It’s time for the follow up to my article on exceptions to the law of sequels, covering another series which is essentially a genre unto itself. This time it’s the Total War series from UK developer Creative Assembly. Rome 2 has just been announced and it revisits one of the classic games in the series. The earliest releases in the series, Shogun Total War and Medieval Total War came out before I had a gaming PC. The first I played was the original Rome: Total War, which I instantly fell in love with for its unique and historically intriguing gameplay.
If you aren’t familiar with the series, it does merit some explanation. The games constitute a radical departure from the segregation of turn based strategy & real time strategy (RTS). Creative Assembly merged the two genres into a single game which allowed you both to control your empire on a turn based map which rivalled some of the strategic depth of games like Civilisation, but then permitted you to take control of your armies when attacking or defending so that you could fight out the battles in a real time environment.
While I missed out on playing the first few games, Rome Total War was one of the most engrossing games I have played. Set against a detailed backdrop of Roman history the game sparked a genuine interest in ancient history for me which is yet to diminish. The scale of the game and the ability to rewrite history, creating your own narrative is unmatched by anything except the Total War games which have followed it. This was only enhanced by the modding community which collectively exerted a huge effort to enhance historical accuracy and expand the amount of content in the game. There were even massive additions to the game map which pushed it out to cover Western Asia. My favourite, Rome : Total Realism was still being updated as recently as the beginning of this year.
I remember a campaign where I led the Gauls building a huge empire spanning from Britannia to Western Russia, conquering Rome and driving the Roman Empire back to its farthest territories. The Civilisation series of games can match this scale, but they are devoid of the depth of history and context. But the defining factor which separates the Total War series from the rest is for me was something which drove me away from the Civ games. Losing a full stacked army in Civ to a random dice roll was the straw that snapped the camel’s spinal column. The Total War series gives you the ability to follow through and control the battles of the game in real time and take charge to defend or attack, rather than leaving it to the computer.
The games which followed, Medieval 2, Empire, Napoleon and Shogun 2 have all built iteratively on the platform. Empire added in the ability to command naval battles and this has only been enhanced in recent releases. Indeed the concept of ship to shore combat will be further built upon in Rome 2 after its introduction in Shogun 2. This is probably one of the Creative Assembly’s strong points that as a company they have managed to successfully build upon the game without making it overly complex, always expanding the scope of the game whilst keeping pointless complexity at bay.
Another enduring characteristic of the games is that thankfully the developers still structure the engine to allow the user base to mod the game, though the ease of modding the game has decreased in recent generations. The modding scene however has served to vastly expand the experience each game has offered and to extend the lifespan of the games significantly. Rome 2 will hopefully offer mod support, though this has yet to be confirmed. As of Shogun 2, Creative Assembly seems to have started slowly moving away from supporting modding. I’m hopeful that as the lessons of DayZ ring through the industry, the concept that mods can hugely boost your bottom line will sink in.
With each game the developers have expanded and refined the concepts expressed in previous games, honing the series to an ever sharper point. It might sound boring but from observation I feel that this is a rare trait in the games industry. So again, this might well be one sequel outside the law of diminishing marginal returns. I think it’s time to watch some more documentaries on the Roman Empire and prepare to get my toga on.