Rome Total War was originally released on PC back in 2004, but for many years Mac owners were unable to get in on the action and enjoy this game which combines elements of classic turn-based strategy and live battle. Luckily for us, Feral Interactive eventually stepped in and ported a robust Mac OS X version, which was subsequently added to the Mac App Store to almost uniformly strong reviews, despite the game’s age.
Rome Total War Gold packages both the main game and a second expansion pack, Rome Total War: Barbarian Invasion, the latter ramping up the tension and the terror to an almost unmanageable position as the player is tasked with holding a quickly crumbling Roman Empire together. So, how well can this eight year old title hold up today? Let’s find out.
Welcome To Rome
The complexity of Rome Total War (or RTW) makes a thorough detailing of each aspect of its gameplay difficult, but a quick rundown of the basics is in order. RTW places the player at the head of a distinguished ancient Roman family, with one being able to choose between leading the Julii, Brutii or Scipionis to victory – names which will be familiar to anyone with even a passing interest in this great civilization’s history. Upon choosing a family, the player is tasked with conquering territory and thus expanding the Roman Empire for the glory of its people. This is achieved by mastering the twin tenets of the Total War gaming experience, both strategy and battle.
While doing all the above, it is also necessary to take orders from the Roman Senate and sometimes this will mean performing actions which do not immediately benefit your faction. By placating the Senate however, your family will be able to grow in power until the moment that you’re able to gain enough popularity, territory and power to march on Rome and take power to reign supreme as the undisputed leader of Rome.
The initial capture of territory from its rightful owners is just the first step to carving out an empire and the natural inhabitants will usually fight back, attempting to reclaim their land and perhaps even take some of yours in the process. Cities that are won come with their own particular benefits and challenges and in order to progress in the game one must match battle skills with a keen sense of bureaucracy, managing taxes, building both practical structures and those designed to increase the happiness of each city’s occupants.
Upon capturing a settlement, there are three options for a would be conqueror: enslave the occupants, kill some occupants and enslave others, or put most of the population to the sword, gaining maximum short-term profits but with a resulting reduction in taxes until the city grows in population once again.
While the real action is found in RTW’s Battle game style, a particularly nice touch of the Strategy map is that one can dispatch teams of diplomats to gain trade agreements, make or break alliances and let loose the inner Machiavelli in order to extort, bribe or threaten weaker states into performing one’s will. There are also spy’s and assassins which can be made use of in a similar manner.
Battles eschew the familiar turn-based strategy gameplay of the map view in favour of real time action. At the beginning of the battle, a budding general must choose carefully where to place one’s legions as it can make a real difference as to the outcome of the battle. For example, if the enemy chooses to attack and you place your troops all the way up a steep slope, your soldiers will be able to launch projectiles from above and by the time the two sides meet, the enemy will be significantly more tired than your own troops.
Battles are not limited to open ground however and if one wishes to besiege a city or currently has ownership of a city which is being besieged by an attacking army, siege warfare will thus commence. From the point of view of the defender, a siege will usually entail a frantic and often quite desperate attempt to keep a marauding army at bay with a few archers and perhaps some legionaries too, often with surprising and unexpected results – such as a tiny unit successfully halting the advance of attackers much larger in size.
Battles are not mandatory and those who would rather let RTW decide the outcome from weighing up both sides’ relative strengths can do so with a click of a button.
The player can micromanage each unit’s actions or place soldiers under the control of the computer AI and the controls are surprisingly easy to get the hang of considering the complexity of controlling an army. A help dialogue gives advice and tips, while speed can be increased to zoom past any lulls in the action (of which there are few).
RTW also comes bundled with the Barbarian Invasion expansion pack which adds significant mileage to the title. Taking place further along Rome’s history, the player is placed at the head of either the Western Roman Empire or Eastern Roman Empire and tasked with forestalling the damage incurred to the empire from huge tribes of migrating barbarians and the dreaded Huns. Mirroring real-life events, the Western Empire is by far the harder choice and poses a real challenge even to hardened strategy game fans. Religion is also given a revamp in RTW: Barbarian Invasion and one can choose to maintain the Pagan tradition or let Christianity take root, in addition to Zoroastrianism, if playing in the east. If playing Barbarian Invasion, it is also possible to take the place of a barbarian chieftain and guide a tribe such as the Gauls, Goths or Saxons to victory.
In addition to this official expansion pack included within the RTW purchase, there is also a thriving community of modders who have thus far created several campaigns available for download under the ‘Rome Total Realism’ (or RTR) moniker. As of writing, the latest installment of the RTR series is not available for Mac, but this still leaves several campaigns which bring increased historical accuracy and tweaked gameplay to OS X. For more information on the Rome Total Realism series, visit the project’s website here.
As a fan of such games as Civilization, Caesar and most of the Total War series, I believe that Rome Total War offers both a challenging game for hardcore strategists and perhaps the most user-friendly gaming experience for novices to the genre. There are a few minor issues with RTW which prevent it being scored a perfect ten, such as its now dated graphics and occasionally frustrating AI, but these minor quibbles cannot detract from a game which offers an impressive depth and longevity.
It should also be noted that Rome Total War does contain a popular online multiplayer option but due to a sub-standard Internet connection, I was unfortunately not able to put it through its paces for this review.
Rome Total War Gold packages both Rome Total War and its Barbarian Invasion expansion pack to offer many hours of strategy and battle fun. Simply put, if you're a fan of the Total War series of games or just the genre in general, RTW Gold is not to be missed - here's hoping Feral Interactive will bring yet more of the Total War franchise to Mac.9