Rome_wasn't_beta_tested_in_a_day

I hate how glib this sounds, but there’s really no other way to put it: playing Rome II feels like playing a beta. It’s as if someone sent me an early build, but forgot the caveat sheet.

Okay, this is a work in progress, so you’re going to see some bugs. Also, we need to give it another optimization pass to speed up loading times and to improve performance. We don’t have a manual yet, but the ingame encyclopedia has some broad explanations (it should load more quickly after the optimization pass). We’ll be adding more feedback to improve the player experience before we release. Finally, not all the systems are working as intended yet. So again, just keep in mind this is a work in progress and is in no way indicative of the state of the final release.

After the jump, the state of the final release

Is this really the game Creative Assembly meant to release? Or was there some cock-up on the way to the final build? Were the beta testers using the same file name for their build back in April as the folks uploading the release version to the Steam servers? That would make more sense than Creative Assembly giving me what I’ve been given. I am astonished at the state of this game. Did they think that I wouldn’t notice the clumsy interface, the wretched documentation, the absolutely untenable naval combat, the weird bugs, the lock-ups, the game-killing glitches? Did they think I wouldn’t notice the AI? Did they really think this was an acceptable AI for a single-player game? A single player game with disappointing multiplayer compared to the clever multiplayer in their last release?

Some of the fundamental tenets of a Total War game are fumbled or flat-out compromised in Rome II. Did Creative Assembly think I didn’t care about the awesome character dynamics from their previous games, which spun out cool political and family dynamics that predated Paradox’s landmark achievement in Crusader Kings? Did they think I wanted a new Rome in which generals came and went so quickly, so namelessly, forgotten so easily with so many meaningless swappable cards representing their household resources? Where’d that guy go who I had four turns ago? Did he die? Defect? Was he adopted by a loving family who’s given him a good home? What is this adoption system? Are all these characters orphans? Wait, was it his gravitas rating? I knew I should have figured that out! Is a 10 not good enough? Should it have been 20? Ah, well. I’m pretty sure he had two extra points of cunning, which never really mattered anyway, and now I’ve got a dude whose cunning is back to three. At least this new guy is ambitious. I think. It’s a higher number than my other general. Oh, wait, that guy went missing, too. Wait, is a high ambition bad? Ooh, it’s a civil war. This makes me want to play Crusader Kings 2 where I don’t have to wait so long so often for meaningless battles to load.

And did Creative Assembly really think these same rote battles were the best way to do a new Rome game? Such a curious smattering of special ability buttons in such a fast-and-loose Keystone Kop melee! I’m supposed to search and click on these little circles for their finicky timed abilities? I can imagine that might have been important in a tactical battle against an opponent who could actually play the game. It’s not an issue here. Not in the least. Such braindead gameplay, where every battle is won by managing only the base level of tactical know-how against an AI that knows only how to get its units killed quickly! All the better so you can move on to whatever you were doing on the strategic map. If there’s a quicker way to make me care less about these detailed graphics of little dudes with blue face paint or those broom things on their helmets or their dented shields, I can’t think of it. It’s a rare Total War game that makes me think I’d rather be playing Creative Assembly’s Viking: Battle for Asgard, or maybe even Crytek’s terrible looking Ryse game on the Xbox One. Which acronym is the greater evil, QTEs or fatally ineffectual AI? Sorry, I had pressed the insert button because the action camera is the best place to bury your head and avoid the pointless shuffling and stabbing and slingering. Let’s get back to the strategic map. It doesn’t take quite as long to load.

And good lord, that strategic map. The mandate for Rome II seems to be faster battles and slower everything else. After coming from strategic level games like Europa Universalis IV or Fallen Enchantress or even Civilization V’s Brave New World add-on, what an insufferably half-baked attempt at a strategic front end, from the interface to the finicky systems to the plodding drawn out alphabetical cavalcade of minor powers taking their turns while I wait for it to be my turn to hit next turn again. We’re still only in the C’s? I appreciate the province-centric empire development and agent placement for their convenience. In fact, if it were presented more elegantly, I think I’d be satisfied with Rome II’s take on agent/empire/army interplay. And at first blush, I enjoy the variety among the various factions and their victory conditions and units, ranging from Celtic barbarians on the west to Egyptian pharaohs on the east to the rich creamy center of the great Rome/Carthage face-off. But that variety quickly dissolves into a mush of poorly conceived diplomacy, trade, inscrutable internal politics, teensy building upgrades, and nitpicky edicts and stances and where’s that general with the shipwright who makes my naval units 5% cheaper…ah, screw it, who can be bothered? If Creative Assembly cares so little about tying together this grand package of imperial Roman history, why should I?

The more I play Rome II, the more I feel a crushing sense of disappointment and even betrayal. It’s like being a kid at Christmas, gleefully ripping the paper off the box for a new toy and snatching it out of that box. Look, Mom, it’s Rome II! Rome II, I tell you! But the more you play with it, the more it falls apart. It doesn’t work like you expected. It less and less resembles the awesome pictures on the box. It’s a lesson in the limitations of plastic and paint and cheap manufacturing. But what’s most galling about Rome II is that Creative Assembly taught us no such lesson with their last game, Shogun 2, with its stately elegance, its carefully weighed back-to-the-basics approach to their traditional gameplay, and even the flashy multiplayer chrome around the edges. Shogun 2 was the Civilization IV of the Total War series. Rome II is the Civilization V.