We were graciously received by developer Creative Assembly for an advance look at Rome: Total War, the next game in the epic strategy series. The game was, according to the developers, in the "first playable" state, though it already looked quite good.
Rome: Total War will feature expansive outdoor areas for its massive battles, just like the previous games. However, the new game will feature an enhanced 3D engine that will render individual units that will have their own animations and will even square off individually against enemy soldiers, rather than stand in formation and wave their swords around in the general direction of their enemies. The game's updated graphics engine will represent actual features of your holdings in true 3D--if you've invested in agriculture, you'll have grassy fields in and around your cities, fields that can get trampled by squadrons of Carthaginian elephant riders. Rome: Total War will let you play as one of many historically modeled political factions, including Hannibal's Carthaginian armies, the barbarian hordes of Gaul, and numerous political factions within Rome, such as Julius Caesar and his supporters, or the retinue of the renowned general Scipio Africanus. In any case, the developers at Creative Assembly have stated that with Rome: Total War, they'll attempt to create truly enormous and cinematic battles. The new game will even feature scripted strategic AI for its historical campaign battles that will mimic the tactics used in some of the greatest battles in the ancient world.
However, the developers have also stated their intention to make the game more attractive for new players. To that end, Rome: Total will feature a revised interface that can be controlled entirely with your mouse. In addition, the game's strategic mode will take place on an all-new 3D map that can be zoomed in on to view your pieces and your cities in full 3D. You'll be able to build huge cities with different architecture (the architecture in Greek and Roman cities will favor pillars and arches, for instance) and zoom in on them to view your citizens as they go about their daily business. If you've ruled your holdings like a tyrant and caused your citizens to revolt, you'll see them lighting fires and rioting in the street. If you've built a coliseum to amuse your citizens, you'll be able to watch the actual gladiatorial matches in action.
Of course, the game was named "Total War" for a reason. Rome: Total War will let you recruit armies composed of soldiers entirely unique to your faction--siding with one of the Roman factions may let you recruit legionnaires or praetorians, siding with the Greeks will let you recruit hoplites, and so on. Just like in the previous Total War games, you'll need to carefully choose your troop types and formations in order to succeed. You'll want to look for opportunities to lower their morale, possibly by pulverizing them with artillery or another powerful unit (like war elephants, which will crash right through infantry ranks and toss enemy soldiers into the air). You'll also be able to demoralize your enemies by defeating their commanding officer--the game will actually render a different-looking character model on the battlefield for each commander. These powerful units will make for critical targets, as they'll not only let you issue specific formation orders to your battalions, but they'll also grant various bonuses (such as morale) to nearby friendly troops. We'll have more on this promising strategy sequel soon.