The game’s slower tempo – both in battles and on the strategic map – has its appeals but can really drag on the experience, especially the strategic slugfest. The tactical battles are much slower, with slower movement by all units, and higher defense values that extend combat between units.
The longer unit fights present some opportunities, since it’s easier to use a numbers advantage now – if you have an extra cavalry or infantry unit, even though they all move slower, they can be brought to greater effect by flanking the enemy. The longer fights permit the maneuvers and for them to take effect.
Cavalry is less powerful than before, in frontal charges and especially in prolonged fights. Unless you’re riding an elephant or cataphract into a melee, your units won’t hold their own against even mediocre infantry in a pitched battle. Elephants, of course, are no less formidable than before – perhaps more so if possible. Without the flaming pigs and with the reduced effectiveness of ranged units, elephants will disrupt a battle line and even destroy entire cohorts wholesale unless checked early.
Archers as much, much weaker than before. Even the weakest, least-armored and slowest infantry units will take few casualties from pure archer fire. At best it’ll whittle away a few units and depress their morale, but no more. You can no longer expect to decimate formations with archers, or even weaken them significantly – especially not if the archers are firing head-on into their shields.
Rome’s battles against later enemies are very interesting – and sometimes frustrating. The inept Roman cavalry, even if supplemented by better cavalry mercenaries, is no match for, say, the Scythians. Scythian cavalry, being both excellent horse archers and dominating in a melee against other cavalry, can hit and run the typical Roman force with impunity. They can’t destroy it, but it can lead to some very long battles with futile chases. Of course, the Scythians are equally terrible at sieges, unable to storm cities due to their lack of infantry or to decisively defeat relief forces. The Roman problems with such barbarians are apparently by design, a check on Roman expansion and a nod to history.
Total Realism changes the game significantly but not completely. The unit stat adjustments bring down the overpowered uberlegions of vanilla Total War, but few units in the game can go toe-to-toe with the Total Realism legions despite this. Key adjustments to AI – both battle and strategic – seem either not to have been done or an impossibility. This is unfortunate, since the AI has turned out to be one of the long-term weaknesses of the game.