Student sets out to review everything in existence. Fails miserably.
When I sat down to play Total War: Rome 2 on Tuesday, my expectations were pretty high. I’ve been a fan of the series for a few years now, and have probably sunk more hours into invading Russia than Napoleon and Hitler ever did put together. What’s more, this instalment was promising to be bigger and better than anything that had gone before, with improved graphics, streamlined content and an absolutely massive number of regions and factions. For my first run through I chose the Iceni, an ancient British tribe with a war-based culture and more blue tattoos than a Smurf punk concert, and set about sending those Romanes back Domus.
For those of you unfamiliar with the Total War series, the games revolve around assuming command of a historical faction and through a combination of military, political and economic tactics, creating the most powerful empire you can. They typically include both a turn-based campaign map, through which diplomacy and army movement are managed, and real-time battles which play out like a sort of stabby chess. With so much for the computer to manage, the graphics have never been Total War’s high point, so with Rome 2, I was pleasantly surprised. My laptop isn’t a particularly high-end gaming device, but the game still managed to look rather good. This development is compounded by a new snap-to-unit cinematic camera, which allows you to immediately zoom in to a first-person view within individual squadrons. Credit where credit is due, Creative Assembly have done a fantastic job in animating individual soldiers; you can see the looks of horror on the characters’ faces as they see their friends impaled by javelins or trampled by elephants, a remarkable feat given the fact that battles can potentially involve thousands of men that all need individually rendering. Another welcome addition is the new province system, which allows for up to four regions to be managed from the same panel, as it streamlines a system that can get rather complicated once your empire grows a bit.
However, after a while I began to run into a few flaws. The load times between turns, for example, last about as long as the Roman Empire itself did – I often found myself emptying the dishwasher or making a cup of tea while I waited for the computer to finish resolving things. Given the sheer amount of armies it has to control every turn though, this is excusable. What’s more baffling is the seemingly random way the AI handles numbers and odds; actions that you are told have a 95% chance of succeeding will in reality rarely pan out, and I refuse to believe that every single soldier in the Roman army carries a lucky rabbit foot. This is slightly counteracted by the fact that most of the soldiers in the game seem to have been trained by The Life of Brian’s crack suicide squad – in Rome 2, a general could have been the leader of a host of 4000 highly disciplined legionaries for over 30 years, but he still won’t be above apparently shouting “YOLO” and charging headfirst into a wall of spears. At other times, enemy units will charge to within sniffing distance of a group of archers only to start running in circles like an increasingly arrow-filled Benny Hill sketch. It was after the fifth time this happened that I hit upon a realisation. I wasn’t playing a game. Not yet, anyway. I was playing a beta test.
There’s far too much in Rome 2 that just doesn’t feel… finished. Take the tutorial campaign for example. In a game that as far-reaching as Rome 2, a few levels that explain the basic mechanics at work are necessary. However, I was only ever to able to play up to a certain point in it before it inevitably crashed, meaning that a lot of the new gameplay additions went unexplained. From what I’ve seen on the internet, a lot of players have been encountering similar issues. It’s like Creative Assembly realised demand for their game was high and so rushed it out, neglecting to take a can of Raid to the swarm of bugs still buzzing around in it. Yes, they may have announced that there are going to be weekly patches in order to address these issues, but (and I cannot stress this enough), this should not be necessary.
When did it become ok for game developers to act like this, to release a product that is so fundamentally broken that parts of it are unplayable? Yes, it’s not uncommon for a game to have a few problems that manage to sneak through testing, but there’s simply no reason for this number of bugs to have made it through to the final product, especially in a series that has been running for years. Actually, I take that back. There is one, and it’s greed. Why else would a clearly unfinished game have been rushed to the shelves? It’s a worrying sign of the state of the games industry that developers think they can get away with this kind of behaviour, skimping on the crucial business of, you know, actually finishing the damn thing and assuming that people will buy it anyway. I noticed that in the days leading up to Rome 2’s release there was a distinct lack of reviews published. Was this an intentional move on Creative Assembly’s behalf, in order to avoid the wave of bad press that would have hit them as a result? Heaven forbid that sales of a (and it pains me to say it) bad game are affected.
By all means, in a few months buy Rome 2, when Creative Assembly might have had the good grace to finish it. But not before then. Because while Rome may not have been built in a day, that doesn’t mean that they didn’t skimp on the brickwork.