We already know that with Total War: Rome II, Creative Assembly is taking on its most ambitious vision for the series yet. With all the talk of the new battle features - dynamic cameras, raised landscapes offering tactical advantages and combined land and sea conflicts to name but a few - thereís been little discussion on how it affects the non-aggressive side of the game. The campaign map.
First, some colour. In this latest hands-off demonstration, I was shown a battle sequence between Rome and Ancient Egypt. The latter was not impressed that Caesar was encroaching on its territory, and decided to challenge his soldiers head-on. Egypt began the fight on top of a hill - offering a distinct advantage over the Romans who had no choice but to charge upwards.
What really gave the Pharoah the edge was a number of traps and vehicles that he had at his disposal. Chariots rolled down at high speed to take out enemy soldiers one by one. Boulders careened at packs of Romans and sent them flying like bowling pins on impact. A fleet of ships - both with effective ramming power and armed with cannons - had the ability to flank the poor footsoldiers on the ground. And donít forget the elephants. The sight of a distressed pachyderm crushing a legion of Romans with the close-up camera enabled is a visceral one.
Suffice it to say that the Romans lost the match at great cost to its empire. But it could have all been avoided, had the playerís diplomatic efforts been as great as his thirst for battle. This is where the Campaign Map comes in - arguably the Ďother halfí of the core Total War
The immediate impression you get from the reworked map is a sheer sense of scale. Creative Assembly has spent a huge amount of work making sure that the more cerebral side of its strategy game was just as breathtaking as the action side. As a result, the world map is absolutely colossal, with the ability to seamlessly zoom out to a topside view, all the way down to your individual player pieces on the board.
Itís graphically very impressive, with the ability to sweep across the world with ease and the environment dynamically changing as you cross borders between continents. Thereís a different palette, soundtrack, sound effects and atmosphere in Germania compared to, say, Egypt.
Speaking of Egypt... before the aforementioned battle all kicked off, the Romans and Egyptians were on pretty good terms for a while. I observed a section of the Campaign play out from a 200-turn game featuring Caesar, and a previously amicable relationship had broken down into something much more aggressive when the Romans accidentally set foot into Egyptian territory. They were happy to engage in trade agreements, but trespassing is where they cross the line.
Because the player had focused a bit too much on conquest and expansion, and not enough on its own civil matters, Caesar had to fight a growing problem on his home turf too. As the Roman ruler was paying no attention to his citizens, there was growing dissent which, if left unhandled, would flare up into an all-out rebellion. Certainly at this stage, the Roman economy was under serious threat. And no money means no more conquest.
The gameís campaign map is made up of provinces, which in themselves are broken down into a number of regions. To avoid too much micro-management, a lot of the issues you face with each region can be handled through a capital city, which acts as a conduit to deal with all the diplomatic matters that affect the province.
In order to avoid a revolution amongst his citizens, our Caesar decided to quickly issue an edict - spending money on a street party for all the provinceís subjects. This bumps up civilian happiness to a degree, but is purely a short term solution. To truly fix the problem, the player needs to look at improving farmlands and domestic trade in order to get the economy rolling again.
A fair amount of diplomacy is also required when dealing with other nations. Like Egypt. In a change to past games in the series, Rome II
offers a much more transparent system to help players understand the reasons for an AI rulerís decision making. When in discussion with the other party, you can access a menu screen which details the actions you have performed that they approve or condemn you for.
Itís not a cheat sheet, though - it doesnít offer any guidance as to what to do in order to get into a nationís good books. What it does instead, is inform you of your past actions and what effect that has had on that nationís opinion of you. Then, if Egypt does something that appears erratic, you can refer to this menu and realise that the AI didnít much appreciate you breaking a trade agreement by trespassing on their land. Whoops.
Internal politics is also something that you will need to handle. In the case of Caesar, he has many different families with an equal amount of influence in Rome to deal with. All of these groups - from the House of Cornelia to the House of Junia - contribute gravitas and help you build up political capital. That is, if you can keep them sweet. One way of doing this is to arrange marriages within the families, spreading some of the power around while ensuring that their family maintains yours.
So in a nutshell, itís always worth paying heed to your own civil matters in Total War
. Itís just as important as expanding your territory and conquering other nations. And with Rome II
improving the mechanics of the campaign side vastly, it looks like keeping the balance of power is going to be even more engaging than ever.