The Total War series has never struggled to convey its epic subject matter. Accompanying the announcement of each new game in the long-running series are myriad screens and videos that depict hundreds of soldiers cleaving bloody carnage on battlefields throughout history. Clearly, The Creative Assembly has chosen a fitting name for its most prized and famous franchise; one that cuts right to the heart of what the franchise is all about.
Of course, any fool can wield a sharp stick and so, as the series has grown in stature, ambition and complexity, so too has the quieter, more devious side of the war effort. It’s unsurprising, then, that diplomacy and administration are vital facets of Total War: Rome 2 and that the title further broadens the scope for effective empire governance and canny politicking with a host of new micromanagement tools.
Some of these build upon the family, agent and faction elements of 2004’s Rome: Total War, while others are borrowed from more recent entries in the series. However, many are brand new and are aimed at facilitating your choice of graceful diplomacy and spiteful double-dealing both at home and abroad.
Central to improving your effectiveness around the negotiating table is a wealth of new statistical information about rival faction leaders. It’s now possible to tell at a glance how a leader feels about your past decisions and whether they approve of the way you have conducted yourself in your dealings with them, their allies and their enemies. The system is similar to that found in Civilization 5, with each significant action given a plus or minus score that is intended to make it easier to predict the AI’s longer term reactions to your decisions and make transparent the reasons for their own actions.
As you would expect, there have been some significant visual improvements made for Rome 2 and while some are merely cosmetic, others provide tangible gameplay benefits. Buildings in cities and settlements are now identifiable on the campaign map, which makes it easier to assess the bias of the city and the disposition of its leader. This, in turn, helps you to size-up how the metropolis is likely to respond to honeyed words or blunt threats.
While a militaristic society is more likely to resist your polite offer to subjugate it and so require a show of force, a more religious or cultural-focused settlement might accede to your request that it become a vassal or client of your empire. The benefits you reap by making a city a client is a steady income in the form of tributes, which helps to fund your ongoing expansion on other fronts. However, such an arrangement is a two-way street and so you’ll be expected to provide protection to that settlement in times of need.
“Whether you forge alliances with cities, make them your vassals or conquer them by force, it all adds to your overall victory points,” explains Rome 2’s lead campaign designer, Janos Gaspar. “However, sometimes it’s nice to create a ribbon of buffer states at your border that are on friendlier terms with your enemy and so use them as a defensive zone.”
Putting the AI to such use is a smart way to effectively manage your borders, especially as your empire grows and your have multiple fronts to manage, but you shouldn’t expect such devious behaviour to pass unnoticed. Your allies will be keeping a close eye on your politicking elsewhere and will rebel if they feel you have no interest in their long-term wellbeing. If that happens then you might have to quash an uprising by diverting forces that you’d earmarked for more important warmongering in order to deal with former friends.
Further complicating your quest for world domination is the fact that it’s not just your foreign policies that are under scrutiny. If you play as Rome or Carthage you’ll also have to contend with powerful families within your realm who will be quick to judge how well you are guiding your mighty empire. Should your interests run contrary to theirs for too long they will be all too willing to take drastic action, as Gaspar explains.
“If you are a perfect democrat and are able to give the right army commissions to the right families, keep the senate happy and unify families through strategic marriages then you can avoid civil war.
“However, if you accumulate too much power or influence then Rome becomes distrustful and starts to view you as a would-be tyrant. Taken to an extreme the other powerful families might want to dispose of you. Likewise, if you make bad decisions and are you’re no longer powerful enough to lead Rome they might ask ‘could you die please?’”
Choosing how to deal with possible attempts on your life, keep the senate happy and quash potential rebellions will require cunning, guile and a keen mind. Evidently, if you’re to triumph in the arena of total war, you’ll need to do more than just stab men with pointy sticks.