Julius Caesar famously once said “experience is the teacher of all things”- a quote I found to be rather ironic slapped onto the loading screen of Creative Assembly’s Total War: Rome II. Yesterday marked 11 months since its disastrous launch, and for those of you outside of the PC gaming loop, I’ll give you the short story. Rome II shouldn’t have been released when it was. It was a buggy, broken and a poorly optimised mess, and I think many would agree with me when I say this – had some of the worst computer AI I have ever seen. It was nowhere near at an acceptable level for release, but Sega put it out anyway. Don’t believe me? Watch this.
Lest we forget to mention to the infamous floating boat glitch.
Pretty much, Rome II is a prime example of the “Release first, finish later” mentality that some developers seem to have adhered to recently (cough EA cough). The Total War series has been around for fourteen years, and its many iterations have amassed huge critical and commercial success. The first Rome game even had a BBC television series dedicated to it. But Rome II, the eighth in the famed franchise, has almost single-handedly managed to undo fourteen years of hard work and tarnished the reputation of the Total War series.
The sad thing about Rome II is that underneath it all, there is an incredibly ambitious game with huge potential. The idea of being able to play massive co-operative campaigns and march side by side with your friends’ armies as you lay siege and conquer the greatest civilisations of history is one every geek and history buff dreams of. What we got, however, was a frustrating experience of campaign turns going out of sync, woeful AI, and awful technical glitches. To add further insult to injury, they had to nerve to charge us for additional DLC (I had to pay to add blood and gore to the game), when they could have spent their time and resources into you know…fixing their god damn game!
Creative Assembly, for their part, have released patch after patch to try and solve the many, many issues with the game, and just a few days ago released patch 14, so I decided this was the perfect time to dip my toes back into the game to see if it had been fixed. And the short answer? Sort of.
I’ve put in about 10 hours into a grand campaign, and another five or so playing multiplayer battles, and the very first thing that’s noticeable is that the overall performance is much better than before. Battles are less laggy, loading times have been greatly reduced, and a host of previously encountered graphical glitches seem to have been removed. Rome II does run a hell of a lot better than it used to. So far so good.
But these weren’t game breaking issues, they were just annoyances. So let’s talk about the game’s biggest failure; the AI. Now, AI has never been perfect in any Total War game, but Rome II’s in particular was a special breed of stupid. Examples? Units would get stuck behind siege equipment, placing ladders on my walls and then not being able to climb them, or against all logic, would leave their siege towers behind and attempt to ram all their units through one gate instead. Other times they would stand around aimlessly under heavy missile fire, or charge at you and then back away at the last second and repeat the behaviour. Simply search “Rome II bugs” on YouTube, and you’ll see a host of hilarious and game-breaking bugs that players have had to put up with.
So in this regard, I was pleasantly surprised. I didn’t see most of these, or at least, saw them much less than I had previously. The computer AI made more rational and logical decisions, at times, even managing to surprise me and catch me off guard. Examples like units using hidden cover to ambush me and making use of terrain advantages show a marked improvement in AI behaviour. These improvements carried over into the campaign too. Opposing factions made more sensible diplomatic choices, and lo and behold, they actually wanted to trade with me and appreciated mutually beneficial scenarios in terms of alliances and non-aggression pacts. That’s not to say it’s perfect now, but all in all, there’s obvious progress being made. Certainly, the AI isn’t so dim-witted beyond comprehension that it breaks immersion and playability as it did before. Thumbs up, Creative Assembly.
They’ve even removed the stupidly pointless victory flags in battles. Essentially, you could win a battle by capturing a randomly generated flag in an open battle, thus removing the need for any tactical ingenuity and strategy, and completely ignoring army strength and numbers. You could literally win a battle with 10 men against 10,000 if you just happen to be next to a flag and sit there for a minute. Thankfully, this has been removed.
It’s the online co-op campaign (for me the most appealing option in the game) that unfortunately still seems to have not been addressed. I’ve tried three times now to play a campaign with a friend, each time on a different PC, and inevitably, the same de-syncing issue occurs. That is to say, we’d both be playing the same campaign together but would eventually end up seeing totally different things on screen. Try to imagine playing FIFA online with a friend and you scoring a goal from a penalty, but on his end, he’d saved it. Now imagine that happening ten hours into a campaign in Rome II. And then when I tried to exit, both our games crashed and the save file became corrupted so we had to start from scratch. I’ve attempted to reach out to Creative Assembly multiple times via their Facebook and Twitter pages, and not once have they replied. They do respond regarding other issues, but they seem to comprehensively ignore any social media and forum posts regarding this huge and game-breaking bug that renders the co-op campaign completely unusable.
If an issue as big as that still exists after almost a year patching and a whole host of DLC, then with all due respect to the developers and the incredibly ambitious series they work on, I don’t really see them fixing it now. Don’t get me wrong; I understand that Rome II is a hugely complicated game, one that is sure to have its fair share of issues simply due to the ambition, scale and depth of the game. And it’s great that they are actively attempting to fix and improve it, when many other companies in the past have simply abandoned support (cough EA cough), but I fear it’s a case of too little too late. It’s a shame really because despite everything, I love Rome II. It does so much right, and as a fan of the series, I can almost forgive its misgivings, but unfortunately, it does too much wrong for me to recommend to all but the most hardcore Total War fan. Especially when you consider it’s older brother Shogun II is superior in almost every way. Stick Rome II in the recycling bin and don your samurai gear if you need your Total War fix. SHAMEFURRRRR DISSSSPRAYYYY CREATIVE ASSEMBLY!