For me, playing any decent -sized battle in Rome II is STILL just a stuttering mess. My performance is so poor, even on lower graphics settings, that the game feels like I am playing it in a rave club with the strobes going off. And after the first few turns every battle becomes decent-sized since the game seems to reward spamming units over any type or semblance of strategy and tactics.
And for those who say graphics aren’t the end-all be-all, you are right. But after three entries in the series that got rid of excessive use of 2D or 3D sprites for units on lower graphics settings in exchange for optimized graphics settings at every level, Rome II has brought them back, with a vengeance. And I can’t think of anything worse than watching shitty-looking paper dolls battle each other in real-time.
Since it released on Sept. 3, Rome II is on it’s third patch, which is currently in beta and will probably release officially later Today. And despite long lists of fixes promised in each patch, the game is still nowhere near a playable state. I can’t last longer than ten to fifteen turns before the poor AI, the bad graphics, and broken game mechanics become tedious, boring, and kill all the fun that I was having.
Graphics Issues aplenty
The Total War series has always claimed graphics as one of its strong suits. There are plenty of deep strategy games out there, but nothing makes a real-time battle more satisfying than large, detailed units fighting across gorgeous, varied battlefields using the landscape to best advantage. But that isn’t the case right now for Rome II. As of patch three, players still get to choose between ugly and playable or pretty and unplayable.
On medium-settings and lower (and even a good amount on high), Rome II uses sprites for units. Blocky, pixellated sprites that look horrible and make every unit look like an identical cookie-cutter cutout from an old SNES game. That’s what you get to watch if you turn the settings down since the game isn’t optimized one bit. I have two pretty good Radeon HD6850 graphics cards, an 8-core AMD FX processor and a 990 series motherboard holding it all together. These components were designed to go together and give you great performance for your money. But not with Rome II.
I don’t know about Nvidia crads running SLI. but Crossfire issues still plague Rome II. When the game launched, it couldn’t handle Crossfire. Graphics and textures loaded wrong or not at all. It was a mess.
After a patch and a driver update, things got worse as the graphics completely disappeared. Now on patch three and the second new driver to come out, Crossfire still has errors, artifacts and UI troubles with Rome II. And you don’t get a performance boost running in Crossfire. Rome II benchmarks around 80 FPS in high with Crossfire or without. But the game bounces from 20 FPS to 120 in getting to that average.
Even on lower settings, performance is an issue. Strange bugs like performance drops on clicking on units and settlements on the campaign map show similar hits to framerate whether you are running with everything on the lowest settings possible, or everything on high. Graphics on the campaign map still feel clunky and jerky overall no matter what, and ending a turn really shows the performance hit on all graphics settings, even after several patches addressing the issues.
Turtle War: Rome II
The artificial intelligence is worse than Shogun II, and even the Empire and Napoleon entries into the Total War series, despite claims that Rome II has seen the largest investment in artificial intelligence than any other game. And three patches with dozens of promised AI improvements. The AI in this game is so passive-aggressive it’s not even funny.
Like many players, I have yet to see the AI declare a war upon me, even as I encroach on their lands, and slowly dominate their neighbors. But when I declare war on them one of two things happens.
When playing as Mediterranean factions, they suicide assault me with tiny stacks of units, and their main. It becomes a tedious and annoying slog of battles, and then I steamroll over them. For Barbarian factions, they all just turtle in their one settlement forcing me to spam ever larger armies. And then play rave battles on the battle-map as my much more than recommended specs computer has trouble running the battle in real-time. I have yet to see if Eastern factions see a third AI trend.
And that’s just on the campaign map. In a battle things get worse. The AI refuses to bring their siege equipment to battle, and use tactics a four-year-old can see through on both attack and defense. To be honest the game might be more challenging and have a better artificial intelligence if they stole the code from the early 1990s Chessmaster series of games.
A game lacking character
At this point I am worried that the Total War series reached it’s high point with characters in Shogun II. Because characters in Rome II are bland, confusing and feel unfinished.
Agents and families in Medieval II and Shogun II had a lot of flavor to them. In Medieval II, the family tree and agents built their skills based on actions in the campaign map and on the battlefield. A number of statistics painted a nice picture of your kingdom and what skills and tactics you used. My English kingdom in Medieval II filled enemies with dread as I assassinated enemy agents and even a few popes during my campaign. My agents and generals became skilled commanders and assassins. It wasn’t as transparent as in Shogun II with its encyclopedia, but it worked well.
Shogun II still let your agents gain traits based on actions in battle or on the map, but it also offered a cleaner easier-to-use progression system. All of the characters gained experience and levels by doing things, and as they gained levels you could choose which path to progress them on, along with a limited set of personal retainers or items. I could choose warrior-commanders, warrior poets, or great commanders for my generals. I could turn my ninja into an assassin or the greatest spy of the ages. Each path was unique and each character was unique.
Rome II has taken a step forward with the ability to level up armies. Famous units like specific Roman Legions, British regiments and U.S. Army battalions have a history and keep their expertise over the years and centuries even when they are reformed after a loss. It’s a great addition to Rome II. But the game takes two steps back with their normal character progression system.
Generals are the most flexible in the game as you specialize them as a warrior, strategist, or commander. Agents on the other hand are bland. They all seem able to do the same things, more or less, but the game designers clearly designed them for a specific path. All characters have zeal, authority, and cunning rankings. But the agents tend to have a higher starting number in their class trait, and the skill tree has a full third rank only for that attribute. So it just feels like wasted space.
And all of the skills trees, traits systems, and household items are worse than a total mess. Unlike Shogun II, you can only see the full skill tree in the encyclopedia, and that’s for the basic skills. Many of agents and generals start with unique skills you can also level up, but that system is even harder to figure out than the base system. Traits and household items come at you like candy. Within fifteen turns, I had three or four items to choose from for each of my agents and generals in most campaigns. And characters also tend to rank up ridiculously quickly as long as you keep giving them actions to accomplish.
And don’t even get my started on the family-tree/politics system in Rome II. I don’t even think the designers have a clue how it works as the encyclopedia gives you the briefest of tutorials on the system and the interface in the game is just as confusing and non-intuitive as the skill trees.
Did they even finish this game?
After three patches, the last two with pages of fixes, you’d think the game would be getting pretty good to go in terms of fixing errors, bugs, and missing content. But the game still has missing content and big bugs.
Like I mentioned earlier, the AI is a woeful mess, whether it’s siege equipment that isn’t being used by an AI army that built it, bad AI on the campaign map, etc. It’s also little things like a balance of power gauge that seems to lack common sense, glitches in battles, and unfinished or missing encyclopedia entries and information. But it’s the missing stuff that’s the most annoying.
Some of the features in the game aren’t there like basic battle interface options like loose formation. guard formation and the maneuver compass. It’s also the fact that of the 12 or so wonders in the game, only two seem to exist, and one only recently made it into the game when CA added Stonehenge in patch three. Before that it was a black blob in campaign and custom battles.
When you take all of these issues in hand, after three weeks of extra polish, Rome II is still a work in progress. I can’t see it being ready until around Christmas time sadly. So until then, play Shogun II. Or Chessmaster if you want a real strategic challenge.