Total War: Rome II Review

Total War: Rome II turns the battlefields of Ancient Europe into an engrossing strategic theater.

The Total War series has always been about the balance between small- and large-scale conflict, and Rome II has taken that philosophy to its logical conclusion. In your quest to conquer Ancient Europe, you groom generals and warlords for command, curb the political machinations of your rivals, and launch legions of soldiers through the streets and countryside as you spread your influence. Total War: Rome II masters the tension caused by the ebb and flow of violence on both epic and personal scales; held back by a smattering of minor technical issues, it's an excellent sequel that manages to build upon the sterling reputation of its predecessors while carving out a unique place in the strategy game pantheon.

Total War's campaign mode has been dramatically expanded for Rome II. The playable countries and factions are largely the same, but the campaign map is much larger, and territory has been reorganized to reflect the differences between the barbarian and civilized cultures. These cultures play quite differently, especially on the macroscopic scale to reflect their historical distinctions. Hellenistic and Roman cultures both place a much greater emphasis on capitals and industrial output. Most of the other factions lean toward a distributed network of cities and production. In terms of play, this often means that barbarians can recruit soldiers from nearly any territory they control, and can often create much larger armies very quickly; however, they do so at a greater cost and higher upkeep.

Forcing your troops to charge towards the enemy lowers their defense, but the results are often well worth it.
Forcing your troops to charge towards the enemy lowers their defense, but the results are often well worth it.

In addition to an overhauled provincial system, there are more than a few changes to the finer points of imperial management. Public order or the satisfaction of your citizens depends heavily on the buildings you have constructed, whether or not you're engaged in any kind of war, the current tax rate, and a dozen or so other factors. There are enough potential influences on your citizens' satisfaction that it can, in fact, be difficult to keep track of, and one of Rome II's few design oversights is a UI that doesn't make everything that goes into your stats clear. This means that when your people begin to rebel, it's not always easy to find a way to keep them happy and to keep the area stable.

Where you are likely to find plenty of detail and more than enough options is in the countless other subtle additions that have been made to the Total War formula. If you have spies that have given you intel on approaching enemies, your forces can use the landscape to prepare an ambush or fortify your position and make it that much harder for an opponent to take any kind of action against your empire or your citizens. Weather can also play a role, when paired with your spies, diplomats, and champions. Eliciting information on the composition of enemy troops--namely the breakdown of cavalry and ranged units in their ranks--can help you create valuable opportunities and exploit key weaknesses.

Texture pop-in can be a pretty obnoxious problem, and Rome II has more than its fair share of it.
Texture pop-in can be a pretty obnoxious problem, and Rome II has more than its fair share of it.

When you do find yourself directing the movement of individual units on the battlefield, you're treated to something that is surprisingly rare in strategy games: old-style field tactics. Breaking ranks and causing panic is the name of the game here. Flanking, hitting troops with projectiles, charging, and slamming ranks with cavalry all cause panic and break the lines of regimented troop formations. Using that knowledge effectively means that you don't have to fight to the last man and that you won't need to risk the lives of your own men doing it.

Morale matters. If you're careful, it's not unreasonable to be able to break three of four enemy units with only one of yours, without suffering heavy casualties, and if that same unit has a general in its ranks, it can take on eight or more. The game's AI can often make some pretty strange decisions on troop positioning and movements, especially if you're playing on the lower difficulties. That said, poor planning, haphazard attacks, and unfocused assaults will only spell death for your men.

Their loss, should you pick your formations and tactics incorrectly, is made more impactful by some spectacular sound design and great attention to visual detail. Unless you choose to reduce onscreen unit sizes in the graphical settings, every single person is visible. Each one dies or lives based on where and how they are hit with arrows, or how they take hits from the enemy. The incredible number of people and actions onscreen at any given time is staggering. It's no wonder, then, that during the larger battles even with a computer that is far above the recommended stats, the action still chugs along.

At its best Rome II looks incredible and plays even better.
At its best Rome II looks incredible and plays even better.

Camera angles can be problematic at times as well. During those same large battles, especially if they take place in a city, it can be difficult to gather the information you need. Thankfully, there's a tactical map that shows the entire field. From there, you can pause the game, and issue and queue up orders, before picking everything back up and watching how it all plays out. That said, not being able to easily switch between a bird's-eye view and the more personal one diminishes one of Rome II's biggest strengths.

Sadly, there are a handful of other visual bugs that plague an otherwise exceptionally rendered game. Texture pop-in, for example, can be pretty common. In some rare cases, the developer's placeholder is loaded instead and you see a red and blue patchwork marked with the word "Texture." It's not enough to detract from the game, but it's still common enough that it presents a real problem, especially when combined with the game's occasional instability. Every now and then a menu or dialogue box fails to load, locking you into a screen from which there is no escape. It's enough that closing the game and losing a bit of progress is the only option.

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These technical problems wouldn’t be quite so disappointing if Rome II weren't so adept at providing moments of true brilliance. In some cases, due to poor tactics or sheer bad luck, you can begin a battle with a huge advantage and still lose all but a few soldiers. Some of the game’s most exhilarating battles are decided by what you manage with only one or two units; if you’re left with only your general and his bodyguards, you might actually stand a chance of survival. Coming back from the brink of loss and capturing a capital or defending a strategically important point is one of the most satisfying experiences in Rome II.

The catharsis of seeing well-executed plans succeed is reinforced by the sheer variety of battle types Rome II offers, each with an independent set of win conditions and unit considerations. Forested areas, cities, rivers and open fields require different approaches and support certain unit compositions better than others. These battles often reflect the macroscopic conditions on the world map. Sieges, ambushes and river battles are based heavily in the geography of the land, meaning that exploration takes on a unique level of importance and encourages aggressive, militaristic play.

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To truly test your skills, you’ll certainly need to take your experience online. Rome II supports both one-off battles as well as cooperative and competitive campaign modes. While the tactical AI is competent enough, some of the finer points of diplomacy and non-combat play are best experienced when facing another person. The rock-paper-scissors relationship of spies, champions and dignitaries takes on a whole new importance as well, often leading to a kind of espionage brinksmanship.

Technical issues aside, the upgrades to Rome II have helped blur the lines between tactics and strategy, creating a powerful, engaging drama that works well on every scale. It really is a fantastic sequel and a great addition to an already remarkable series. For millennia, war has altered the face of the world in which we live. Men could earn their freedom, families could rise to or fall from power, and nations could leave their mark on history. It serves as the dramatic fuel for some of humanity's greatest stories, both fictional and real. Total War: Rome II brings that drama back in a great way.

The Good
Excellent balance between large-scale strategy and frontline tactics
New features add spectacular flavor and variety to an already great system
Varied units and impressive detail, especially from a distance
It's rewarding to watch the effects of your tactical decisions unfold
The Bad
A number of technical problems and stability issues
Camera doesn't have enough flexibility for larger battles
About GameSpot's Reviews

About the Author

Dan Starkey's first review for GameSpot was for Starseed Pilgrim, and he's been pleased to remain on hand ever since!
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Avatar image for mkess

Overhyped crap with a disfunctional AI. Braindead winning conditions. Has nothing to do with the real Total War series.

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@malfestus @Bhemont Someone needs to go and learn what an "established history" means.

Avatar image for gs_are_paid

This is a score paid for by the publishers. Shame on GS for this shabby review - far better games published this year has ended up with worse scores. If you want a real review go to Angry Joe. I hope GS received a good salary for this recension because a lot of people are starting to loose their trust in this corrupted company that licks licks the *** of big publishers.

I am a TW-fan of more than a decade and I can honestly say this is the worst game CA has released ever. Think twice before you buy this game.

Avatar image for blakehall

@gs_are_paid I bet you're an IGN shill.

Conspiracy theories are fun.

Avatar image for Afinati

Most entertaining review of 2013, his. Too bad I'd already purchased it.

Avatar image for Bhemont

*Puts a tinfoil hat on*

Paranoia aside, the game is pretty decent, if you are a fan of Shogun 2, then don't let this game slip by you, it's better in almost everything minus the setting (if you are more fan of the Samurais like me).

Avatar image for malfestus

@Bhemont It's paranoid to suspect a company with an establish history of paid reviews of doing a paid review when they give a glowingly positive review of a game released in an unplayable state while it was still unplayable? Even now people are comparing it to a beta.

Avatar image for malfestus

Everything you need to know about Total War: Rome 2 and the paid review line up.

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Paid Review

Avatar image for AlisterFlint

Even IF the game had no issues, bugs and glitches (and Gods know there are zillions) it'd still remain a lousy RTS The macro is boring, and the micro hardly makes it up for it. There was a lot to do with the political/diplomatic aspect of the game, which was the base of the roman empire (the real one), and rather than limiting the number of available armies depending on conquered settlements, it'd have been organized around political plots and senate intrigues. I don't believe the roman senators ever said to a proconsul he couldn't enroll another army, just because the limit of colonized settlements hasn't been reached yet. CA wasn't bold enough to fully develop the political strategy mechanics that turned Rome into one of the largest empires ever.

As to the GA, it's no news they overrate games just to go along the hype...

Avatar image for tektronikk

Within a year or two it will be ready after about 7 or 8 patches, always money before perfection, we can now expect a Medieval III worse then?

Avatar image for valeria_victrix

Has anyone noticed that the average user reviews has been steadily declining?

It seems like people who rate the game after playing 30 minutes rate it much higher than people who have played it for 10+ hours. The more people play it, the less they like it.

When it comes down to "why did Gamespot rate a mediocre game so highly", I think we can attribute this to "insufficient time played" rather than any deliberate attempt to deceive.

Avatar image for mariocerame

@valeria_victrix .

Agreed. But it's really egregious. "To truly test your skills, you’ll certainly need to take your experience online. Rome II supports both one-off battles as well as cooperative and competitive campaign modes." Did he actually do this? This feature was universally broken at release, freezing. No, no I think not. To afford a generous reading: He played for a few hours, thought "oh CA always does a good job," and didn't take a critical look. I won't rely on him again.

Avatar image for sextus1

I lied!! Decided this day to shelve this game for awhile and went back to re-visit Rome-1. Looking at all the parameters of this old game, I have come to realize just how great this game is to play. It's too bad that CA didn't keep the good of Rome-1 and build on it. Have also dusted off Med-2.

Avatar image for sextus1

I must say that having followed the TW series from the start- Shogun- 1(exception Napoleon) that this was the most hyped, most anticipated of the lot, but to me, it has become the most disappointing. My rig is powerful enough to handle this game on Ultra but come the battle scenes it gets down graded. I agree with most of the comments here regarding the tech. tree limitations, the battle strategy, or lack thereof, and for some reason, the general feeling that we are not immersed to any degree in the battles when compared to Rome -1 or Med.-2. I hope that CA learns from this disgrace if and when they get around to doing Med.-3. I am going to finish my one and only campaign and then it's back to Med-2 and Shogun-2.

Avatar image for Shadow_Fax

@moc5 @mealkeith Relax, noone is dying, especially CA. A publisher pushing towards an early release without even a beta test doesn't mean the developer dies or anything like that...

Avatar image for D1N02982

Its funny how this game has totally been forgotten

Avatar image for mariocerame

@D1N02982 .

I see what you did there.

Avatar image for Dark_Rage

@D1N02982 But it shouldn't be really.

Avatar image for GiannisT_

the bugs issues are getting solved with the updates they released...

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Avatar image for Auth

A month after release this review is still in the top top? Moma Starkey must be proud

Avatar image for differentiation

Oh great. Gonna have to wait until Rome 3 comes out before I can get a PC to run this on max settings.

Avatar image for mealkeith

Looks like game spot has become CA's whimpering Dog. I used to have a lot of respect for CA a couple years back when they released the generously proportioned medieval total war 2 kingdoms but now it seems they are unscrupulous and incompetent. either its the situation I wrote or the Reviewer is lobotomized

Avatar image for moc5

@mealkeith They were one of my favorite developers once. They have now fallen victim to the 'cookie cutter' gaming crowd like so many others. Same game, different name, all for money, end result: lame. MTW 2 and Rome 1 are still the best war games to date. I am very sad to see CA die like this.

Avatar image for sataricon

will i'm a member in this site since 2005 and this review is repulsing

how could you do that? are loosing a massive chunks of respect and i'm very sure i won't take reviews from you ever tube is full of reviewers who are honest and won't con their viewers.

Avatar image for tahashaikh15

I actually thought GS had honest Reviews...I mean..I had no problem with the GTA 5 getting a 9/10..but Rome 2 getting an 8/10..this game in its current stage is not even worth 3/10..How much did they pay you to write a good review for this game?,I mean seriously...Both the Campaign and Battle AI is completely damn broken...THIS IS JUST BULLSHIT..The AI does Shitty stuff all the time...I remember when I first heard about Rome 2...I was SOO excited but now they fucked it up and whats worse is that you guys gave it a 8/10...I recommend everyone to go and watch Angry Joes review of this game...ITs much more honest then this!...

Avatar image for sir_inverno

Game spot was bought to do this review, there is no way they are this stupid. It is a 2 or 3 at most. Unfav the site, will never trust gspot reviews again.

Avatar image for tonyukuk

I am so pissed CA however there is one more issue, WHAT the ****** is the JOB of a reviewing site if it doesnt even inform what the gamers about the face, No decent music, tons of interface and gameplay issues, and lots of gamebreaking bugs (for most of the people, yeah even if you have uber computer), graphic cliches etc etc a shining example of a beta....

Thanks for supporting big companies and ****** with the gamers, GS. Now go and make another feedbackula to cover-up your ****.

Avatar image for tonyukuk

If you didnt already, DONT BUY this game, why? it is biggest beta testing phase of a game by developers, and you gotta pay 60 Bucks for a game that probably will even be not a mediocre game.

Wait for A YEAR or so and IF you willing the risk it than buy it,

And guys -like me- already bought the game, please consider sending mail to CA with nice flavor for ruining another good game with corporate ambitions and feeling no reason to apologies to their costumer.

Avatar image for mariocerame

@tonyukuk .

As a long time fan, it's tough for me to concede, but I agree. Don't buy if you haven't yet. Really. Wait for a sale at most, as by then there will be enough patches to perhaps keep you engaged. I found the game tremendously boring and a serious setback from S2.

Avatar image for Ch33zWiz

I take it this game is still (and possibly permanently) broken? I was kinda holding out hope for a miracle patch but haven't heard anything of the sort. Sucks, cause I was really looking forward to this game. Guess I'll go back to Medieval 2. I like it much more than Shogun 2. Slower. Knights. Medieval.

Avatar image for Dark_Rage

@UnclePuddle @exponential7216 Actually the only thing that bugs me about TW R2 is the interface. It's really uninspiring. I liked the battles and campaign map. But yes this game should have been polished more. When this game was announced i thought instead of doing a Rome 2, they could've gone for Medieval 3, that's a much more rich setting.

Avatar image for exponential7216

What the heck, Gamespot?! What the heck?! I finally caved and bought Rome 2 despite the other comments expecting an 8.0 game....stupid AI, graphic glitches, and SLLOOOOWWW faction moves....really a 6.0 rating IMO...and im sure it will eventually be patched in a few months but by then I'll most likely move on to another game...

Avatar image for UnclePuddle

@exponential7216 see, this is the problem Expo. The glitches and bugs can be patched, but the crappy mechanics, the streamlined-into-dumbness interface and the flat, uninspired music track WILL NOT AND CAN NOT be adjusted. Even if a pious soul would bother to patch the whole bugs and glitches (and it would take an ENORMOUS amount of time I am afraid), you will still be left with a mockery of what Total War used to be. I feel sincerely sorry for all those that have actually bought this game.

Avatar image for fenriz275

It's become par for the course that CA games are released way too early. Rome 2 is no exception. Shogun 2 was an anomaly in that it was actually a good game at launch even if CA tried to dlc us to death with that game.

Avatar image for Gooseman321

This game can't be patched and get better. There are too many design issues and good features that were taken out.. No matter how much Empire was modded or patched it still sucks. The AI is broken all the UI and upgrade changes are all idiotic. They could have just ported the same systems that were in Shogun 2 and it would have been fine. Instead we're running across the battle map to capture flags and fight a 30 second mosh pit battle. That's if the computer even manages to maneuver it's units into yours. Siege mechanics broken, every battle is a siege, province management broken, naval battles broken and pointless. Triremes sailing across the battlefield. Unit models that look like the walking dead, in game movies gone, general trees gone.

The game is so terrible that it times it's downright farce and tremendously amusing. However, the fact we were ripped off is not.

CA should refund every customer that pre-ordered. None of the features promised are in the game. This game is an outrage.

Everything is a smoldering wreck. CA should be embarrassed though they were probably strong armed by Sega into releasing this too early and simplifying it(I'm assuming for a stupid console port at some point).

Did the reviewers actually play this game? I guess I'm the fool though since I was scammed by the free DLC pre order despite a history of bad releases. Shogun was solid out of the box so I wanted to believe this would be too.

Anyway this game sucks and it will always suck.

It should be called "Total Garbage - Rome 2".

Avatar image for GiannisT_

@Gooseman321 empire total war was excellent.

Avatar image for mariocerame

@GiannisT_ @Gooseman321 .

Not at release.

Avatar image for cadburysgalaxy

@prince__vlad @Hermes33No, he's absolutely right. I loved his atmospheric immersive music in previous Total Wars like Rome, Medieval and Shogun. It's half the game experience. All the bugs, performance issues, AI problems and so on in Rome II can potentially be fixed in due time. Good luck fixing an uninspiring, soulless, deadpan and boring soundtrack that sounds like Empire Total War Redux Edition...

Avatar image for Hermes33

@cadburysgalaxy Good to see at least someone on here with more than two braincells to rub together able to understand my point. :D

Avatar image for Hermes33

Of all the problems with this game, I think the biggest mistake Sega Europe made was in not hiring Jeff van Dyck for the music score and sound design. Total War without Jeff van Dyck is like Star Wars without John Williams! At least he can probably be glad he wasn't involved with the complete Rome II soundtrack as a black mark on his record! I expect Jeff will release a Rome inspired music album in future that we can mod into Rome II when/if the game is fixed and improved. (I think his music would improve it 100%.)

Avatar image for Dark_Rage

@Hermes33 Right, i still remember playing previous TW games and every now and then my favorite tone from the game would play. Makes you come back to the game a whole lot more.

Avatar image for prince__vlad

@Hermes33 This is what's bothering you ? The music ??? Are you high pal? This game has far bigger issues than a musical score.Wake up !

Avatar image for UnclePuddle

8.0??? Giving a score of 5 to this MESS would be far too kind already! It's broken, busted and buggy to the extreme! Even without considering the appalling amount of bugs, the campaign is flat and uninspired (not to mention the moronic building system: apparently ANY building of higher tech tiers generates copious amounts of unrest, to the point that during the advanced stages, you will be wasting half of your WHOLE ARMIES as garrisons, otherwise you will be facing widespread rebellions), and the battles are so lame, I almost always recurred to auto-resolve just to skip the boredom. Want a good Total War game set in ancient Rome? Play the first game, and leave this abomination on the shelves.

Avatar image for WaffenLV

God this game is broken, needs a hell lot more patching!

Avatar image for Ronot6000

I don't think anyone was "paid." It's just really hard for websites like this to review strategy games. People on the staff tend to like all kinds of games, and have a hard time with in depth games that demand a lot of time. Even if they got a freelancer who likes strategy games, you'd really have to be a long time total war fan to catch a lot of what's wrong with this game.

I think it's probably easy to get taken in by the slick looks. I even like a lot of the changes they made to the campaign level. I think the military traditions for each army are a really cool idea (oh, 5th legion! Their cavalry is bad ass!). I like the reduced randomness of retainers and followers. It is dumbed down to a certain extent but i think the series could use that, I always felt like I was playing a bad Civilization game. This way it gets you to the battles faster, which is what I love about total war.

Except in this game they are awful, I cant forgive the changes they made here. Everything, even heavy infantry, is really squishy, there's no time to set up flanks or use any kind of strategy. The famed testudo formation which historically made legions near impervious to missile fire was coded so lazily it doesn't even work, it actually makes your infantry die faster to missile fire. They took out "loose" and "tight" formation options. Infantry are permanently tight formation, missile troops are permanently loose formation. It was often advantageous to have infantry in loose formation when advancing on missile troops or to have missile troops in tight formation if they were behind your lines to concentrate their firepower, but no more. The control points are just awful. A lot of fun in past games was using the terrain to your advantage, setting up on the perfect hill if you're defending. This forces you to fight over arbitrary points and doesn't allow you to use terrain in your strategy.

As a series, they need to cut it out with the silly side mini games. Not one has ever been compelling. I've never gamed the Vatican in medieval, or gotten the perfect cabinet in empire and napoleon.

So, not money changing hands, just a naive review from someone that didn't play the game for very long and doesn't know the series.

Avatar image for mariocerame

@Ronot6000 .

Review was rushed then. He clearly didn't even try the multiplayer feature--as it would have frozen on him as unplayable. This is really a bad quality review and I won't be relying on this fellow for a long while.

Avatar image for prince__vlad

@Ronot6000 5th legion cavalery ? What 5th legion cavalery? Have you paid attention how those "legions" are named ? They have no connection with the historical ones. I give you an example: if I make in noricum my second legion it will be called all the game LEGIO II Norica etc. Is this historical enough for you ? What kind of moron are you ?

Total War: Rome II More Info

  • First Released Sep 3, 2013
    • Macintosh
    • PC
    Return to ancient world in Total War: Rome II, and conquer the known planet as the Roman Empire in this real-time strategy game.
    Average Rating940 Rating(s)
    Please Sign In to rate Total War: Rome II
    Developed by:
    Creative Assembly
    Published by:
    Sega, Koch Media
    Real-Time, Strategy
    Content is generally suitable for ages 13 and up. May contain violence, suggestive themes, crude humor, minimal blood, simulated gambling and/or infrequent use of strong language.