



Here’s what folks on Twitter wrote back when we asked the following:

@pcgamer no way its dead. It's the best genre by far and the crowning area of pc dominance.— Hilander (@Canisrah) February 4, 2013

@pcgamer We may never see another Age of Empires, but we have Planetary Annihilation, CoH, DoW, SC, and MOBAs. Gimme Homeworld 3!— Josh B (@Branstetter87) February 4, 2013


@pcgamer not dead, but shrinking. By listening too intently to the hardcore crowd, fun simplicity has become overwhelming complexity.— Ryan Aleson (@TacticalGenius) February 5, 2013


@pcgamer RTS genre is alive more than in past, just look at Planetary Annihilation – one of the most funded games on Kickstarter!— Adam Wayland (@AdamWayland86) February 6, 2013


@pcgamer It is a genre in decline in terms of IPs and also game scale. Dying not necessarily but more like small and established.— Alexander Lai(@Lex_Lai) February 4, 2013


@pcgamer It's dying because of the repetitive formulas that every new game has. It's like the state of MMOs, no MMORPG can compete with WoW.— Jesús Jiménez-Lara (@MrVariaZ) February 4, 2013


@pcgamer RTS is not a dying market. It is, was and always will be a niche market. Some people them but most people hate them— Chris Thieblot (@christhieblot) February 5, 2013

@pcgamer Single player games are dying, RTSes are dying, adventure games are dying... nobody tell Valve, Uber, or Telltale!— Jacob Dieffenbach (@dieffenbachj) February 4, 2013


@pcgamer Traditional RTS games translate poorly to consoles, and few devs making PC exclusives outside major franchises.— Eric Watson (@RogueWatson) February 5, 2013

@pcgamer I love my rts games. There the first games I ever played and I don't plan on stopping any time soon.— Scott Ratter (@napatakking) February 5, 2013
Total War: SHOGUN 2
Total War Shogun 2


Total War: Shogun 2's add-on release schedule has shown a remarkable dedication to historical accuracy. First there was the Rise of the Samurai, then, inevitably, the Fall of the Samurai. Now comes the Bundle of the Samurai, giving you the chance to get a 2-for-1 deal on Samurai with Total War: Shogun 2 Gold Edition.

Gold Edition contains Shogun 2, both Samurai-centric add-ons, along with almost all of the game's DLC packs. The exception is the Blood Pack, presumably for rating reasons. No pricing details as of yet, but the Gold Edition is due for release March 8th in Europe and Australia, and March 5th in the US.
Total War: SHOGUN 2 - Steve Watts

Total War: Shogun 2 has been out for a few years now, but if you missed the boat or have just been holding out for a good deal, you may want to mark your calendars for March. Sega is releasing a "Gold Edition" that bundles the game and two of its expansion packs.

The package will include the "Rise of the Samurai" and "Fall of the Samurai" expansions in North America. If you happen to live in Europe, your Gold version includes everything but the Blood Pack, making it the more attractive of the two. Both the game and its expansions got positive receptions.

Team Fortress 2
sonic tf2


We don't get too many kart racers on PC, and for that I'm entirely thankful. However, the word on the streets of Green Hill Zone is that Sonic & All-Stars Racing Transformed is a good 'un - and it's power-sliding its way to PC on January 31st. Not only that, but this new version of the game features three additional characters, based on iconic PC series Total War, Team Fortress 2 and, um, Football Manager.

From Total War: Shogun comes a Samurai Guy, riding a samurai-themed vehicle that transforms into a plane, a boat, or a kart depending on the track's current surface. (It's not so special - all the vehicles do that.) He's joined by Football Manager's The Tactician, a genero-guy in a suit in a car/boat/plane that does a footbally effect when it transforms. So far, so terrible - BUT. They're saved by the appearance of not one but (sort of) three characters from Team Fortress 2: The Pyro, the Spy and the Heavy, who are swapped out depending on whether you're in the water, in the sky, or on terra firma. If you've always wanted to pit the cast of TF2 against a quite-fast hedgehog with an attitude problem, then your insane wish has come true at long last.

Here is a video of the entire gang in action. I have my fingers crossed for TF2 Tennis next:

(Thanks to PCGamesN.)


Total War: SHOGUN 2
Total War Rome 2 preview


This article originally appeared in issue 247 of PC Gamer UK.

Creative Assembly’s Total War team is now almost four times larger than it was when developing the original Rome: Total War. Player expectations have advanced in tandem with technology, and the bar keeps rising: from Shogun’s jagged sprites to Rome II’s grime-streaked, battle-hardened soldiers, there’s always more that can be done to render historical warfare with the depth of detail that has come to define the series.

For Rome II, Creative Assembly have divided their developers into cross-disciplinary ‘functional teams’. Lead designer James Russell explains that individual aspects of the game – battles, the campaign, multiplayer – are being handled by small groups of programmers, designers and artists working closely together.
“You have multiple small teams, and you keep that small-team culture,” he explains. As the level of detail has increased, so the boundary between each of these disciplines has shrunk.

“We simulate things,” Russell says. “For example, the projectile system – it’s fully simulated, and that’s a really big deal. From a professional perspective, people might think that we’re crazy to do that. In a typical RTS, you might say that in a given situation there’ll be a specific kill rate.

“Join the Roman Legion, they said. See the world, they said... ”

“If a target enters cover you’ll apply a modifier rule to the kill rate – minus 20 percent or whatever it is,” he adds. “Because we’re a simulation, the kill rate is determined by whether the arrow hits or not. Whether or not cover affects the kill rate is a property of that cover – it’s not in our control, directly, and that’s really scary for a designer.

“But it does mean that you get all of these interesting properties of reality falling out for free. You don’t need to create a gamey rule.”

In order to balance a system like this, Rome II’s designers need to go back to the properties of real life – not the abstractions of wargaming. If men taking cover behind a line of rocks are dying to arrow fire faster than is desirable, then the solution has to come from the whole team – whether that’s a designer tweaking the accuracy of bowmen, an artist redesigning the scenery, or a programmer tweaking the behaviour of the AI.

As much as Creative Assembly have stressed drama and spectacle in the early marketing push for the game, Russell is keen to point out that building a detailed presentation of war is a crucial part of improving the game’s tactical depth.

I think I can see the weak point in your defences.

“Our battles feel realistic, in an intuitive sense,” he says. When troops clash on the battlefield, in other words, the player shouldn’t see a mathematical formula resolving itself: they should see thousands of individual people acting and responding according to the orders they’ve been given and the events around them. “You don’t want to see the hand of the designer, in that respect, because you want it to feel like it couldn’t be any other way. Real-world tactics should win in the game.”

Creative Assembly’s state-of-the-art motion capture facility is hidden on the edge of a railway yard in west Sussex. It is, they believe, the largest developer-owned mocap suite in Europe – and the culmination of years of work on the part of their animation team.

For any other developer a facility like this would be a tremendous extravagance, but Creative Assembly can be confident in the fact that they will always be working on Total War games, and that they will always have a need for detailed and realistic depictions of men murdering one another on the battlefield.
The early build of Rome II that we’ve seen in action uses a fraction of the capture work that will go into the final game, Creative Assembly tells me.

CA aim to make the maths underpinning Rome II’s vast battles nigh-on invisible.

Everything from simple marching animations to choreographed ‘matched combat’ sequences between two or more fighters will be pulled from a vast pool of data, breaking up the monotony of the battle line and investing each combatant with their own personality.

Then, as the dramatic actions of those individual troops propagate up through the simulation, Creative Assembly hope that the new level of detail they can achieve will pay dividends for the game as a whole.

“We want to have our cake and eat it,” Russell admits. “On the campaign map, we understand that it’s a game of statecraft – but we want to make you feel that you’re running an empire that’s populated by real individuals, and that you’re negotiating with AIs that feel like real people. It’s about making the game feel massively enhanced at both ends of the scale.

“I think those two things actually reinforce each other,” he concludes. “That’s the point. We want to take what we’ve learned and use that to push every aspect of the game forward without compromise. It’s really scary. It’s a really ambitious project. We’ve got a motto: ‘If you’re not shit scared, you’re not trying hard enough.’”
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