• Rome II: 10th Anniversary Review




    Total War: Rome II
    A 10th Anniversary Review
    by Alwyn


    Introducing Rome II

    At the start of Rome II's grand campaign, it is 272 BC. Rome is the strongest power in central and southern Italy, but their dominance is challenged by the Etruscan League. To the south, Carthage and their client states, such as the kingdom of Libya, are building up their forces to compete with Rome. In the east, Alexander's empire has splintered into four warring successor states - Macedon, Egypt, Baktria and the Seleucid Empire - and smaller nations might form alliance with these major powers to survive the conflict, or take advantage of the war to expand their territory. North of Rome are Gallic tribes, whose bards tell the story of the sack of Rome a century ago by Brennus, leader of the Senones. A Celtic or Germanic tribe might try to follow in the foot-steps of Brennus. To the west is the Greek colony at Massalia in the southern coast of Gaul - a potential ally or enemy of Rome - and beyond them are the kingdoms of Gauls, Iberians, Belgae and Britons.

    If a player buys the Emperor Edition of Rome II, which is simply the base game (with no DLC), they will be able to play the grand campaign as any of 14 factions (Rome, Arverni, Carthage, Egypt, Iceni, Macedon, Parthia, Seubi, Pontus, the Seleucid Empire, Baktria, Getae, Armenia and Massilia). The base game also includes an Imperator Augustus campaign (starting in 42 BC, after the murder of Julius Caesar, with 10 playable factions - Marc Antony, Lepidus, Octavian, Pompey, Iceni, Marcomanni, Dacia, Egypt, Parthia and Armenia.) For players who would like to add more factions or campaigns, there are culture packs (which generally add three factions to the main campaign) and campaign packs. Some campaign packs - Caesar in Gaul and Hannibal at the Gates - add three factions to the main campaign and add a separate campaign. Other campaign packs - Wrath of Sparta, Empire Divided and Rise of the Republic - simply add a separate campaign, without adding factions to the main campaign. There are also unit packs, and a pack for blood and gore.


    The trailer for the Imperator Augustus campaign illustrates the atmosphere of the game

    This review will focus on the grand campaign. One of the things I enjoy about starting a grand campaign is the sense of possibility - I don't know which nations will prevail. Rome might form an empire, or the Massilians, the Boii or another kingdom might take their place. This can be disappointing for players who expect to see the Roman Republic expanding as it historically did, but it offers more variety in different campaigns. Another thing I enjoy is the range of factions which are available. You can start as a major power - such as Rome or one of the successor states - or a small kingdom with a single city. You can choose a faction in any of the four cultural groups - Roman, Hellenic, Barbarian or Eastern - and the opportunities available to your nation depend on their culture, roster, starting position and (for some nations) the ruling house that you choose.

    A troubled release - is it good now?

    Rome II was heavily criticised on release. After a series of patches leading to the Ancestral Update in 2018, this review aims to answer the often-asked question "is it good now?". At launch, Rome II had significant problems. Even after several patches, it was easy to find criticisms of Rome II, and here are some of them: spies were overpowered because of their mass poisoning ability, grain settlements were overpowered because they give bonus food for all the player's provinces, and warships were pointless because transport ships were equally effective in sea battles. Someone considering buying the game might wonder whether the criticisms are still true. Those criticisms have been addressed, for example spies no longer cause heavy casualties through mass poisoning. Poisoning of armies was replaced by an ability to slow an army down on the campaign map by sabotaging their supplies, which is useful when enemy raids your provinces. Grain settlements now only give a bonus to neighbouring provinces, so they're not overpowered but still very valuable, as they were historically (the city of Rome "required massive grain imports to feed its population" at the start of the Roman Empire: David Kessler and Peter Temin). Warships, especially Hellenic, Roman and Eastern ones with rams, reliably defeat transport ships.

    One persistent issue with Total War games is that experienced players can find them too easy. Increasing the difficulty level gives the AI bonuses (allowing the AI to recruit more and better-quality units) but it doesn't make the AI smarter. Even after 20 updates, Rome II isn't very difficult for veteran Total War players - particularly in the late campaign - however, the game offers more of a challenge than it did before. Before the Ancestral Update, the AI was more passive on the campaign map and battle-field. Since the Ancestral Update, I've seen more challenging AI behaviour on the campaign map and in battles. The AI declares war more often and is more likely to send armies to attack. For example, when I play as Carthage, Rome and Syracuse are more likely to land armies in Africa and to keep expanding. On the battlefield, if I'm landing troops when attacking a port city, the defenders are likely to line up outside their city and attack, instead of waiting passively in the streets.

    The modding scene

    While it's true that the game can be too easy - particularly for very experienced players - there are still options. Mods such as Rome II Total Realism and Divide et Impera add to the complexity and challenge of the vanilla game, and provide players with the benefit of many hours of skilled modding work. For players who would like to add to the game without significant changes to the game mechanics, mods such as Sebidee's Unit Roster Overhaul offer new opportunities and challenges - and those are just a few examples. For the full range of mods I recommend having a look at Rome II Hosted Modifications, Rome II Modifications - and there are also more offerings beyond TWC, such as Wars of the Gods.

    A challenging campaign?

    As well as challenging a player in their home regions (such as Rome attacking Carthage) an AI faction is capable of pushing hard against the player when you expand into a new part of the map. In an Iceni campaign, after conquering Britain and Ireland, I entered Gaul. Initially, my Iceni were successful, taking northern and western Gaul. However, the Iceni found themselves under attack from the three sides at once: the Arverni advanced from the south-west, the Romans pushed into Gaul from their base in Massalia in the south-east and the Frisii, my former trading partners, crossed the Rhine to sack one of my cities in northern Gaul - an exciting situation.


    Four Roman legions invading Gaul, providing an enjoyable challenge

    If you played a previous campaign as Rome, but found it too easy because of their strong roster and starting position, you could play as a Celtic or Germanic faction (strong roster, weaker starting position) or Carthage (a dispersed empire and a more limited roster). If you played as Cimmeria, enjoying the combination of strong spear infantry and fast horse archers, but found it too easy, you could try Colchis (weaker starting position, more restricted roster), Pergamon (weaker starting position, short-range skirmishers) or Armenia (weaker melee infantry, at least initially) or a nomad faction (whose rosters are mostly cavalry).

    Different factions offer different challenges. Early expansion for some factions, such as the Iceni or Arverni, is relatively easy. Your neighbours have the same culture - so maintaining public order is not too difficult - and their units are similar to yours (so you know their capabilities). If you enjoy playing Celts and would like more of a challenge to expand, you can play as Galatia or Tylis, surrounded by factions with different cultures and fighting styles. You could try a hybrid faction like Massilia (Greek/Celtic) or Pontus (Eastern/Greek), giving you the chance to experiment with combinations of fighting styles. If you like fast attacks, there are several factions which rely on cavalry (nomadic and several Eastern factions). If you like stealth, there are several factions offering this (Suebi, Lusitani and Nervii). If you enjoy the challenge of a restricted roster, there are factions with a limited range of units (such as Colchis, Odrysia and Ardiaei) - and there are game mechanics such as mercenaries and, for some factions, the abiity to levy units from client states or satrapies, which can help the player to overcome this difficulty.

    After 20 updates, a lot of improvements have been made. The result isn't perfect, but in my experience it's worth getting. As we're about to see, one aspect of the game got worse - the prologue campaign, which introduces the game but wasn't updated to show players the new features added by recent updates (such as the family tree). The prologue can also be more difficult for new players than you would expect a tutorial campaign to be, now that the AI is more aggressive.

    Prologue: The Samnite Wars

    A Roman army has been defeated and the Roman city of Capua is under attack. In this desperate situation, the commander of the garrison of a grain store intervenes to rescue a village facing a Samnite attack, and realises that he has an opportunity to intervene decisively in defence of Capua. The prologue sensibly introduces the game step by step. It avoids overwhelming the player; initially you command a small group of melee infantry, fighting a skirmish, before acquiring reinforcements and marching to help defend Capua. This battle introduces a new line of sight system - as you march across a wooded ridge, your units are invisible to your enemy until your soldiers emerge from the trees. This is different from previous games such as Empire Total War, where only a few units have the ability to 'hide while walking'.

    In another battle, the prologue introduces army stances; your army defending a pass enters a fortification stance, which means that it has the benefit of a fort. On the campaign map, an army can use any of several stances - including fortified, forced march and ambush. This feature is also unlike previous Total War games such as Empire, where an ambush stance was only available if the army was composed of units with the paths seldom trod ability.

    After capturing a port, the player is invited to send their army across the sea to capture another port city. This may confuse players of previous Total War games, since the prologue campaign does not allow the player to build a fleet in the port they captured (even if a military harbour is constructed). This introduces the player to another new mechanic - an army can move onto the sea, automatically using transport ships for this without the player needing to build warships. The automatic transport ships feature has been criticised by some players who expected to need to build a fleet to transport an army. However, when a Roman general, Julius Caesar, wanted to defeat the Armoricans (the Gauls of modern Brittany and Normandy who controlled the area's lucrative coastal trade), he ordered legionaries and Gaulish slaves to build transport ships (Vanessa Collingridge, Boudica, 2006, p. 53) - so soldiers did build transport ships in this era. While naval invasions by the AI are not common, I have seen more of them with Rome II than in previous Total War games. In Empire Total War, I have never seen an AI faction land an army in Britain, but in Rome II I have:


    An AI naval invasion in Britain: in an Iceni campaign, the Frisii landed an army near Eildon (Edinburgh)

    The Samnite Wars occurred during the fourth and early third century BC, before the Grand Campaign, but your roster in the prologue campaign is familiar for those who go on to play Rome in the Grand Campaign. While this is not a historical re-enactment, there are nice historical details, for example the Lucanians fight as allies of Rome, as they historically did. The prologue offers a helpful introduction to some new mechanics such as the true line of sight system, army stances and the way that armies use transport ships. It's understandable that the prologue does not introduce players to some newer features (such as the family tree and internal faction politics), since these features were added by updates - even so, it's a shame that the prologue wasn't updated to introduce them. Experienced players tend to suggest that new players learn the game simply by playing the Grand Campaign as a faction which starts near a corner of the map (such as Iceni or Baktria) and this tends to work well.

    The family tree

    The Ancestral Update is perhaps best known for the introduction of a family tree, a much-liked feature in some previous games. The family tree combines with a re-worked internal politics system which involves the possibility of a secession or civil war - and, as Rome experienced historically, the player's faction can experience more than one civil war during a campaign. These features can cause confusion for new players, who sometimes say that they were surprised by a secession and didn't think they could have done anything to prevent it.

    When I first heard of the previous civil war mechanic (before the Ancestral Update), I found it confusing and initially used a mod to remove it. However, with the current system, the player can understand better what is happening, for example by hovering the cursor over the loyalty score of a rival party to see what affect their loyalty. When managing characters, it's tempting to appoint only characters from your ruling party as generals and admirals. It can be tempting, too, to keep winning battles with the same commanders, so that they keep levelling up. The internal politics system balances this - it's easy to imagine how, if a ruler gave military commands and promotions only to their own faction, rival factions would plot to break away (a secession) or overthrow the ruler (a civil war). In the game, as in real life, nepotism undermines political stability. Also, if the player appoints a lot of commanders in a short time, or if their generals keep getting killed, the player is likely to need to appoint people from rival parties.

    As part of managing characters, the family tree has a system of intrigues, allowing important characters to interact - for example by praising, provoking or adopting other characters, or sending children to be tutored. I usually rely on a few of these - such as adopting characters into my ruling family and tutoring children. At times, when appointing commanders, there can be a choice between a more talented member of a rival party or a less skilled leader from the ruling party. This offers an interesting choice between talent and loyalty. At other times, because you can improve the use intrigues to improve the traits of your characters, you can assign command to someone who is both effective and reliable. Just as the trailer to the Imperator Augustus campaign shows Julius Caesar as mentoring the young Octavian, your older characters can mentor younger characters using intrigues, improving their fitness for command - this can be satisfying and useful.

    Secessions and civil wars

    The politics tab in a Suebi campaign. The pop-up box headed 'Loyalty breakdown' shows the factors affecting the loyalty of the Warhorse Clan

    In the screenshot above, the Warhorse Clan have +72 loyalty, while the Seahorse Clan are on -8 and the Angry Beast Clan on +8. It might have been better if I had worked harder on keeping the Seahorses and Angry Beasts loyal. Even on -8 loyalty, there is still a 0% risk of secession (a risk only appears when loyalty reaches -10). Also, by this point the Warhorses control 46% of my territory, while the Seahorses have 12% and the Angry Beasts 0% - so keeping the Warhorses loyal matters more.

    As well as managing public order, money and food, in Rome II it is necessary to manage internal politics, to prevent secessions and civil wars. The new system responds to player criticisms - as well as adding a family tree (which players asked for), on the politics screen, the player can see the reasons why rival parties are loyal. On the campaign map, a new filter allows players to see which regions of our empires are governed by which parties.

    There's a risk of a secession when a rival party's loyalty falls below -10. You can hover over their loyalty score to see what kind of actions will earn their loyalty and, if there's a danger of secession or civil war, you will be able to see the causes. For example, warlike rival parties may be disloyal if the player has many trade treaties with other factions, while commercially oriented rival parties may be loyal in the same situation.

    There are several things a player which can do to maintain the loyalty of rival parties. They include earning loyalty by appointing members of rival parties as generals or admirals, using political marriages to build alliances, sending rival party members on diplomatic missions, and using loyalty edicts in provinces which are under the influence of rival parties. We can also reduce the risk of secessions by changing our government type. If you're a Republic, you can switch your government type to Empire if you meet the conditions (a Republic has a penalty for the loyalty of rival parties, an Empire has a bonus). For a more detailed explanation, Welsh Dragon and I wrote a guide; part one shows how to understand the politics system, helping players to predict when secessions and civil wars will happen and understand why they happen, while part two shows how to avoid these internal conflicts.

    Managing your provinces

    Rome II develops further the expansion of empire management in Shogun 2. In Shogun 2, managing your territory is more complex than in some previous Total War games, because the player needs to manage food, as well as public order and income. Rome II takes this further: when managing an empire, we need to consider public order, income, food, the slave population and the loyalty of rival parties. On the campaign map, the game rewards players who specialise provinces. Some provinces are well-suited to certain kinds of development, such as the fertile lands of the Nile valley in Egypt which are ideal for food production and agricultural wealth. The internal politics system means that rival parties will govern parts of your empire. As long as they remain loyal, the provinces which they govern will function normally: the player still chooses which buildings are constructed and which units and agents are recruited, for example. When a rival party has high loyalty, provinces governed by that party receive bonuses. However, if a faction relies on a particular province for its food supply, then if that province breaks away in a secession, this could be a serious problem. Rome II rewards players for specialising provinces, but the risk of secession means that balancing is needed.

    Public order and unit recruitment are shared across a province, so the benefits of a temple or barracks apply in more than one region (if the player controls more than one region in the same province). Food is shared empire-wide; a food shortage in one province does not mean that your people will go hungry, as this province will import food from elsewhere in your empire, as long as you have a food surplus overall.

    When adding and upgrading buildings, the player needs to remember that some upgrades consume food. Food is a faction-wide resource; it doesn't matter if a province has -20 food, as long as your nation has a food surplus overall. While there will be some cities with fully upgraded buildings, it is usually not wise to upgrade every building in every city to the highest level - at least until you have top-tier farms and provinces which specialise in farming and fishing. Managing food can catch out players who are used to earlier games (where there was generally no downside to upgrading buildings) - especially if an enemy, a rebellion, a secession or a civil war deprives your faction of a province that you relied on for food production. Fortunately, the game offers the player ways to avoid your armies being depleted by starvation. For example, you can stop taxing a province with a large food deficit (untaxed provinces don't have a food deficit), enact a bread and games edict, sent a character on a mission to improve the food supply, convert buildings into food-producing ones, or (as a last resort) destroy buildings which consume food.

    The user interface could do more to assist the player with planning building upgrades, as well as planning how to level up characters - it would have been better if the player could see the complete building trees and skill trees at any time (and not only see the complete skill tree for a character, for example, when levelling up that character).

    Imperium: the challenges of a growing empire

    Unlike previous games, there is no time limit for completing the campaign objectives. This encourages the player to alternate between expansion and consolidation. Shogun 2 famously has the Realm Divide mechanic: at a certain stage in the campaign, the other factions will gang up on the player, providing a late-game challenge. Some players enjoy the challenge of planning ahead so that their empire will be ready for Realm Divide, others see it as artificial. Rather than having one big mechanic to provide challenge, Rome II has several small ones. An army which the player was relying on might suffer from plague, a city could be struck by a great fire, and there are several types of disorder which can break out. As well as ordinary rebellions (when public order is too low), there are slave uprisings (if your faction has too many slaves), secessions (when a rival party in the your faction tries to break away) and civil wars (when a rival party or parties try to seize control).

    As your empire expands, it will reach new levels of Imperium. Imperium provides a simple manpower system, as the maximum number of armies and fleets which you can recruit is linked to the size of your empire. Some players were frustrated because Rome II requires every army to have a general (previous Total War games did not have this requirement) - however, at times, in some previous games such as Empire Total War, AI factions could recruiting an excessive number of small armies. Also, diplomacy and strategic planning matter more when the player can't secure every border with an army.

    When the player's faction expands and reaches a high level of Imperium, it suffers the kind of problems large empires had, such as corruption and other factions becoming hostile because of your continuing expansion. This can provide interesting challenges. For example, in the late stage of a Carthage campaign, as corruption grew and my trading partners were conquered by my enemies (or allies), I increasingly relied on cheap mercenaries to protect my borders, just as the late Roman empire increasingly relied on auxiliaries and mercenaries.

    Experienced Total War players tend to say that they would like more of a challenge in the late campaign. The AI can build rival empires and they can sometimes challenge the player. However, beyond a certain point, at least in some campaigns, while the player has more work to do to meet the victory conditions, there is no serious rival remaining on the campaign map. One reason for this is that AI factions tend to struggle to maintain large empires; another reason is that victory conditons can be very ambitous.


    A Baktrian empire, with the player's regions in yellow and allied regions in blue. The conditions for a victory have not been satisfied, because the player has not conquerered Italia

    For example, if you play as one of the successor states of Alexander's empire (Macedon, Egypt, the Seleucid Empire and Baktria), you may need to defeat the other successor states - in particular, Egypt and the Seleucid Empire are likely to go to war (reflecting the historical Syrian Wars of the 3rd century BC). However, in a Baktria campaign, even capturing the home provinces of the other successor states, and creating an empire which dominated a large part of the map, was not enough for a military victory - to win the campaign, it was also necessary to invade the province of Italia (or to make an alliance with Rome).

    To be fair, there are three different ways to win in the grand campaign - a military victory, an economic victory and a cultural victory - even so, it can tempting to stop playing a campaign in the late stages, if the player faces no serious rival and if it would take a lot of turns to satisfy the remaining victory conditions. At times, the victory conditions can feel somewhat arbitrary - for example, in a Roman campaign, it was necessary to have 60 naval units for a military victory (even though Rome faced no serious naval threat at that stage in my campaign). As Baktria, I needed to recruit 60 mercenary units for a military victory. Mercenary units tend to have a high upkeep cost, so - while this is not impossible - it can feel somewhat artificial.

    The campaign AI

    The situation on the campaign map tends to be fluid. In one campaign as the Iceni, I conquered northern Gaul and secured by southern border by an alliance with the powerful Arverni who dominated southern Gaul. This allowed my Iceni to send my best armies east to capture lands in Belgica and Germania. However, Iberian tribes invaded southern Gaul, pushing back the Arverni to a small enclave in eastern Gaul and presenting the Iceni with a dilemma. Should the Iceni remain true to our Arverni allies or renege on our alliance? If the Iceni decided to help the Arverni (which I did), should we send armies to join the war (forcing the Iceni to fight on two fronts) or send money instead of soldiers (in the hope that this would enable the Arverni to break out of their enclave, while keeping the Iceni out of the war for now)? I enjoy these kinds of strategic choices - of course, they are only meaningful if the AI is capable of attacking aggressively. Before the Ancestral Update, I found the campaign AI to be passive at times. I'd worry about an undefended border, only to realise after many turns that the AI wasn't going to exploit that opportunity. With the Ancestral Update, I have seen more aggressive behaviour by AI factions on the campaign map, which I enjoy.


    In this Suebi campaign, two AI factions - Rome and Sparta - expanded and fought against the player, creating an enjoyable challenge

    AI nations can acquire large territories, as in this Suebi campaign. One thing which surprises some players is that Rome is not guaranteed to expand in every campaign. Sometimes Rome dominates Italy and expands from there, at other times Italy is invaded by Massilia or the Boii. For me, this unpredictability makes the game more enjoyable. Some players would like to see Rome become more dominant in the later campaign, as they historically were. To be fair, it can be argued that the game would be predictable if the same AI faction always prevailed. I like the fluid way that the situation develops on the campaign map; a small, distant enemy might expand, while a large, nearby ally might struggle. In Empire Total War, I see the same behaviour by the same AI factions in campaign after campaign - Spain invades Portugal and Morocco, the Maratha Confederacy dominates India. In Rome II, different factions prevail in different campaigns.

    It can also be argued that, at the start of the 3rd century BC when the Grand Campaign begins, the rise of Rome was not inevitable. The peak of Roman power was centuries after the beginning of the Grand Campaign. When the main campaign begins, the Punic Wars between Rome and Carthage have not yet begun;the Gallic wars of Caesar and the full Roman occupation of the Iberian peninsula by the emperor Augustus are more than 200 years in the future. The Roman republic of the early Grand Campaign is a very different nation from the later empire which films and novels tend to focus upon.

    In the early to mid-campaign, the AI tends to provide more of a challenge. By the late campaign, as shown below, the player's empire tends to be larger than your AI rivals. For experienced players especially, this can make the later game less exciting. This Suebi campaign started with an exciting fight for survival, as I needed to make the most of my spear and javelin-armed Germanic tribesmen to avoid my one city being overrun by aggressive Boii axemen and swordsmen. By the end, there were different challenges, as rising corruption and the suspicion of other nations about Suebi expansion hurt my income, while avoiding the internal rivalries of Suebi noble families required action to avoid civil war. No AI faction was even close to the size of the Suebi empire in the late campaign, although Royal Scythia, the Celtic Confereration, the Massagetae and Bakria all had decent-sized territories and fought the Suebi.


    Later in the same campaign, four nations - Royal Scythia (yellow background), the Celtic Confereration (darker green), the Massagetae (pale green, in the east) and Baktria (blue) - fought the Suebi (brown), although when this screenshot was taken, Royal Scythia were Suebi allies!

    The removal of a fixed date for the end of the campaign in Rome II is useful, because it encourages the player to continue despite setbacks, rather than re-loading saves because you feel that you have to win every battle. However, an exciting struggle to survive and expand in the early campaign can be replaced, towards the end of the campaign, by a feeling of lassitude and that you are capturing regions to satisfy the victory conditions rather than waging a heroic struggle against the odds. To be fair, the AI is more aggressive with the Ancestral Update than in earlier versions. AI factions form empires which are sometimes a challenge and sometimes does not last long. This unpredictability adds tension - the player might ally with an empire, only to see it collapse and to have to fight the factions who destroyed it - but it can also provide less of a late-game challenge than I'd like.

    Diplomacy

    In some previous Total War games, diplomacy does not seem to be very important, except for trade agreements which are important for your economy. There does not seem much point in forming alliances in some older games; if you need a region to win and if an ally takes it, you will need to betray them to win. In Rome II, diplomacy comes more into play. If you have achieve a military alliance, the regions held by allies count as yours for the victory conditions, so an alliance can be more useful, particularly if the victory conditions require you to take a distant province which is near a friendly nation. However, alliances can have drawbacks, as I found in an Athens campaign when my ally, Sparta, kept conquering nations I was trading with!

    In Rome II, diplomacy offers back-and-forth negotiation the opportunity to build relationships over time. Perhaps your growing empire needs income, so you open negotiations with a nuetral state, hoping for a trade agreement. This neutral state isn't prepared to trade, they offer a non-aggression pace instead. You can reject that, because it isn't what you want, however Rome II rewards players who can see the situation from another faction's perspective. This other faction may be concerned by your expansion. Re-assuring them of your peaceful intentions could lead to a trade agreement. If the other faction is threatened by enemies, offering to join their war will improve relations and could enable you to get a military access agreement or defensive alliance. Alternatively, you can fight as mercenaries, offering to join wars for money. Suppose the neutral faction isn't interested in either a non-aggression pact or a trade agreement; you still have options, for example you could make diplomatic agreements with their friends or fight their foes, so they'll be more open to negotiation in future.

    Rather than mindlessly continuing in a hopeless war against the player, AI factions realise when they're losing and try to find a way out. They may offer the player a peace treaty, or offer to become a client state or satrapy of another nation (which could be the player, or the player's friend or enemy). In my Suebi campaign, for example, the Celtic Confederation offered a vast sum of money for peace.


    AI nations know when they're likely to lose a war, and they try hard to survive

    While this was the only time I've seen an AI faction offer such a large amount, it's not unusual for the AI to try to offer money for peace when they know they're losing a war. The amount of money offered is a useful indicator of how the AI nation perceives the strength of yours. Sometimes AI nations demand a money for a non-aggression pact, with a subtle (or not so subtle) implied threat of what will happen if the player doesn't pay.




    If offering a vast amount of coins isn't enough for peace, an AI nation can become a client state or satrapy. This gives the player an interesting choice: do you continue the war, which means fighting your enemy's new overlord as well, or do you accept peace?

    Aspects of diplomacy can be frustrating. For example, when playing as the overlord of a client state, it can be dangerous to agree to a peace treaty - because there is no option to require your enemy to make peace with your client states as well. Your client states might be able to make peace treaties separately - but if they don't, the enemy is free to invade them, while your faction would damage its diplomatic reputation if you broke the peace treaty too quickly. Also, if you're used to the quick deal feature of later Total War games (where you can see which diplomatic deals are currently possible), you might be disappointed that Rome II does not include quick deals. Players who are familiar with earlier games such as Rome Total War may miss the fact that it's no longer necessary to send a diplomat across the campaign map when you want to initiate diplomacy - however, in Rome II the player still needs to establish contact with a faction on the campaign map before initiating diplomacy for the first time (this can be done with an agent, an army or a fleet).

    Culture

    Different cultures have different abilities - some can liberate nations while others subjugate them, giving the player different opportunities in different campaigns. As a barbarian faction, your ability to liberate nations can turn the tide of a challenging war in your favour. When, as the Iceni, I captured northern and western Gaul, I had a challenging war against the Arverni, who had become the dominant power in Iberia, and Rome, who were pushing further into Gaul from Massalia. Then a Germanic tribe (which had been a trading partner), seeing that I had left northern Gaul unguarded, launched a surprise attack on my lands there! I was losing ground, I couldn't afford enough armies to fight three wars at once. Then I realised the opportunities which liberation offered. On my south-western frontier, I held the Arverni back by liberating an Iberian nation. On the south-eastern frontier, a single army held a bridge east of Nemossos against Rome's legions. Having secured the south, at least for a while, I could send my remaining armies against the Germanic tribe (the weakest of my three opponents), enabling the Iceni to hold their lands in Gaul and push back against the Arverni and Rome. Liberating nations creates allies, while subjugating nations creates client states or satrapies.

    Client states have independent diplomacy which can be inconvenient (they can fight each other or try to drag you into their wars), while the diplomacy of satrapies is bound to their overlord (if you're at war with a faction, so are your satrapies and vice versa). As the overlord, you can send an army into the regions of your client states or satrapies and levy units from them. You are normally offered only one or a few units per turn (if they grow, they offer you more), but if you keep an army in their territory for some time, this can enable your faction to recruit units which wouldn't otherwise be available. If you subjugate Rome, for example, you can even recruit levy Legionaries, as shown below.


    Levy Roman Legionaries, in the service of the Carthaginian Empire

    Another way in which cultures vary in Rome II is the role of women in different cultural groups. There was controversy after the free update which accompanied the release of the Desert Kingdoms DLC for Rome II (patch 19) allowed some factions to have female rulers and commanders. The controversy occured after a YouTuber (ArchWarhammer), a blogger (OneAngryGamer) and an extremist website (the Daily Stormer) posted criticism of the game which seemed to give people the impression that factions in Rome II generally have 50% female generals. However, nine of the 14 factions in the base game's main campaign - Rome, Armenia, Carthage, Macedon, Parthia, Pontus, the Seleucid Empire, Armenia and Masssilia - can't have any female rulers or commanders (as their female characters have the Family Duty trait). Of the AI factions which can have female rulers and commanders, only Kush (which was known historically for having female leaders) has a 50% spawn rate for female characters. The historical sources and the work of historians were discussed in a Helios article, Rewriting history or representing history? Women as leaders and commanders in ancient societies. The article argued that the roles of women in ancient societies varied - and some societies did have female leaders and commanders historically, providing a historical basis for them to appear in the game for some factions.

    For players who would like to know more about how factions vary across cultures, I recommend the TWC Wiki page on cultural groups in Rome II.

    Battles

    Rome II simplifies history and if you're expecting a strict re-enactment of ancient warfare, you won't like what you see. Howeer, the game offers a range of tools which reflects the strengths which your faction had - so the influence of history can be seen in the strengths and fighting styles of different factions. Carthage relies on mercenaries, Celtic and Germanic swordsmen rely on the impact of their charge, while their Roman equivalents maintain a disciplined line. Combinations of units tend to work well, for example Hellenic factions usually rely on lines of hoplites or pikes to hold the enemy while cavalry or skirmishers provide the killing power. The strengths of units suggest the reasons why which the rosters of ancient armies may have developed. For example, the heavy spear and pike infantry of Hellenic factions are well-equipped to defend against the powerful cavalry of Eastern factions, but Armenia has developed skilled axemen who are an effective counter for heavy spears and pikes.


    Pikemen can hold the line against most opponents, at least against frontal attacks

    As well as choosing the right unit for the task, and using combinations of units effectively, positioning can be important. For example, a head-on attack against pikemen can be costly, but attacks against their flanks and rear, or with ranged weapons, can be very effective against pike units.

    New players sometimes object to the buffs which your units get from better equipment, buildings, research, unit experience, your general's abilities and military traditions, because each buff is so small. While it's true that each individual bonus doesn't make a lot of difference, they are cumulative. By the late campaign, your units can be far more powerful than the first units of that type, when you originally recruited them.


    Late in a Suebi campaign, your elite Sword Masters are even more effective. The green area of the stat bar shows their base statistics, the white area shows the buffs

    On the battlefield, while the AI makes poor decisions at times, I see effective choices too. Since the Ancestral Update, I noticed AI cavalry trying harder to attack my skirmishers and general, for example. While the difference between factions are far less dramatic than in the Total War Warhammer games, they can be very significant. Even within cultural groups, different factions offer different possibilities. For example, while the Celtic and Germanic factions generally rely on charging swordsmen, some factions rely more on stealth (such as the stealthy archers of the Suebi and the guerrila swordsmen and spearmen of the Lusitani) or use specialist units to raise the morale of their own warriors and scare enemies (the druids and painted warriors of the Iceni).


    Land and sea battles can involve commanding a fleet and an army in the same engagement - and your warships can land their marines

    One new feature of Rome II was the introduction of combined land and sea battles - and I enjoy attacking and defending ports. You can attack a port city with an army and a fleet at the same time; a second army could land with the protection of a fleet, or you could land the marines from a fleet to take a port without the assistance of an army. With earlier updates, players complained that there weren't enough landing spots for their transport ships. A solution was found: transport ships now depart automatically after landing their troops. This allows all of your troops to land, but it also prevents the player from using your ships to evacuate your units if the tide of battle turns against you. Also, any artillery and cavalry units carried by transports will already have landed before the battle begins - this can lead to slightly odd situations, as the transports carrying your infantry rush to the beach before the enemy infantry can arrive to destroy your unspported artillery and cavalry. While this system for artillery and cavalry landings is understandable (it's difficult to imagine how an animation would show artillery or cavalry leaving the game's transport ships onto a beach, without docking at a harbour) it's not an ideal solution. Sea battles can be frustrating, for example when ships ram each other which can lead to a log-jam where it's difficult to move. It's unfortunate that it isn't possible to capture and use enemy ships - or improve your ship-building techniques by capturing the warships of your enemies, as Rome did historically. According to Polybius, in 261 - 260 BC, when Rome decided to build a hundred quinqueremes, they copied the design of a captured Carthaginian ship (Adrian Goldsworthy, Roman Warfare, p. 49).

    There has been a fair amount of criticism of sieges in Total War games. When Rome II was launched, many players objected to units throwing torches to burn gates, rather than storming the walls with ladders or attacking the walls with artillery. Torch-throwing can still happen, but it's a last resort - in my experience, AI units are far more likely to besiege a city until a lack of supplies forces the defenders to sally out or surrender - or to attack the walls with ladders. Rome II does offer sieges of large cities (not just sections of a city, as in Warhammer II). My main criticisms of sieges now would be that I'd like the AI to be more willing to attack (as opposed to starving the defenders out), and when the AI leads an attacking army and has only cavalry left, it doesn't either retreat or dismount the horsemen to continue the attack. However, I have seen an AI ally making effective attacks on walled cities with infantry using ladders - they stormed the walls so fast that my army (which was marching to reinforce them) didn't have anything left to do.

    Overall Impressions

    Rome II has been significantly improved since the troubled state of the original release. The game doesn't offer strict historical realism, but the opportunities and fighting styles of different factions are influenced by history. On the campaign map, the situation is fluid at times, with rival nations rising and falling - so the player has a good reason to keep an eye on diplomacy and on developments beyond their borders. Different nations have very different fighting styles - some relying on heavy sword infantry, others on pikemen or skirmishers - offering different challenges. Also, different factions have different opportunities - some can liberate other factions, creating instant allies, while some can subjugate other factions, turning them into client states or satrapies. Some factions have challenging starting positions - such as Syracuse, caught in between Rome and Carthage, or Nabatea, a small kingdom adjacent to the front line in the war between Egypt and the Seleucid Empire.

    The game still has shortcomings. While AI factions can build empires, they tend to struggle to maintain them - this can make the campaign more unpredictable (which I like), but also makes the late campaign easier than it could have been. If the player sets the difficulty level higher, this gives AI factions buffs; unfortunately, it does not make AI factions smarter. I like the way that the game offers different victory conditions (military, economic and cultural), and it's helpful that regions held by allies count as belonging to the player for victory conditions. However, sometimes the victory conditions are more ambitious than they might have been - for example, by requiring a Baktrian player to hold Italia as well as the home regions of the four successor states of Alexander's empire for a military victory. The tutorial campaign doesn't explain the current system for managing rival parties (the internal politics system and the family tree), so new players can be confused about why secessions and civil wars happen, and unsure of how to prevent them. Neither the tutorial campaign nor the historical battles seem to have been re-balanced to take into account changes in later patches - to be fair, a new player can learn simply by playing the Grand Campaign, seeing what works (and looking for guides and YouTube videos, if you need to). While I enjoy developing provinces - and adapting them to become more specialised in the late campaign - some players find it frustrating that cities remain walled or unwalled throughout the campaign (cities can be upgraded, but walls cannot be added.)

    Despite the shortcomings, I enjoy the variety of factions, the different styles of warfare and the range of battles which the game offers - including new features such as the true line of sight system and the combined land and sea battles. Watching YouTube videos by veteran players - such as Maximus Decimus Meridius and Heir of Carthage - showed me that how players construct armies and use them on the battlefield can make a significant difference to the outcome of battles. If you'd like to try a historical Total War game and you're interested in the period, I recommend Rome II.