I recently saw Rome: Total War on steam for a dollar. Being the poor gamer I am I decided to grab it and see why people hail it as the greatest RTS of all time.
After putting some time into it, I don’t know if I can give it that title. It’s good don’t get me wrong here, but the best is a stretch. One thing I do heavily appreciate about the game is the sheer size of combat. When there is upwards of 5,000 units all running around the screen following orders gives such a sense of power… in addition to the sense of the scope of Roman combat. But after you get past and actually start trying to get your units to follow your commands it becomes a minor disaster. Many times I had spent a solid ten minutes before combat getting my units into formations and squads designed to crush my enemies and after the actual battle began and I tried moving them they would ignore the setup that I had created and make formations of their own. [Editor’s note: You can’t expect proud Romans to follow a pleb.]
Worse than moving units around though, is the camera.
Dear lord, why can’t I find a game that utilizes scrolling that has good camera work?
Unlike in other RTS games where moving the mouse to the left or right of the screen pans left or right Rome instead rotates the camera. I spent 25 minutes looking through settings trying to find an option to change this around and either I am blind or it just doesn’t exist.
This is a misstep that eventually I could not look past. The amount of times that I just wanted to see what was happening slightly to the right or left and instead ended up spinning off to god knows where were innumerable. It hurts even more because of how much is going on in combat. If you look away at the wrong moment an enemy cavalry charge mows down your archers.
Barring the RTS side of it, there is a turn based campaign similar to the Civilization games which I jumped into head first. This side of the game is masterfully done. There are senate missions to appease the ruling Roman body and how much they respect you can affect how much power your bloodline has in government affairs.
The senate is not the only group you have to appease though, the common people also have to love you. Each individual city must be managed so the plebeians don’t revolt and burn your capital to the ground. All of this is mixed with trying to conquer or outmaneuver the other great Roman families and other nations. Everyone else is trying to halt your grand schemes, and move forward with their own goals.
I can honestly say that if the battles controls were better designed I could easily put 70 or 80 hours into this game but as it stands, I just can’t do it. It is a good RTS game, but the best is a long way off from what Rome gives.