Along with the rest of the gaming media, we were under the impression that Sega intended to skip gamescom 2012. We were surprised then by the last minute announcement that they would be attending after all, but particularly pleased as it gave us the chance to see some very early footage from Creative Assembly’s epic strategy game, Total War: Rome II.
It may seem somewhat premature to describe a title as ‘epic’ when it has only just been announced and very little has been made available to show but the Total War series has long been a favourite amongst strategy fans, with seven previous stand-alone entries plus numerous expansions. Of those seven games, the original 2004 Rome: Total War is hailed by many a series fan to be the highlight of the Total War saga to date.
Given that the original Rome is held in such high regard by the fans, Creative Assembly have a lot to live up to with this title in order to keep their audience satisfied. On the one hand, Rome II is a title that many fans have been crying out for, but on the other the intense popularity of the first game, even now, makes it something of a ‘sacred cow’ that is very dangerous to tamper with.
Before we continue, perhaps a brief overview of how a Total War game works is appropriate for any readers who are unfamiliar with the series (heathens!).
At its most basic, a Total War game is a large scale strategy title split into two parts. The turn-based overworld map is where a player manages their resources, controls their cities, recruits their forces and moves their armies and agents. This is almost like a 4x title in that regard - except you don’t build new cities, you conquer existing ones.
The second part of the Total War games occurs when two rival armies (or in more recent titles, navies) collide and the game transforms into a real-time strategy battle game where vast forces, thousands per side, meet in a clash of blood and steel.
As mentioned, Rome II is in a very early stage of development (described by the developer’s as “super, super-early code”) so what we were shown was limited. In fact, the majority of the time was spent not seeing the game, but discussing with the developers why they chose to return to Rome and what they hope to bring to this re-imagined version. While a presentation without gameplay footage might not sound the most exciting of gamescom appointments, what we heard was exactly what we, as Total War fans, wanted to hear.
First, the ‘why’: The Creative Assembly team decided to revisit Rome primarily due to fan demand, Rome II being the game that most fans were crying out for. They also stated that with Rome being a flagship game, the fact that development would coincide with Creative Assembly’s 25th anniversary as a studio seemed particularly apt.
The development team also described Rome as “the ultimate empire building era” and said it has all the right ingredients for a Total War game; including lots of factions, lots of unit types and a technology race. They also revealed that their budget for this game is a whopping 40% bigger than any of the previous Total War titles, so we can expect some big improvements to come.
In terms of what will be updated in this remake, we were told to expect a much bigger campaign map with a huge variety of cultures, fighting styles and settings along with deeper levels of human level drama where political intrigue, family rivalry and the political machinations of the senate will play a real part in the gameplay experience.
We are also to expect truly epic scale battles across huge and varied environments, including huge cities which will contain multiple capture points to spread the battle out. In a rather exciting reveal, we were informed that combined battles featuring both navy and army units in the same conflict will be a new feature.
As a final statement before we saw some impressive footage of the new engine, we were told to expect a darker vision of war and one with a human fact, personified through massively enhancement graphics including facial animations and true emotional reactions; i.e. individual troops will react to the success or failure of their colleagues around them.
We then watched a demonstration of the game taken from a historical scenario; the concluding battle of the Siege of Carthage in 146 BC. This demonstration was not recorded footage of a battle per-say, rather a scripted tech-demo built around the actual Rome II battle engine.
After an introductory voice over cut scene we see a huge fleet of troop transport ships, loaded with men, making their way towards the shoreline under bombardment from catapult artillery being fired from the city. When the ships reach the shore thousands of men leap out and make their way to the established Roman defenses and siege towers.
At this point we see the camera zoom down to a troop level view as we are transported into the eyes of a Roman legionnaire at ground level. While this in itself is not new, previous Total War titles also having a fixed camera ‘troop view’ mode, what is exciting in this demonstration is that we see the camera rotate to look at the battle lines forming and zoom in on a near-miss by a flaming projectile.
Given that previous troop views in Total War games have been very much locked to a ‘face forward’ view with no user control we could not resist the temptation to ask about this. The developers informed us that this aspect of camera design is still being experimented with and that they therefore could not say for definite that it will be totally free for user control. However, they were clear that their goal is for all camera viewpoints to be useful in gameplay terms instead of merely cosmetic and that they do not want to take camera control away from the player.
As the troops begin to man the siege towers we see another impressive camera effect, as play zooms to an overhead birds eye view covering the entire city. This almost functions as an overhead strategic map, although within the gameplay rather than a separate interface screen, and gives us a great view of this huge city setting and it’s multiple-level design.
As the siege towers rumble slowly forward towards the wall we once again drop into a troop level view, this time from inside the tower itself as the trooper looks around and watches the battle lines moving forward. Just before the tower reaches the city walls, the unit commander turns and addresses his troops, wishing them glory in the battle ahead.
This interaction took us somewhat by surprise as we have never seen such a thing occur in the Total War series aside from scripted sequences at the very beginning of a battle, but we were informed that dynamic speech would occur within the game based on a units circumstances and performance. This is certainly an exciting new touch that could really bring a new level of realism to the battles in this game.
We are then guided across various parts of the battlefield, really getting a sense of the size of the conflict occurring here. While the siege towers storm the ramparts other groups clamber through newly made breaches in the city walls and a fleet of ships delivers a fresh batch of troops into the city harbour.
The Roman’s sweep through the Carthaginian defenders and the battle moves into the city streets. As one group push on, a flaming projectile streams through and hits a building right next to them, which is crushed and collapses in flames.
At this point the demonstration ended, as did our time with the Total War team. This is certainly shaping up to be an exciting title and even at this very early stage enough has been revealed to make it clear that Creative Assembly are really upping the scale for this latest outing. Aspects such as multi-level battlefields and combined fleet and army battles have already been revealed to us in the demonstration and the intended additions to the campaign map sound very interesting indeed. It’s just a shame we have to wait as far as late 2013 before it will be ready to play.