Games of the Decade – Part VI

Excitingly, we’ve passed the half way point in EDR’s most consistent string of articles since time began (in November). And this time we bring you a game that considers a little bit of war a joke, a considerable amount of war snigger-inducing, and an enormous amount of war reasonably impressive, but not nearly good enough. No, this game wants one thing: Total War. So with no further brilliant pieces of word play, EDR gives you…

War. Total War actually, see?

ROME: TOTAL WAR

When it comes to strategy gaming, both real time and turn-based, no other series – perhaps bar Command & Conquer and Civilisation – has done as much for the genre. The intelligent and well implemented mixture of strategic mayhem and considered politics is still unmatched and because of this, the Total War series has completely redefined what we’ve come to expect from strategy gaming in the 21st Century.

The series reached its pinnacle back in 2007 when Rome: Total War was launched to hordes of adoring fans. Until this point the series, while excellent, had felt a little stale and while other serious turn-based strategy games, such as Civilisation, took a light touch approach to hide their inherent complexity, the Total War games were serious. Serious and tough. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing of course, but it did make getting to grips with the game rather a challenge because the story the game threw up was your own and that requires imagination and the player to invest a considerable amount of time to get the best out of it.

Rome changed all this. By introducing three dangerously ambitious Roman families (to begin with you had to play as a Roman faction) and a series of early mission based objectives, the game had greater structure and made it far easier to play. The narrative, while somewhat enforced on to the player, was non-linear enough to be a Creative Assembly game and yet linear enough to be kind to new players. For a game with such lofty ambitions, this was pretty critical and turned a massive and often opaque game into something more rigid and playable. It also meant that Creative Assembly could capitalise on the political nuances of the Roman Empire as you defaulted to the wrath of the Senate.

However, as the game progressed, so did your own ambitions and it wasn’t before long that you too could take out the oppressive to become the oppressor. If that sounds dramatic, it’s because it was, Rome finally had the epic tale to match the epic gameplay. Following your revenge on the Senate, you moved from establishing Roman rule in lesser countries to establishing a centralised dictatorship on your prior allies, a hefty feat in itself – the Romans were better armed and better protected. They had under floor heating and aqueducts too, the bastards.

If that was tasty enough though, Rome also shone on the dance floor, or more accurately, the battlefield. True, so none of the TW ever really struggled with the real-time strategy element, but Rome was the first to look great. Flaming arrows, city invasions and elephants (freaking elephants, man) were every bit as awesome as they were dangerous and by the end of a battle the impact of these actions and weapons were visible and often devastating. The ingenious use of a context sensitive rallying speech was also well implemented.

So Rome was good – great even – but there is one slight issue: that the TW games seem to be stuck in a constant state of renewal. Like bloody iPods, every year a new version comes out that renders the previous version laughably inept. It sort of works for the ever present iPod because Apple nerds love buying stuff, but for gamers, it can be a little frustrating when all the other gamers are laughing at your old retro TW. It’s also irritating because there’s so much damn stuff in each edition it seems a bit daft to make it all redundant so quickly.

Nevertheless, Rome was the point that the TW games really hit their stride. It was big, confident and brimming with enough content to make even the most hardcore strategy fan go all soppy. Hell, I don’t even like strategy games all that much (except Age of Empires) and I love it to bits.

It’s an EDR fave, and a Game of the Decade.

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2 Comments on “Games of the Decade – Part VI”

  1. Paul S Says:

    I can’t not comment. I hate RTS games, but I adore Total War, and Rome was definitely the best. Gilbo nails it with the stuff about story – the stories that appear are yours. I still remember Nero, adopted into my family, oddly bearded and invincible. He crashed through countless hordes of Gauls, leaving little crossed sword battle icons over the campaign map (a brilliant touch, Creative Assembly). He became Nero Victor, and I was proud. So was he. One day, he rushed into needless battle on a bridge in southern Gaul against a larger force.
    The battle was childishly simple for a general of Nero Victor’s skill, and the Gauls were faltering when Nero charged his bodyguard into reckless combat – and was cut down. The battle was still won, but the greatest general the Julii ever had was dead. That was a strangely powerful moment, and one I remember vividly half a decade later. Extraordinary stuff.

    And those speeches were brilliant too. Nero roaring that he wanted to bathe in blood for a week lives with me still.

  2. Si Says:

    Ah yes, bridge battles. A bloody nightmare.


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