Available :Fall 2004

Rome: Total War© Activision
Preview by Nicole Hamlett

I could fill pages of text on how much this game rocks but a few simple words would explain it best. Rome Total War makes every other RTS out there look like Pong. I kid you not.

Monday morning Neil Wood, Activision’s PR rep from Step 3 sat me down at a computer. Mike DePlater (Rome: Total War’s Creative Director) asked me if I had played any of the Total War series. I indicated that I had. Medieval Total War was great. He told me to let him know if I had any questions and went off to see to the other journalists. I immediately dug in. I wanted to take in the differences slowly (because I had heard that there were quite a few.) and started the prologue campaign.

The first thing that caught my fancy was the graphical improvement. In the previous Total War games, I liked what I saw but there were instances in which the map would get crowded and you had a hard time moving your pieces about the world. Rome fixes that problem with detailed 3D character models and a nicely spaced out detailed map with great topography features. The area that your selected troop can move is now highlighted in green, and your character will “walk” across the map to the point you indicate now. Before whereas you could only see what resources were in the area on the construction tab, now they are icons on the map. This game has also implemented topographical challenges. In order to cross a river or pass over a mountain, the player will need to take extra “turns”. The map is also shaded out until you have explored the area.

I found that the layout of the screen had also changed. Organization of the UI has been greatly improved. A few buttons do more. There are now tabbed information screens that hold the desired information as well as more options in what you would like to view. For instance, in the construction area, you have a side tab that allows you to get help from the AI and information on the settlements. There are also tabs for mission details, faction information and traits for your unit leaders. You have more information on your unit leaders now. For one, they can only be a member of your faction leader’s family but then also, you have detailed mission statements, lineage, and traits. It helps for the detailed management that is allowed in the game now. The training and construction tabs act the same as in the last Total War game; however, they have better organization and layout.

Now that I’ve told you about the frosting, let’s talk about the guts. The combat system in the game just blew my mind. Before where you could only hold sieges and the computer would resolve the battle, you can now lay the heat on yourself. Once you decide to take on a city, the normal screen comes up telling you the troops that you can expect to battle as well as the reinforcements that are available to both you and your enemy. The siege begins! First you have the task of getting into the gates and then your troops fill the streets taking down the enemy forces. One thing that you have to be careful of is destroying the city in the process. If there is an abundance of enemy fighting in the vicinity of a building it will catch on fire and destroy itself. The goal is to keep as many of the existing structures intact. Once the battle is won, you have the option of keeping the people of the city safe and alive or a total massacre. While killing all of the occupants enriches your coffers and gives you a reputation of severity, keep in mind you need people to make the money. As always, you can allow the computer to resolve the siege, you just won’t get any battle experience for your commander if the computer does it. Keep this in mind when you’re in a hurry.

Once you’ve won the city, you need to leave your governor within the city walls. Unlike the other Total War games where you can send him off adventuring and conquering, Rome requires that your governor stay in the city to manage. As stated before, only your faction’s progeny can become governors. You can adopt a troop member into your family but otherwise, you have to wait until your factions children come of age.

The fleet is different in Rome as well. Before, your fleet was used as an independent force. Now you can transport your ground troops to different areas and use them in skirmishes as well. With the new Senate missions that you will receive, you will utilize your fleet much more in this game than in the others.

Another change is that you can have animals in your armies. For instance, pigs will scare off elephants and dogs will scare other troops. There is a new level of strategy to this one. Spears defeat Calvary and Calvary defeats Archers. I felt like I was playing rock, paper scissors. You do have new levels of tactics though. Your soldiers will run away if they are fatigued or scared. Your General can rally them back together. You can also put your troops into strategic groups, making it easier to control them.

There are also new special attacks! You can set your arrows or your catapult ammo on fire to further decimate your enemy. This is great in multiplayer because really, who doesn’t love watching your friends cry as you level their forces. And once you defeat that faction, like the Egyptians or the Gauls, it unlocks that faction for play.

Speaking of multiplayer, you have the option to play over 22 factions as well as create custom battles and edit campaigns. You can have up to 6 people in the multiplayer mode. You have the option to play over LAN or the Internet. It definitely is a good time although I wouldn’t suggest playing as a threesome. I watched Mike sit back and let the other two cremate each other and then go in and level the field of the victor. Good strategy but hardly fair for the other poor fool who just sacrificed half of his army in the previous battle. “Not many games let you burn an elephant.” Mike said gleefully as he was scouring the field looking for more enemy forces to beat down.

You can’t go wrong with that, not at all. I can’t wait for Rome: Total War to release. If you like the RTS genre at all you’re going to LOVE this game!