Review: Rome: Total War14 Nov 2016 17
Review: Rome: Total War
Released 10 Nov 2016
Rome: Total War, the legendary 2004 PC game, is now available on your iPad thanks to Feral Interactive. This was a groundbreaking game back when it came out and provided opportunity for both strategic and tactical gameplay. The strategy came from building a world-dominating empire, one turn at a time, and sending your army out to subdue and absorb other lands in the name of Rome. The tactical component was satisfied by a n excellent battlefield simulation where you were the architect of a battle's victory, or defeat. This mixed-level gaming offered something for any strategy or war gaming fan and justly earned a place in gaming history.
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It's been fourteen years and switching to Apple's ecosystem hasn't gone smoothly for other fan favorites. How does this mobile version hold up? Read on, dear gamers.
The Rome: Total War campaign takes you back to the (abstracted) height of the Roman Republic. You play as one of three major Roman families—the Julii, Brutii, or Scipii—and seek to build economic and military strength through growth and conquest. Your ultimate goal is returning home to end the republic and rule Rome as emperor.
Your faction starts with a couple cities and some controllable family members. They are all male and act as governors when in in town and generals when in the field. Additional family members become available when they come of age, sixteen years, or through marriage. Your mandate, as directed by the Roman Senate, is to go forth and conquer for the glory of Rome.
The setting of Rome: Total War is Europe, North Africa, and Near-East Asia—the area within the Roman Empire's historic grasp. It is your classic turn-based strategy game filled with infrastructure development, domestic management, diplomacy, espionage, and of course war. You develop your cities to fuel your economy and improve your military capacity. You recruit armies and build ships and go forth to subdue other cities and nations.
Once you conquer you must rule, and foreign populations won't make it easy on you. A key aspect of Rome: Total War is city management. You'll manage expenses, set tax rates, track morale, and host expensive gladiatorial games to keep the masses distracted. If you don't, they will revolt and set back your imperial ambitions. You also recruit diplomats and send them far and wide to deliver your offers, threats, and bribes to other factions and their emissaries. Spies and assassins do the dirtier work of opening city gates and taking out enemy leaders.
Gameplay is turn based and you can assign actions to each settlement, family member, and other key resources like diplomats and admirals each turn. Settlements have both a construction and recruitment queue. You can construct buildings that confer different benefits—a market to increase trade and commerce, or stables which enable the training of cavalry units and dogs of war, for example. Based on the buildings in that settlement you can recruit different military units as well. Both queues allow you to set actions for several turns in advance, which saves a little time if you have a long-term goal in mind.
Ruling a material portion of the known world is complicated, and there's a lot going on in Rome: Total War. The game is addictive and can quickly suck you in with one-more-turn syndrome. Long ago I used to play the campaign mode for hours and hours and the urge to keep playing has been ported to iPad as well. The campaign mode is still very fun and holds up well. The UI shows its age a bit, but is still fine and I found the touch controls to be easy to work with. Once you complete a campaign with one of the starting factions the remaining eight playable factions are unlocked including the Greek Cities, Macedon, Britannia, Egypt, and Gaul. This adds quite a bit of replay value to the game.
The tactical component of Rome: Total War is the lifelike, real-time, battlefield simulation. You can command each and every unit down to the smallest detail of where they go and who they attack. You can view the battle from a birds-eye level or zoom way in to be part of the action. The attention to detail is very high and its clear Feral gave the soldiers a new layer of polish to better shine on more modern devices.
Battles can be very difficult as every unit has its strengths and weaknesses against each other, so proper alignment is key. The real-time element means things change pretty quickly and you will need to be equally fast to keep a handle on things. Feral didn't skimp on units or options in the battle simulation to simplify things for the iPad, which is commendable and something tactical gamers, and long-time fans of the game, will certainly appreciate. Naturally they have rejiggered the controls for touchscreen so you can pretty quickly tap and send units to where you want them. I found these controls to be fine, but far from optimal. I accidentally sent units out of place more than once in an absentminded attempt to change my viewpoint.
If you're worried about fat-fingering a victory into defeat, or just aren't interested in micromanaging units and tactics in every battle, you can choose to auto-resolve them. The auto-resolution rules seem fair, much like in the original. If you go in with an advantage you'll win. If you go in evenly matched or an underdog you might do better taking the reins yourself, especially if you are a capable virtual general.
There are other options beyond campaign mode. You can step into and play either side of ten historic battles. Most of which feature Rome versus one of its many adversaries. There's also a "quick battle" option which drops you immediately into the deployment phase of a battle where you take the reins of a Roman army. Custom battle lets you build your own battle. You decide the map, type of game, season, weather, time of day, time limit, and many other variables. Naturally, you also get to decide who fights and which side each is on.
Rome: Total War is one of my favorite games of all time and I'm very happy I can now play it on my primary gaming device, my iPad Pro. The beauty of the game remains in the interplay between the strategy and tactical elements. The ability to play both leader and general, stepping from a macro to micro view and back again, is something that few games have successfully replicated since Rome: Total War showed us the way.
As is to be expected, Rome: Total War is a huge install and a bit of a battery buster, but the game holds up well. The campaign mode is still very fun and will continue to please history buffs as well as strategy gamers. The real-time battle component does not hold up quite as well, but will satisfy the master tacticians out there given its depth of play. The extra options for a historic, quick, or custom battle also nicely replicate what the PC game offered.
All in all, this is a very well done port of the game to mobile. Fans of Rome: Total War will certainly not be disappointed. Those who have never played before might feel the game UI to be somewhat dated, but will likely soon forget as they are sucked in to the turn-based play of the campaign. I'd definitely pick this one up for your iPad today.