So last week I, and hundreds of thousands of people sat down to get their hands on the latest installment of The Creative Assemblies Total War series, Rome 2: Total War. With the release of Shogun 2 Total War not only reaching but in many ways surpassed the hype around Shogun 2 Total War in 2010 we couldn’t possibly comprehend that the next and far more anticipated installment in the series would be a let down.
Well, then it happened, and it happened on such a gloriously, earth shattering scale that many still can’t get their heads around what quite happened. Unlike all the pre-alpha footage we were shown, backed up by countless trailers and gameplay footage, with responsive A.I, wonderful graphics and enticing gameplay we were delivered on release a humongous mess. Many could not even boot up the game, crashes were alarmingly frequent, massive frame rate and texture pop in issues for even those with the most powerful desktop rigs. Whilst my machine is no beast I could play Shogun 2: Total War on Ultra/High with not the slightest bit of lag, yet my PC now cannot even handle low on Rome 2, making it unplayable for me with massive black holes across the map, and stuttering frame rate.
“Pre-Alpha (Top) vs In Game Now (Below) with another 2 years development. What has happened here?”
The whole thing just reeks of a rushed project, with the A.I not even able to fight in open field of city based combat to any degree of reason. The use of a “Capture the Point” system is the sole way in which the A.I can function, with an attacking force simply pushing through your lines, not even trying to attack your defenses in order to reach the flag. However, you are lucky to even get this animation from the enemy with the A.I often simply running in circles, staring at your forces blankly without moving or they may just mesh into one, invincible ball of super death and run straight at you without the slightest attempt at strategy.
This goes entirely against what was displayed in a early A.I demo of the game, weeks before release. Issues do not end with in battle A.I, the campaign map sees little improvement. With wait times per turn that can take will up 5 minutes for some on low end PC’s against only 1 minute of play time when your moving your armies around you are indeed simply doing more waiting than you are engaging with the game as 150 different factions take their turn. This bloating in-depth amount of nations also seems like a juxtaposition to the stripped down family tree, research, army creating and unit selection system which attempts to bring the game into more of a casual field of use. With armies leaving their cities undefended, an A.I that hardly ever declares war on you even on Legendary difficulty and armies that attack you only in small chunks instead of a collective effort there is a foreboding atmosphere that the game may not have even been tested externally. This is an in-depth world conquering simulation strategy game, not a simplified click and watch marathon. Shogun 2 Total War saw far more aggressive A.I, I have yet to beat the game on anything past hard. Clans are always on the look out to exploit a situation, long friendships can be formed but later turn into bitter betrayal, it really does write its own story. Now it can be said that the sheer size of Rome 2 makes it hard to optimize so many nations, but before undertaking this project the team at CA were aware of these complications. For example, in my play through as the German tribes Rome never expanded outside of Italy, basic history just informs us that Rome was a dangerous and powerful nation, but this is not reflected in game.
Whilst The Creative Assembly have apologized for this messy release, with Rome 2’s creative director Mike Simpson calling the launch issues, “Totally Unacceptable” they also claim that only 2% of the community are having issues with the game. Sure, it may only be 2% of the community that is complaining but there are many, such as myself, that are more in awe of the failure to such a level that ranting at the development team seems like wasted breath.
By comparison to Shogun 2: Total War’s release which was in all honesty still bugged at release the game remained strong, with a beautifully designed game, an in-depth multiplayer system and an A.I that, whilst not great, was functional and improved over several patches. Here really lies my primary complaint with not only the this Total War release, but with many PC games in general. The use and in some cases, “abuse” of patching a game.
We know that the greatest benefit to a PC game is that can be patched far more simply, reliably and frequently than a console title. Mods may also come out for a game, improving it in ways beyond the developers imagination and expectations. Now, with Shogun 2’s release, the game could be played, it was enjoyable and fun. Yes the A.I was strange and crashes were common (I was dealing with Shogun 2 crashes for weeks after launch) but it was still a solid launch. Now, in that case CA was improving upon a fine foundation, patches were not healing gaping wounds but small cuts. With Rome 2 Total War, the foundations are in shambles and we, paying anywhere from £25-£35 are expected to be ok with indefinite patches each Friday in order to make the game playable. This is the sticking point, “Playable”. I have payed £29 to play a game on a PC that exceeds the recommended specs and yet I cannot play it due to frame rate and graphical issues. Many are in the same boat, and speaking of boats, is a naval ship traveling through the sand, through city walls and into enemy forces, killing them instantly a game breaking bug? Maybe that’s just me, but it’s mortifying for such larges bugs to have slipped past testing.
“Attacking a castle with regular armies? No thank you, I will use my land based battle boat.”
The case can be made that The Creative Assembly, either due to budget restraints (although it should be noted that Rome 2: Total War had a 40% budget increase over Shogun 2″), or pressure from SEGA the game was released with a firm knowledge that these disgraceful bugs existed but the, “patch system” will deal with them later down the line. I hope I am not the only one to think that is not acceptable.
I am glad that CA are patching the game of course, and regardless of how you feel about the streamlined features and multiplayer there is still a beast of game here, it has just been buried deep, deep underground by its destructive flaws. These flaws can be fixed within weeks and, eventually, we will have our hands on the game we have come to expect from the Total War series, but only weeks after release. We cannot be allowed to fall into this idea that simply patching a flawed game is excusable, it is brilliant that CA are dedicated to improving the game, but it cannot remove the mark this has placed on one of the most dedicated gaming communities out there.
Spotlights have to be placed on the Greek States DLC. Removing major factions from the game such as Sparta and Athens, placing them in a, “free DLC at pre-order” system is, on reflection and again, based on the release a very dodgy move. Everyone wants to play as Sparta, don’t lie to yourself, you do. Pre-ordering the game instead of paying £6 post release for these factions was the only reasonable choice. By doing so, many, including myself are locked into a game that we cannot ensure the quality of. Going back to Shogun 2 Total War pre-launch we were able to get our hands on a demo of the game. Whilst no open Beta test it gave us an insight into the game away from the forced marketing campaign that Rome 2 has chosen to follow. We were able to decide ourselves if we wanted to invest in the game, yet Rome 2 was hidden behind in-house studio demo’s and festival exclusive events, which are incredibly easy to stage and manipulate. Pre-Order incentives were used in Shogun 2, but not until post launch in later expansion packs such as in Fall of the Samurai. The game was a whole package, whilst Rome 2 feels like a game chopped up, and fed to us, piece meal. Yet the piece meal strategy cannot work unless the game impresses at launch and that Rome 2 has not done so.
Will I play Rome 2 at a later date? Yes I will as this is still going to be a gem, although much after the fact, and with help from the modding community. The game came nowhere near to the same standards as Shogun 2 Total War or even the atmosphere and detail of the original Rome. Whilst Rome wasn’t built in a day, it still had to look the part and show promise, we are yet to see if CA can salvage what has happened here.
Whilst I have only scratched the surface, The Angry Joe Show has gone into much depth over the greater issues with a failed PC launch. You can watch this below.
We can only hope that CA learn from this, brush themselves off and stay true to the series roots. As a dedicated fan I can but only hope.
What do you think of the Rome 2 launch? Let us know what you think in the comments below.