Rome Total War forever changed the format of the Total War games with the introduction of the gorgeous full world map. This replaced the basic risk style map seen in the previous Shogun Total War with a fully 3D map of the ancient world. A wealth of depth was added to the experience as now you could control armies on the map individually allowing you to strategically move and posistion them. For example placing them in a mountain choke point like the Alps, or blocking a bridge, or ready to ambush in a forest.
This introduced the ability capture, control and micromanage multiple ancient settlements from heaving capital cities like Rome and Athens to more backwater barbarian settlements like Lovosice. This finally meant that you felt like you were actually slowly building up an entire ancient empire and deal with all the problems that this expansion created. Your cities could rebel against your rule if they weren’t kept happy and in control through temples, army garrisons and low taxes. However you needed that taxation in order to produce money to continue to fuel your ever expanding war machine but then the taxation lowers the growth of your cities which prevents you from expanding them and crucially hiring troops in the first place. Then on top of that you have natural disasters, city squalor and of course roaming rebel and enemy armies to contend with.
It was a game that on a personal level helped fuel an interest I already had in ancient warfare and was influential to my choice of a degree in Classics and my essays, projects and dissertation that focused on elements of ancient conflict such as the military of Alexander the great or Why the Persians failed at Marathon. (Hoplites are pretty OP)
My initial excitement about the game was due primarily to its simulation of ancient battles. I used to watch a show called Time Commanders which used the Total War Engine to allow a team to awkwardly fight a real ancient battle then get told how they did it all wrong by a couple of know it all historians. What has kept me coming back after tiring of just playing the battles is the evolving narrative the game creates within its campaign mode. It may not appear to be so on first glance but the game is in its own way as ‘open world’ as any title like GTA and perhaps more so. Your canvas just happens to be a global theatre where your choices have huge impact through the hundreds of game terms that represent centuries of ‘real time.’ Not only is your choice of faction important as it can lead to different enemies both early and later on in the game but also the direction you build up your cities, take your armies to conquer and how you treat the other factions diplomatically. It’s further influenced by a lot of little details which end up injecting startling amounts of personality to a game that again seems on the surface devoid of it.
For example the main ‘characters’ in the game are the family tree of your faction, this family grows through marriages, childbirths and adoptions all of which you have some control over and the main men in the family go on to lead your armies and control your cities. They then acquire quirks and personalities based on this, for example leave some general in a backwater for too long and he might go mad, develop the ‘crazy’ trait and begin his battle speeches with long rants about how the first man to kill an enemy will win a brand new skirt.
My favourite in-game example of this was a Roman General I think back of affectionately as ‘Petra’ meaning rock in Latin. He was born in central Italy and at a young age was given the command of a rag tag band of inexperienced Roman Soldiers and local barbarian mercenaries. He showed an early talent at command and marched them through the barbaric land of the Gauls conquering cities and sending his loot and slaves back to the Roman coffers. He and his men grew in experience despite shrinking in number as they got further and further away from Italy . Boldly they reached the northern tip of france and looked over seas at wee Britain and being bold as he was hopped on some triremes and landed his veteran but vastly depleted army on its shores. He crushed the British defenses and took Londinium with little effort. It seemed safe and he rested his armies within the barbarians wooden walls.
Then the horde approached. A British force to rival that of the real Boudcia, thousands and thousands strong were marching headlong for my vastly outnumbered force of only a few hundred. Poor ‘Petra’ was seemingly fucked. The horde of soldiers yelled and roared as they approached, throwing javelins and boiled heads over the wooden walls that my veterans calmly held behind. Their battering rams crashed through the walls and thousands flooded through the gates with only a tiny handful to block them. But damn in that bottleneck did my Romans fight hard and strong. The crushing weight of the British force useless in such a tiny choke point they were methodically cut down like weeds and promptly fled to be cut down by the handful of cavalry I had left. ‘Petra’ received an ‘ultimate defender’ trait and died happily in that city many years later having came, saw and conquered.
I had with no actual intent pretty accurately recreated what literally happened in the Roman occupation. A very simple conquest that then a few decades later almost got destroyed by a mass rebellion that was saved by one plucky general and his tough band of legionary soldiers who were heavily outnumbered by the Roman force but managed to massacre them. This was known as the battle Watling street the British army led by Boudicia. It still remains the biggest military massacre in British history with an estimated 300,000 men women and children dying as a result thanks to the British army being so secure of victory that they brought . In a similiar fashion I razed the remaining British cities to the ground and massacred the populace to prevent any future huge uprising. Because being an armchair Hitler is deliciously evil. Honestly games like this though they’ll never reach the infamy of GTA really do have you participate in a type of very real practical evil where only results rather than human lives matter on the virtual screen. Considering I was also around 13-14 while ordering mass genocide it’s surprising I’ve turned out as functional as I have.
I can think of very few games that can accurately simulate very real epic human narratives like that.
It’s that massive scale and amazing scope that makes the game such a breathtaking thing of beauty to involve. It manages to both have grand scale while zooming in to the micro level which is magical in any game and can be appreciated by even people who enjoy games like the Sims. The combined widespread management of an empire with the superb real time ancient battle simulator created a heady and addictive mix. The camera zooming in to two armies about to clash then that area being accurately created within the game engine should create nerdgasms in anybody. It’s the little details that really sell the experience. The historical info built into the individual unit scrolls. The weather changing between seasons, the historical events that pop up such as the Marius reforms of the explosion of Mount Vesuvius. and influence the action that make you feel immersed in the ancient world the game is set in.
With the debacle that was Rome Total War 2 I can’t recommend this enough as really the definitive Total War experience and even if you’re a veteran of the series that’s bored of the experience there’s some amazing mods such as Rome Total War Realism and Europa Barbarorum that transform it into something even more realistic and indepth at the expense of some learning curve. Then look forward to sore eyes in your quest to conquer the world.