Video Game Thoughts: Rome: Total War

Rome: Total War was a 2004 strategy game by The Creative Assembly for the PC. This is a game I got using a Christmas gift card. It had gotten good reviews, but it was different than most strategy games I had played. Since I had so little spending money at the time, I was always hesitant to try something new that might end up bad. I wasn’t going to get another game for six months or more. Every game needed to last. Luckily, I got this Christmas money to spend on the game.

Rome: Total War was a hybrid of the turn-based strategy and real-time tactics genres. Like turn-based strategy games, the player commanded an empire as they tried to take over the world. In this case, the world was Ancient Rome and the surrounding lands. All the land was split up into territories with a capital. Capturing the capital would capture the territory. There were several factions to play as, the three Roman factions being the most notable, but the player could also play less known factions like Carthage or the Gauls.

Each faction had a list of territories to capture to win the game. In order to capture territories the player needed an army. That meant building up the territories they already owned to make more gold pieces to then spend training army units. All this happened in a turn-based mode. Once the player ordered an army to attack, it transformed into a real-time tactics game. In this part of the game, the player gave orders to their army on the battlefield in order to defeat the enemy army or capture the enemy city.

I was blown away by how detailed this game was. There were other games that did the turn-based stuff and other games that did the real-time stuff. This was the only game I had played that could do both, and it did them both well too. It wasn’t a perfect game. The computer AI wasn’t that great at the game, so it was pretty easy to win after a certain number of turns. There were some easy win strategies during the battles that almost always resulted in victory even when facing superior numbers. The game wasn’t totally realistic either. Many ideas were taken from popular movies about the Roman Empire that were not historically accurate. However, the game was good in almost every way.

I especially loved the music and sound effects of the game. The music I could just listen to on its own. It was so catchy. Playing the game felt like a Hollywood movie based on the Roman Empire. The movie Gladiator had come out only four years earlier, so that style was fresh in my mind. The game made me really feel like I was controlling the empire. I loved the sounds from the footsteps to the bows being drawn to the siege weapons breaking down walls. Everything was superb. Very few games since have had such a cohesive sound experience.

It’s a shame then that the Total War series didn’t get much better. Most game series get better with age. The developers find out more what works and what doesn’t work, so the later games are less buggy and more detailed. The Total War series unfortunately hasn’t gone that route. The immediate successor, Medieval II: Total War, was pretty good, but most of the later games have been considered worse than the early games in the series. Newer games have had the same weak computer AI and mostly the same mechanics, with the only changes being a different setting and much better graphics.

The different settings and new graphics are appreciated, but players also expect improvements to the game. That hasn’t happened, but the newer games are still very entertaining. They just have so much more potential. The newer games were still good enough that I would have played them. I only avoided them because I couldn’t keep up with the ever more expensive computer upgrades required to support the ever more detailed graphics. Total War games usually have some of the best graphics for their time among all games, so players usually need a near top of the line computer to play them.

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