Rome II is, to mercilessly ram a contemporary reference in, a game of thrones. Success isn’t measured purely in the skirmishes won on the battlefield but by expanding influence through the Roman Empire and the ancient world alike.
As general Gaius Fulvius Silanus, your decisions guide a growing legion into battle, conquering various territories to expand Rome’s influence. A lengthy prologue introduces the core mechanics, getting players to grips with a slowly expanding roster of units to command. At its simplest, Rome II plays like a glorified Rock, Paper, Scissors, each soldier type trumping another. Mounted cavalry effectively slaughter standard infantrymen, but are useless against projectile weapons, for instance. As you start picking up on the benefits of angle of approach, terrain, cover and other matters of war, you’ll find breadth of tactics available increase dramatically.
True to history, not every culture will bow to Rome’s military prowess, and it’s here that diplomacy comes into play. Bartering with rival factions can prove more beneficial than marching in, but so too can sending in spies, with a view of bringing them down from the inside. The AI for both options feels clever, with enemy responses varied enough to keep you on your toes. Sadly, the overall learning curve is steep, with even early sections may take numerous passes to emerge victorious.
The biggest problem with Rome II is simply one of resources – not in terms of any in-game currency but rather the sheer power demanded of the PC you’ll be playing it on. We’re running a pretty beefy rig at Empire and still had to lower the settings to get the game to run smoothly. If your system can exceed its demands though, Creative Assembly has created arguably the finest looking strategy game in years. Each soldier in an army unit is rendered individually, and the detail in the surrounding environs is startling. Unfortunately, having so much going on results in frequent graphical glitches.
Rome II is a time-sink though, a factor which is both blessing and curse depending on your tastes. Don’t expect to be able to sit down for a quick play session, particularly in later stages, as achieving territorial dominance can take hours. It’s incredibly absorbing though, and those lengthy visits to ancient Rome will while away many a lazy weekend.
If you have the patience, and an absolute monster of a computer capable of getting the best out of the game, add a star. Those with more meagre hardware and time allowances will struggle to uncover everything on offer though.
Reviewed by Matt Kamen