Rome: Total War is one of those games that a certain, very dedicated audience loves, while the rest of the gaming world is left outside admiring the craft but not quite understanding the dedication. The first Rome: Total War was critically acclaimed and spawned a line of expansions and updates, and now strategy giants The Creative Assembly are returning to the game with a full sequel, not to mention switching around the title to Total War: Rome 2.
What's different? "Just about everything, really," says lead battle designer Jamie Ferguson during an interview at E3 2013. "In the ten years since we did Rome 1, we've completely overhauled the game. The game engine isn't even the same."
TCA has released a number of Total War sequels and spinoffs throughout periods of history, and updated the original title with new features and systems already. But even despite those improvements, Ferguson says the new game has even more updates and improvements. "When we call it Rome 2, it might be a bit of a misnomer in a way," he says. "We might call it Rome Redux, I guess. It's a completely reworked vision of the game."
In the early games, the campaign was essentially a map of linear battles, but in the years since, and in Total War: Rome 2 especially, it's been fleshed out to the point where it's a second complete game experience. "It's the biggest map we've ever done," campaign designer Dominique Starr says. "There are 172 regions or so, and also a province system which we've overlaid on top of that."
Even in a short demo of the game, the full map's scale is staggering, allowing the player to control the Roman empire from northern Europe, all the way down to the deserts of Egypt and Africa. Players can zoom out to see the empire as a whole, or zoom in to manage towns and provinces, and transfer around individual legions and armies.
The map isn't just an entry into the next battle at this point -- it's a complete game in itself. Players will need to manage cities and diplomacy, and can even try to pull off assassinations, or create alliances, all outside of the battle system. "In Shogun 2, we introduced the whole dilemmas, random events system," says Starr. Those dilemmas have now turned into random events that can have major complications (or benefits) for the player as time goes on. "If a great gladiator arrives, he's producing happiness, and you can leave him to do his thing, and everyone's happy. But leave him too long, he might get power hungry, pull a Spartacus and there's a great slave revolt," says Starr. "So you may like the benefits, but is it really worth leaving this guy around?"
Each soldier, regiment, and legion has a list of bonuses based on training, morale, and situation, and those bonuses are constantly updated as the battle goes along. True to the series' history, Total War: Rome 2 lets you control every moment of every battle, from a huge tactical overview, down to directing individual new unit types (war elephants!) and armies. Legions can be trained and given their own traditions, and now even when that legion is killed in battle, the legion's name and traditions can be carried on, so players won't have to rebuild everything from scratch.
The controls have been simplified a bit as well. "The core game is still there, but the way that you access that game is now very different," says Ferguson. "We're now at a stage where I'd say if you've played an RTS game, you'll know how to navigate battles."
That's true in the campaign, too. "If you understand the basics of a turn-based strategy game, you'll be able to navigate around the campaign mode easily enough," says Starr. The developers realize that managing the whole Roman empire might be a bit overwhelming, so players start with just one province, and the game grows from there. There's also a prologue mission to play if you're an absolute beginner, so The Creative Assembly hopes the game is as welcoming as it is deep. Even in the middle of battle, "there's a lot of at-a-glance information that you can get very quickly," says Ferguson, so TCA hopes that even players who are simply pushing troops around will see something that clues them in to how deep the game's simulation can go.
All of The Creative Assembly's Total War games have seen lots of support post-release, and though there is no DLC announced yet, Ferguson and Starr say that it's safe to expect more content on the way. "With Shogun 2 we had solid faction unlocks, DLC campaign, an expansion for the Samurai," says Starr. And Ferguson adds that "even with all of those releases, there were elements that we patched into the original game just as part of updates. We're looking at that kind of thing" for Rome 2 as well, he says.
Finally, the developers say that while both of the new consoles at E3 do have a lot of similarity to PCs, it's unlikely that we'll see the much-loved series make its way to a console anytime soon. "It's one of those things where we have to find something that doesn't end up being a compromise, says Ferguson. "If we ever do find that secret formula, then that's probably the time when you'll see a Total War on a console."
Starr adds that the possibilities for controls are getting more interesting, with the addition of touchpads to controllers, and motion and voice controls via Kinect or the PlayStation Eye. But The Creative Assembly is obviously focusing on releasing the game on PC, and finally bringing a numbered sequel to one of the most popular Total War games released yet. Total War: Rome 2 is due out in September of this year.