Did I say that battles in Rome were fast? That might be a bit of an understatement. This is blitzkrieg warfare, my faithful readers. Units march as fast as they used to run in Medieval: Total War, they run twice as fast and their charge is at break-neck speeds. This is the complete opposite style of the previous game in the series, which was a slow chess-match by comparison.
With Medieval, it was simply a matter of reacting to your opponent's moves - no difficult task. In Rome, the best solution is to attack or at least anticipate your foe. Deployment and unit selection matter as much if not more than they used to. This is particularly true in the case of the pikemen and phalanx units, who must press the attack and keep their enemies in front, because their own maneuverability and thus ability to react are so inferior.
Another thing: cavalry rules the battlefield. Not because it's all-powerful or can charge a legion head-on - it can't. No, cavalry rules because it is fast, maneuverable and can flank like nobody's business. Given two armies, one with stronger cavalry and the other with stronger infantry, but otherwise equivalent, the one with better cavalry will win - unless the power of the enemy infantry is overwhelming. Once the enemy cavalry is swept off the field, yours can charge down onto the backs of the enemy infantry. Your infantry's only purpose is to hold their infantry in place long enough to permit the cavalry to charge in. On the other hand, it's difficult to defend against a cavalry charge with infantry, and forces you to peel them off from the battle line.
It's interesting to note just how deadly siege weapons have become. Ballistae, even the fancy Roman repeating kind, are pretty disappointing but wow, you do not want to keep your tightly packed legions or phalanxes in place while they're being bombarded by heavy onagers. This doesn't make onagers a decisive weapon by any stretch of the imagination, but it does force the enemy to engage. A stand-off fight against superior artillery is not a welcome proposition.
The small touches in graphics and gameplay contribute greatly to the battle experience. The way hoplites have to raise their spears to turn around and are in general poor at maneuvering, for example. Should you charge a phalanx in the rear or flank, it's pretty much game over for those guys. A Roman infantry unit or other swordsmen, by comparison, can quickly adapt to various situations, change formation and even fight half-decently after being flanked or hit in the rear.
Now the overall feel can be arguably described as "unrealistic" or "arcadey" by those who need five minutes to spot and react to an opponent's move. On the other hand, it makes battles a lot more exciting and puts more emphasis on maneuver. The battle maps are larger, they have more ways for units to conceal their presence and thus permit ambush, the quicker movement forces players to anticipate their foes while simultaneously delivering their attack plan. Tom Chick will hate me for thus, but Rome's battles are simply a lot more fun than Medieval's. Check out the demo
to see for yourself.