Summary: Don't like the somewhat fast pace and deadly archers of Rome: Total War? Are you annoyed by flaming pigs, screaching women and druids? Come hither, into the lands of ye Total Realism mod, which Jakub kindly reviewed.
The key focus for the mod designers was to make the game more realistic. To this end, they removed units they saw as objectionable, ahistorical or frivolous – consequently the screaming women, the war dogs and druids are all gone. Other units got modified to bring them in line with more believable performance as well. The legions are standardized now, with no praetorian or urban cohorts available. They’re also less powerful relative to much of their competition, though still generally the best infantry unit in the game, with a stellar defense value that lets them grind opponents down as they did historically.
Of course, that’s one of the side issues that comes up with the mod. The developers have pinned their reputations on being historically accurate, not balancing for the sake of balance (except, perhaps, in unit costs and support costs), but one question is impossible to answer. How accurate are the unit assessments? Can anyone know how good units were against each other, relatively? Is there any possible way of testing? Historical battle results are skewed by history, translations and the records of the witnesses themselves. Then there are the battle conditions to consider – numbers of men, morale, leadership quality, weather, and terrain. An encounter between a Roman legion and enemy unit might have happened only once historically, if at all. Who knows how the results might have turned out on a different day, battlefield or with different generals? All these questions fly in the face of the confident, even arrogant proclamations by the developers, who are dismissive of Rome: Total War as it was out of the box for being completely unrealistic.
Realism questions aside, the mod is highly comprehensive. It outright eliminates distinction between the four Roman factions, rather combining them into one. The map is greatly extended to the East, covering up to and including what is modern Iran. Every unit in the game has been overhauled not just in statistics, but artwork – at the least the skins if not the models themselves. Rome’s position is considerably weaker at the outset of the game, with the immediate threat of Pyrrhus in the South, while a confident, powerful Gaul gathers its resources in the North for an epic conflict across northern Italy.
The constant sieges drag on the game considerably. This is one area where the developers took the opposite tack in making the expansion pack – Barbarian Invasion includes fewer cities, making for more field battles. Total Realism has so many cities and provinces that field battles are rare – doubly so if you discount siege relief efforts.
Furthermore, wars now last decades rather than mere turns. Foreign civilizations have huge pools of manpower to draw on now, and constantly replenish their armies. As the player smashes each subsequent enemy army, the economy of your foe recovers since he no longer has to support those units, and he builds a new one within a few turns. Now understand that most civilizations can support several stacks at a time, so the loss of one per turn is no big deal, and it will be replenished soon enough.
Accordingly, conquests are best planned well in advance, seizing several cities – key cities – at a time with several stacks. Of course, even if you capture five or six towns, which is a monumental effort, you have to slow down and wait for them to build up. As recent conquests, they become frontline and the subject of constant enemy attentions, but they also cannot support advanced armies in and of themselves. Since the AI is fanatical about persecuting wars no matter how they’re going, it is difficult to get peace without giving up many of those conquests – even if you’re besieging their capital! This is doubly true if a coalition is involved against you, since the AI seems to weigh the potential strength rather than the actual defeats it has suffered over the last decade.
Of course, once the player is big enough, he can engage in scorched earth as well, but this is not a decisive strategy for victory. Rather, it can serve to delay one opponent while you focus your forces on another. Furthermore, scorched earth almost necessarily implies the loss of your armies while the enemy’s grow more experienced through victory – a dangerous situation.
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.
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