With the second series of Time Commanders in full swing at the time of writing, now seems like an opportune moment to publish a somewhat belated review of the third game in The Creative Assembly's Total War series. Time Commanders is an appropriate reference to cite in the introduction for this particular game, because had it not been for the first series of the program, I wouldn't have taken the trouble to buy the game - and what a mistake THAT would have been.
If you've ever taken the trouble to read my writer's profile, you'll be aware that RTS isn't exactly my favourite gaming genre, so when you see the score at the bottom of the page, it may come as somewhat of a shock to see that I hold Rome: Total War in such high regard. It's doubly a shock when you consider that I'm not even a fan of the other two Total War games - the number of hours I've played both Rome's predecessors being able to be counted on the fingers of my hands - so, what then separates Rome out from its peers?
'Unlike Shogun and Medieval, Rome's learning curve is more rolling hills than mountain range'
I think I can sum it up in one word: accessibility. Unlike Shogun and Medieval, Rome's learning curve is more rolling hills than mountain range, able to be scaled by the most inept of RTS gamers (i.e. yours truly). This is due to a superb tutorial campaign, which introduces all the elements of gameplay in an organised and efficient manner, gradually increasing the player's knowledge without ever overwhelming them with too much information. Furthermore, this tutorial campaign is compulsory - you can't start the main Imperial campaign without first having at least started the tutorial campaign. Whilst it's not compulsory to finish the tutorial, it's at least worthwhile playing through the first few turns, to get to grips with both the strategic management and the tactical battles.
Veterans to the series will probably be annoyed at the inability to get stuck straight into the main campaign, but it's worth spending an hour or two on, if only to get an early taste of what it's like to use onagers (huge siege catapults). Likewise, Total War devotees may also be irked by the inability to immediately play the main game as any faction. You are restricted to the three main Roman houses, Brutii, Julii and Scipii, until you have completed a victorious campaign. The reason for this isn't immediately apparent, but becomes clear as you play through the campaign.
'If you want to play with war elephants ... Hannibal will gladly oblige you'
Romans, you see, are hard. Hard as nails. Their troops are professional, resilient and have the best discipline of any faction in the game. As you happily take a few hundred Hastati and carve your way through a thousand or more Gaul barbarians, it becomes obvious that perhaps it's not the best idea in the world to be able to immediately leap into the game and take on the mighty Roman Empire, until you've experienced just how potent a fighting force they are, and learn their weaknesses first-hand by commanding them. Besides, if you want to play with war elephants just after you've bought the game, Hannibal will gladly oblige you in the excellent standalone Historical Battles.
The historical Battle Of Teutoburg Forest gives you the chance to see if you can do better than the Romans did
The Creative Assembly haven't just set out to make the best RTS ever made, but thanks to their collaboration with historical program makers, they've set out to bring it to as many people as possible. Whilst this might be seen as dumbing down in some quarters, it's actually a very shrewd move by The Creative Assembly. Not only have they maximised their exposure of the Total War brand, but made strategy gaming much more appealing to people who'd previously never contemplated picking up a mouse in anger.