The Total War franchise is a series of strategy games that gives players the chance to take command of various empires throughout history. Though all of the games have involved diplomatic and administrative aspects in various forms, the true hallmark of the series are the realistic battles, where players take command of literally thousands of soldiers and employ real military stratagems to defeat their opponents. Ranging from feudal Japan to the conquests of Napoleon, the games have had no shortage of real historic settings to draw from. Earlier this year, it was announced that developer Creative Assembly will be revisiting Ancient Rome in the next installment in the series.
While it is an amazing game, Shogun 2 has some big flaws that can really turn some gamers away. One feature that can feel quite limiting or even strange is the diplomacy tab. While it offers a lot of great options for players to use in order to negotiate with rival clans, the limitations will become immediately obvious after playing. For one, players are not able to plan coordinated attacks with their allies or ask for military assistance in an emergency situation. Nothing is more annoying than having to sit and wait for a computer ally to attack the right place. Other negotiations can sometimes feel like the AI is just trying to stall the player’s advance. Alliances seem to go sour for no reason, and hostile clans are almost impossible to sway diplomatically.
Another problem that Shogun 2 faces is how slowly it moves. It feels like ages before a player can get the units he actually wants; researching takes numerous turns, and buildings take forever to construct. Most battles feel like they are fought almost entirely with the basic level ashigaru units because it just takes so long to develop the tech tree in order to gain the ability to build the right buildings to train the particular units a player may want. Even if the time is spent to do all of this, the units can take several turns to train, and then must travel over many more turns in order to get from the more developed provinces in a player’s territory to the far-away front lines. It also doesn’t help that turns can take a long time to complete, and in between each one players are forced to watch the actions of all the other clans, which can get really old.
Basically, the biggest problem with Shogun 2 is that too often it forces players to wait around until they can get what they want. Yes, the historical accuracy of the Total War games is important and usually adds to the excitement, but no one wants to feel like they have to suffer in order to have fun, eventually. This is probably the most important obstacle that Creative Assembly will need to hurdle as they continue to work on Rome 2. However, players should feel optimistic. A sneak peek narrated by James Russell, the game’s lead designer, is published on YouTube and depicts some pretty awesome looking battle gameplay and already reveals some improvements on Shogun 2.Naval and land battles will be combined for the first time, which means that ships can be used to lay siege to city walls or launch coastal raids with their crews. Urban warfare will also be depicted in a much better way. In Shogun 2, armies either fight in open battlefields or clash over an isolated castle. Actual cities are conspicuously missing. Instead of only laying siege to a single castle or fort, in Rome 2 players will fight over entire cities filled with amazing details. Battles will be fought in the middle of the streets and surrounding buildings will come crashing down upon the men.
Creative Assembly is also trying to expand upon their games’ portrayals of individual people. Each soldier will have his own facial expressions and officers will shout out to their men in the middle of battles, encouraging them with inspiring speeches or calling upon them to hold steady in the face of approaching enemies. The official trailer also suggests that individual characters will play large roles in the course of the game. Shot with live actors, it portrays different characters in the middle of various acts of betrayal. At the end it asks, “How far will you go for Rome?” The decisions of the empire will be greatly affected by the decisions of single individuals, and players are being encouraged to become even more engrossed in the fantasy of assuming the command of an empire.
Hopefully what this means is that diplomatic relations will take a larger role and as a result become more refined. “It’s interactive,” Russell said to IGN, “We don’t want to have a fixed, scripted campaign. It’s about weaving human-level plots and archetypal ancient world storylines into the way you’re playing the campaign game. We want to render Rome with some kind of internal conflict. Do I save the Republic, or do I make myself Emperor? Some of that can be through interactive dilemmas.” Incorporating more of a story will increase the drama of the game and should help to prevent a situation where players are just waiting around for their next chance at a good battle.
It is exciting to see how the Total War franchise has evolved and continues to make improvements in every installment. Perhaps Creative Assembly will consider expanding to even more diverse settings in the future. (Total War: Warring States China anyone?) Unfortunately, for now gamers will have to keep playing the waiting game, as Rome 2 is not set for release until Oct. 2013. Ceterum censeo Carthaginem esse delendam.