Empires rise and empires fall; it is a rule as old as warfare, but just like any other rule – there are always exceptions. One such exception is Creative Assembly’s monumental Total War franchise. For years we’ve been getting one excellent strategy game after the next, and this time is no different. With the release of Total War: Rome 2, the series is sending a very clear message: its rule over strategy fans’ PCs won’t end anytime soon. And we humbly (and gladly) submit.

Total War: Rome 2 takes the series to the next level when it comes to balancing every aspect of large-scale warfare and conquest. From micromanaging your individual units before battle, to defending your crown through political assassinations, to wiping away (or assimilating) whole cultures – Rome 2 dedicates the same incredible amount of thought and attention to everything related to gameplay. If only the same could be said about the presentation, which suffers from a few technical issues, the game could have been the perfect strategy experience. Even so, Total War: Rome 2 manages to improve upon its predecessors and rise to the top of the strategy genre.

The campaign’s goal is fairly simple – take over the (known) world; you just have to choose which culture will get to do so. The seven cultures are split into two major categories: civilized and barbarian. There isn’t a lot of difference between two cultures or factions within the same category (apart from some minor boosts or disadvantages) and you’ll most likely end up choosing one based on personal preference or strategic locations. The critical decision, one that is based on your play style, will be between the two aforementioned categories. Will you go with a civilized culture, like the Romans or the Egyptians, and benefit from an improved industry and civic order? Or will you try your hands as a barbarian nation and enjoy stronger armies and powerful special units?

Once you get proper into the game, the first thing you’ll notice is just how huge the map is. Spanning from the Atlantic Ocean all the way to central Asia, encompassing the Mediterranean Sea including North Africa – Rome 2’s campaign map is simply enormous in size. Of course, as the game progresses and you conquer more and more territory, you’ll have to manage all this area – a task that proves to be quite… tasking. Civic order and public satisfaction hinges on so many factors: which buildings you build, tax rates and much more. Quelling civil unrest can be quite difficult, since it is not always clear what caused it in the first place. Veterans of the Total War series might find this a refreshing challenge, but new comers will probably just get lost in the game’s cacophony of menus and built-in encyclopedias (the game has its own encyclopedia!).

Raising an empire is not an easy thing to do; it requires cunning, a sharp political mind and a flair for strategic thinking. The large campaign map is where you’ll spend most of your planning and scheming – amassing armies, sending spies and diplomats to gather information on enemy positions (or maybe assassinate a general or two) are just some of the actions you’ll need to take to conquer your rivals. Knowing the enemy’s position can be critical to win on the battlefield, since you can ambush an approaching army or set a roadblock to hinder its progress. Take heed though – resistance can also come from within. If one of your generals gets too powerful, he might attempt a coup. To paraphrase an old saying – keep your enemies close and your friends closer.

Whether your strategy succeeds or fails, at some point you’ll have to get your hands dirty in direct combat. This is where all those years of memorizing classic field tactics finally pay off. Using one unit as bait while flanking the enemy, breaking its lines with a few well-timed barrages of arrows and charging downhill under the cover of the forest are all tactics you’ll need to master and implement if you want to come out on top. There are many others, and strategy veterans probably have their own favorites by now. The point is Total War: Rome 2 puts a heavy emphasis on tactical combat; sending your units head-on into the fray will only result in a lot of grieving digital families back at your capitol. If you want you can try to “auto-resolve” any armed conflict you initiate (or are forced into), but the odds are almost never in your favor. Besides, with a good combination of strategy and tactics (and high morale) it’s quite possible for just a handful of units to take down an entire army.

But even in defeat Rome 2’s battlefield can be a spectacular sight to behold. The camera can zoom in to the level of an individual soldier, giving you a front row seat in the theater of war. Believable death animations and blood-curdling screams fill the screen every time you engage in open combat. It can be an inspiring sight to see your enemies driven before you, or a devastating one should your own soldiers fall to the sword. Combined with impressive weather effects and varied geography to fight in (the game does span the whole of Europe and beyond), Total War: Rome 2 is a beautiful game, in both the genre’s standards and PC gaming as a whole.

As I briefly mentioned before, Rome 2 may be a visually impressive game – but only when everything is working correctly. Technical problems do tend to plague the game; problems like missing textures, flickering shadows, chugging and general instability can sometimes cost you the battle, and even hinder your progression through the campaign. These are not common issues, but when they do happen it’s a real disappointment.

Once you’ve fulfilled your desire of world domination, it’s time to take the game online. Rome 2 supports single online battles against human opponents, or if you prefer, you can play the online cooperative and competitive campaign modes. Testing your strategic and diplomatic prowess against another person is much more intense than outmaneuvering the AI, after all. It adds another layer to the already complex campaign, but I highly recommend it for seasoned conquerors.

Total War: Rome 2 is a top-notch experience that will challenge even the most hardened strategy gamers out there. The seamless combination between strategy and tactics throughout the campaign is what makes the game so great and so satisfying to play; that is if you’re a returning champion of the Total War series. Newcomers should probably seek a more friendly game in the franchise, like Total War: Shogun 2 and its very friendly expansion Fall of the Samurai. Putting aside the few technical problems, Rome 2 delivers an engaging experience that truly captures the drama, the glory and the horrors of war.

Some of our posts include links to online retail stores. We get a small cut if you buy something through one of our links. Don't worry, it doesn't cost you anything extra.