Friday, April 6, 2012

Review - Rome: Total War

Rome: Total War (PC)

Gameplay: 18/25
Art: 15/25
Story: 20/25
Ho. Value: 18/25
Overall Score: 71/100

Rome: Total War is the third title in the franchise developed by The Creative Assembly and was published in the September of 2004. It's the first Total War's game I've played and in many ways it's my favourite strategy game of all time. It's strange to recall the memories of Rome: Total War now that I've finished a couple of campaigns with Total War: Shogun 2. Rome: Total War's is inferior to his younger cousin on a technical and design level and the game looks objectively dated. But I know that I will never fall in love with TW:S2 the way I've done with R:TW and that I will never invest in the newer game the stupid amount of time I spent playing its older counterpart. Yes, even in 2012 I would choose Rome over Shogun any day of the week.

I don't know, maybe it's just rose colored glasses on my part, a side effect of the nostalgia I feel for memories of fun and involvement. Total War's gameplay has not changed a lot over time so I guess that most features have lost their charm during the years on a personal level. The Creative Assembly tried something new with Empire: Total War and to put it kindly I prefer to fake that this game never happened: what an utter failure and what a disappointment! I'm not implying that the series is getting stale (am I?) and I will never say anything bad about a project based on the practice of polish and good holistic design like Shogun 2. Still, I can't deny the fact that the first time I've kept my eyes and hands on Rome: Total War, everything looked new, interesting and deep and sadly that feeling is gone.

In retrospect, it's hard to miss all the shortcomings of R:TW. The gameplay feels arcade-ish at times, the real-time battles AI is stupid and predictable, there are tons of historical inaccuracies, the map is unbalanced and the roman armies are vastly overpowered. But Rome: Total War has still something special to offer to its players, something that Shogun 2 won't deliver on purpose: variety. The word of R:TW is rich in differences and singularities, while playing TW: S2 you feel like you're always following the same steps, with flavour nuances caused by difficulty and luck. Playing a campaign with the Roman or the Greeks is vastly different and requests a dissimilar set of skills and strategies. Instead, the Japanese clans differs mostly in aesthetics. I know that's the main reason why Shogun 2 is so polished while Rome's not that much. Polish has its cost and polish was what we requested to The Creative Assembly. They delivered sacrificing variety and in the end it's all good and fine: I won't complain for getting what I've asked for. I'm simply ambivalent about the trade off in terms of pure fun.

On a more personal level, I must admit that roman history is one of my biggest passions. I love to read books and essays about the rise and fall of Rome: I live in Italy and it's our history. Gaming or not, the experience is bound to feel more real than the distant saga of the Sengoku Jidai period. That explains even why I felt that Rome is better than Shogun in terms of emergent storytelling. But I guess that the epicness of the roman world compared to the insulate nature of Japan's history and culture is a good and more objective explanation as well.

So, that's why I still love Rome: Total War that much. I hope that in their next project, The Creative Assembly will be able to use all the technical and design achievements of their last title in a bigger and more varied environment to deliver us the definitive Total War game. Maybe it will be just Rome 2: rose colored glasses or not, a gamer can dream. 

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