This was another chance for gamers to try out Creative Assembly’s flagship title for the year. The Rome II: Total War demo center was tucked into the Sega Arcade across from the main Convention Center in the downtown area. Walking up to it, a Total War fan knew exactly where to find the demo because there was a small squad of Roman Legionaries outside of the Arcade. Bingo.
Creative Assembly had the demo center up and running with about ten computers. One could tell just how immersive the demo was by looking at the people already playing. Their faces were about five inches from the screen, mouths slightly open, and their eyes wide open. Even from a distance the game looked good. The real fun begins when you finally get to sit down and take Rome II: Total War for a spin. The months of anticipation finally got some kind of release by playing a small part of the game.
The demo available to play was the Battle of the Nile. It is based on the actual historical battle where the combined forces of Julius Caesar and Cleopatra squared off against those of Ptolemy and Arsinoe. It was a crucial battle that led to Cleopatra winning the throne of Egypt. In the demo, players get to choose to either defend Egypt, which is an easier scenario, or to evade Egypt as the Romans, which is the more challenging of the two scenarios.
The pre-battle loading screen is a line up of the different units in each faction’s possession. In past Total War games, each unit block is represented by a snapshot of what an individual character model would look like in the battle. It was a very 3D presentation. Rome II: Total War has replaced that with a new look. Gone are the character models. They have been replaced with antiquity-style drawings of what a unit character would look like. It is the kind of artwork one would see on ancient Greco-Roman vases or murals.
When the battle finally begins, depending on what side you choose you get an intro to the layout situation of the battlefield. Playing as Rome, I was given a tough starting position. The enemy Egyptians were situated on the high ground, with a slight numerical advantage. The task before the Roman infantry and cavalry was to charge uphill and take out the defenders. I had five ships off the coast, three of which were full of additional reinforcements, but they were blocked by the Egyptian navy.
Despite the grim scenario before me, I couldn’t help but admire how gorgeous the game looks. One can tell that Creative Assembly really took their time with this engine. Everything in the map of Rome II: Total War is meticulously detailed and polished. The bushes on the terrain breezed like there was actual wind going through them and the water beautifully reflected the sun in the sky. Even the units looked outstanding. Zooming into one of the legions, the detail that went into the armor are incredible and the lifelike faces blinked and looked around on its own accord.
One could admire the graphics of the game all day, but there was a job to do. The land army was given the order to advance as was the navy. As my legionaries trudged up the hill, my naval forces came under attack. The catapult ships I had did some damage, but I was forced to ram some of the Egyptian fleet with the biremes that held my reinforcements. A spectacle of a naval battle ensued, with my legionaries attempting to board the enemy ships and cut their sailors down to size. But before I could admire the situation longer, my attention was called back on land.
The AI in this game is smart and is more than willing to challenge the player. Little did I know, the Egyptians had moved a chariot and archer unit behind some bushes while I was distracted and ambushed one of my infantry units. I rushed to rectify the situation and the ambushers were routed, but I was taken aback by the cunning of the AI’s tactics.
Unfortunately, as my army was getting closer to the Egyptians, the game froze. It was unfortunate, and the attendant was very flustered and apologetic about it, but I was willing to overlook that given that the games had been running nonstop for hours now. Flukes like that happen, especially in demo versions, and hopefully it is something that is minimized in the final product. Luckily, I was able to start again once the problem was resolved. This time, however, I decided to try out my luck as the Egyptians.
The battle intro is tailored from the Egyptian viewpoint and one really gets the sense that this battle is an important, life-or-death situation. In the first Rome: Total War, almost everything was Rome-centric. It is good that with Rome II: Total War, Creative Assembly is letting players truly get into the perspectives of the other factions.
This time I was defending. I immediately moved my archers to the hill’s edge in order to harass the oncoming Romans with arrows. As for my navy, I decided to meet the Roman fleet head on as far away from my coast as possible, rather than let them get close. As the Roman infantry got closer, I ordered my archers to fire. They did some damage, but the full force eventually made its way up the hill. At the time, my attention was on my navy, which was holding off and damaging the Roman fleet admirably. On water, everything was going to plan, but on land, the enemy had reached my archers and decimated them.
By the time my attention was called back onto land, the Romans were right in front of the rest of my army. The Egyptian army is equipped with pikemen and sword-wielding infantry, but it is also gifted with scythed war chariots and war elephants. My infantry was already in formation, but I decided to send out my war chariots and war elephants for the first engagement. The Roman infantry, their numbers already weakened by my archers, were not prepared for this.
It was a thrill to watch the chariots and elephants tear through the Roman lines, with hapless legionaries flying through the air as my elephants knocked them aside. The Romans had a unit of war elephants too, and I had my cavalry engage theirs. With the Roman infantry in disarray, I sent mine in to finish them off. It was a throwdown, with the Romans being surprisingly resilient. When one zooms in on the action, it is amazing to see the soldiers going at it. They fight like men actually engaged in combat, with parries and expressions of agony on their faces as they go down. It took a while, but the Roman forces finally broke and routed. In the end, the balance of power was 80% in my favor. The battle ended before I could check up on how my navy was doing, but I assume that the Roman fleet was damaged enough to be irrelevant to their land forces anyways. In the end, victory was mine.
Rome II: Total War is looking to be a great game. Battles like the one shown in the demo are hallmarks of the Total War franchise. The Battle of the Nile makes the battles of previous titles look almost simple. In terms of graphics, Rome II: Total War is going to be the most advanced and detailed of the series. The gameplay is smooth, with almost non-existent lag. The soundtrack and atmosphere conveys the epic stakes of the game, where empires are born and can die in the span of one wayward battle. For a die-hard fan of the series, I was left wanting more, but alas, there were others in line waiting their turn.
Come this September 3, be sure to pick up Rome II: Total War. From the looks of things, Creative Assembly is on track to making one of the most epic strategy titles of the year.