Creative Assembly burst onto the gaming scene a few years back with their release of Shogun: Total War. That revolutionary game combined a turn-based mode where players upgraded their provinces, managed their finances and armies, and dealt with the politics of war-torn Japan. Even then, though, we commented on the interface problems that were destined to plague the sequel, Medieval: Total War.
Throughout all this time however, since the release of Shogun, Creative Assembly has been working on Rome: Total War. Imagine that – over four and a half years ago, the developers envisioned a fully 3D game that would support tens of thousands of individual units at the same time. During development they’ve also taken time to avoid the problems that popped up in the first two games, and flesh out weak points like diplomacy.
Both the real-time tactical and turn-based strategic aspects of Rome are good enough to stand on their own as decent, if not great, games. Put them together however, and the end sum has to be one of the best strategy games ever.
Rome: Total War obviously focuses around the city of Rome and its deeds in the Mediterranean basin. The game starts in 270BC, shortly after the last Samnite War and the Pyrrhic War, when Rome seized control of southern Italy and a corner of Sicily, and ends at – don’t quote me on this – 6AD, with the historical ascension of Caesar Augustus. Each year is divided into two turns, meaning there are about 550 turns total.
The player is initially forced to play a Prologue campaign that covers the establishment of the Julii holdings in Etruria and the repulsion of the last Gallic invasion of Rome. With the prologue completed, the Imperial Campaign can begin. There are three factions available at first, the aforementioned Julii, the Brutii and the Scipii.
Since, initially, the Roman factions are unable to attack each other, each tends to focus its expansion efforts in the natural direction. The Julii face the Gauls to the North, the Scipii have Sicily to unite, then look across the sea to take on the surprisingly weak Carthaginians. The Brutii have the unenviable task of fighting the Greeks and Macedonians. Having started all three campaigns and finished the game with the Brutii, let me suggest that new players stay away from the old greentags. They fight too many powerful civilizations, like the Greeks, Macedonians, Seleucids and Egyptians.
Otherwise, the differences between the three factions are nominal. Each gets a unique gladiator unit and different deities, and the Scipii get a more powerful ship, but in the important matters, the Romans are identical.