The first expansion for Total War: Rome II follows an unusual motto; if it’s broken, don’t fix it. That’s right, although the release of this sizeable DLC pack - and the large patch coinciding with it - may be heralded as the ‘great fix’ for the undeniably broken base game, Caesar in Gaul does very little to improve upon the failings of Rome II. Don’t get me wrong, Total War: Rome II isn’t a bad game, but there are some serious gameplay problems, not to mention the host of bugs and issues that plagued...no, still plague the game to this date. The fundamental issues with the vanilla game hinder this expansion from the start, add on to this a lack of new content and you’ve got one of the Creative Assembly's most disappointing products since Stormrise.
A critical way to start a review, I know, but playing Caesar in Gaul simply furthered the disappointment I’d felt towards Rome II since release. There’s an imbalance, pure and simple, within the core of the game, making it the slowest and most repetitive Total War game ever. The horrendously long wait between turns in the campaign is one key issue, so too is the dreadful AI during siege battles. Add on to this the appalling optimisation that left PC gamers with even the most technically capable machines suffering from crippling framerate drops, and you’ve got a bit of a mess. This, by the way, coming from one of CA’s biggest fans.
With that out of the way, let’s focus on the DLC. Caesar in Gaul presents a more focused campaign than the huge map featured in the base game. As the title suggests, the expansion focuses on Julius Caesar’s conquest of Gaul shortly before the turn of the millenium, which means a map zoomed in on modern France, Belgium, Northern Italy and southern Britain. The player is given the choice of four factions to play, only one of which is a new addition to the playable ranks. Along with Rome, the Averni Gauls and the Germanic Suebi, the Nervii are now playable, although ultimately very similar to the other gallic factions. As with any Total War game, the playing experience actually varies quite substantially depending on your choice of faction.
Playing as one of the tribal factions is probably the best place to start, especially if you’ve yet to play as them in the vanilla game. The Averni have a strong central start position, so will likely be the launch point for many players. The rearranged location is a lot tighter than the Euro-Asian map, with almost as many settlements jammed within this small area as there were in the usual land mass. This eliminates the issues Rome II had with large distances between cities, there’s less time spent marching your armies from place to place and therefore a much heavier focus on battles. Thankfully, the one element that the smaller map has removed is the huge number of factions that plagued the base game. Ending a turn takes a matter of seconds and restores the swifter gameplay of every other Total War game.
As mentioned, you’ll probably end up fighting a lot more battles in this DLC. They’re still the highlight of the game, with epic and cinematic military clashes unmatched in the genre. They do tend to be a little on the easy side, even on the harder difficulties, but they’re great fun to begin with. The issue with Caesar in Gaul, however, is that after playing a bunch of battles they’ll all start to feel a bit similar. This is where the lack of factions takes a turn for the worse; while the base game has a huge number of cultures, unit types and factions, Caesar in Gaul is severely lacking in comparison. Only the Gallic, Germanic and Roman cultures have any real power in the game, so you’ll almost always be fighting as or against one of these cultural groups. It can often feel as though you’re fighting the same army over and over, despite them representing different groups.
If playing as a bunch of mean Gauls isn’t for you, then you’ve still got the option to control Julius Caesar himself at the head of the Roman faction. The game’s namesakes still field the coolest armies; the Roman legions look impossibly awesome with the graphics ramped up. While they’re certainly the best looking, they’re still annoyingly powerful in combat. I found that in the base game the Roman troops, especially the legionaries, were vastly overpowered which meant even a small Roman force could crush a full tribal army. This is even more apparent in Caesar in Gaul where the comparatively weak tribe armies are the only possible opponents (minus one greek settlement). Playing as Rome should be the highlight of the game, but in the end it just feels like you’re cheating.
There are attempts to developing a more narrative driven campaign with Caesar in Gaul. The introduction of historical characters in the form of ‘King of the Gauls’ Vercingetorix, Germanic tribal leaders and various famous Roman leaders like Mark Antony and Caesar himself are neat additions. Anyone who’s a fan of HBO’s Rome will find it all pleasingly familiar. An adapted tech tree also plays up to this theme; while one branch focuses on the typical military/settlement advances, the other contains various quick bonuses that cost money to research. Playing as the Romans gives you various options such as marrying Pompey Magnus to Caesar's family or having Caesar appointed Consul, all historical events that grant your faction very useful traits.
These attempts at creating a much more linear story to your campaigning are amiable and welcome, but they’re ultimately few and far between. Of course, for those who want a truly linear Total War experience, Caesar in Gaul brings a new historical battle to the line-up. The addition of these through campaign packs probably explains why there are so few in the main game. The battle of Alesia is a great addition to the game, providing a really tough challenge against a ridiculous number of Averni Gauls. The ‘attack on two fronts’ nature of the battle takes the advantage away from the superior Roman troops that you’ll be commanding, making it tough to get them into a useful position. I’m a big fan of the historical battles in Total War as they tend to push your tactical thinking to the full while eliminating the imbalances that are often found in the campaign. I certainly would like to see more released moving forward.
In many ways, Caesar in Gaul has made me lament the days of significant expansion packs that revolutionised the whole game, something that Total War used to excel in. This DLC campaign pack is largely just a slightly different take on the game we had to begin with. If you’re really enjoying Rome II, and somehow avoiding the bugs and performance issues, then this should be a good addition to your collection. The shift in focus towards more closely arranged cities and a short period of time creates a different play experience to that found in the main game. For me though, the change isn’t nearly enough to justify a purchase. This is still largely the same product with very little noticeable changes to gameplay, and when so much of the game is more than a little off in the first place that is, sadly, not a good thing.
Total War: Rome II
Game is enjoyable, outweighing the issues there may be.
For me though, the change isn’t nearly enough to justify a purchase. This is still largely the same product with very little noticeable changes to gameplay, and when so much of the game is more than a little off in the first place that is, sadly, not a good thing.