Total War Rome 2: Emperor Edition – Patch 15 Beta Impressions

It was a little more than a year ago when Total War: Rome 2 launched with the dismal flop of a projectile from a broken onager. Here at IncGamers I gave the original game a 4/10, which in retrospect may even have been slightly generous. Total War fans are used to the launch of a new series entry being a bit shaky, but after Shogun 2’s relatively smooth release they’d probably hoped not to revisit the dark “the AI doesn’t know how to invade Britain with ships” days of Empire.

Unfortunately, Rome 2 proved to be exactly that.

Over the past twelve months, however, Creative Assembly have been applying patch after patch to the game. We’re now at Patch 15, and the title has changed so substantially that Rome 2 is getting a soft relaunch as the Emperor Edition. That’s basically a fancy way of saying “Patch 15 plus a freebie campaign,” and potentially a devious ploy by publishers SEGA to disassociate the game from the older metacritic scores.

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Will it be Celtic shields or Pontus uniforms to emerge triumphant in this deadly clash of fashion?

Throughout the weekend I’ve been pushing my way through a Pontus campaign in the beta version of Patch 15. Pontus’ starting position puts them close to some Hellenic cultural chums in the form of Pergamon, the Greek States and so on, as well as next door to some immediate (Cappadocia) and potential enemies (those eternally bloated Seleucids.) Quite a handy starting point for testing the new battle, AI, diplomacy and building chain changes. Plus, Pontus are the only faction who can pull off patterned yellow outfits with any style.

Performance

As people will know, Rome 2 had serious performance issues on launch. Terrible frame-rates on the campaign map and in battles, with the added bonus of some absolutely horrendous AI turn time calculations.

Creative Assembly have been steadily making improvements in all of these areas, and around the time of the Hannibal at the Gates expansion performance was feeling fairly reasonable at my end. It’s difficult to get a universal sense of across-the-board PC performance when I’m just a sample size of one person, but my i3-2100/8GB/2GB 7870 set up has seen significant frame-rate gains across the last few months of the patching process.

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Now in double digit frame-rates.

Other people have reported a slight performance degradation during the Patch 15 beta, which is hopefully just a symptom of it being a beta version. With the majority of settings on “very high” or equivalent, I had some minimal slow-downs on the campaign map and the odd stutter during battles. One particularly hectic siege assault involving multiple factions did drag me down into the single digits though. AI turn times, I’m happy to say, now seem absolutely fine and pass in a handful of seconds. The initial campaign load time is still pretty lengthy.

Battles & Battle AI

The most important thing I can say about the battles in Rome 2: Emperor Edition is that I’ve seen the AI do far, far fewer idiotic things. No more standing units around doing nothing while I pepper them with missile weapons. No embarrassing beach soldier conventions where the AI just unloads its ships onto a shoreline and then leaves them there. They even appear to know how to use siege equipment now.

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My first experience of a non-terrible Rome 2 siege.

I’m not kidding. Perhaps the most impressive battle I witnessed over the weekend was the siege mentioned above that (at times) tanked my frame-rates. It was worth the sluggish camera just to see myself (Pontus) and two AI allies (Pergamon and Rhodes) actually pull off a co-ordinated siege assault against the Sardes capital of Ephesus. Pergamon brought the ladders and battering rams, and actually knew how to use them – except for one ram which it kept in eternal reserve for some reason. I brought the higher quality troops to storm the walls, while Rhodes sailed its troops around to the Ephesus harbour and unloaded a smart rear attack. To my delight, all of this pretty much worked.

(Update: I should add a note here, because after writing this I’ve read some things to suggest siege AI may actually have regressed in the full Emperor Edition launch. I’ve no idea why that would be. All I can say is it seemed pretty okay in Patch 15’s beta and will hopefully return to that state.)

Battles now take more time overall, and unit lines won’t just collapse like a house made out of wet noodles at the first sign of trouble. It means you have to think a little harder about committing units, because they may be ‘stuck’ in place for a while and vulnerable to flanking. Likewise, it gives you more chance as a player to fix various enemy units in place while you maneuver other troops into advantageous positions. There are changes to almost every unit type in the game (too many to list,) and while I’m sure balance issues will emerge given time, the overall ‘feel’ of the battles is much improved. It’s a slight return to the lengthier clashes of prior Total War titles.

It also helps that the AI now seems to know how to construct an army of mixed troops. During my Pontus play I didn’t run into any battles with hopeless mega-stacks of levy spearmen. That’s not to say the AI is amazing at putting together a force, but you’ll at least be fighting somewhat varied armies.

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Blocking off city streets with pikemen still works though, obviously.

For some reason the AI is still intent on under-committing its General unit (even though it tends to be one of the more powerful,) which I assume is due to over-caution about getting it killed. Looks a bit weird when it’s just hanging around towards the rear of the field instead of making potentially battle-altering charges, though.

Diplomacy & Campaign Map AI

Here’s how I want diplomacy in a Total War game to work: a means to secure my borders while I’m distracted elsewhere and a method of drumming up some additional wealth and allies for potential conquest. From what I experienced in Patch 15‘s beta with Pontus, this is pretty much what happens. I was able to cosy up to the fellow Hellenic factions with treaties and use them as aid in fights against the Galatia and Sardes (then, later, the Seleucids,) while signing off on lots of semi-profitable trade deals. The smaller states would periodically beg me to join in their wars, and places would be irritated if I signed up to some conflicting non-aggression pacts with people they didn’t like. As it should be. People would even come to me with trade route offers, and hand over payments as an incentive.

This is a slight improvement over what I recall from Hannibal at the Gates (where diplomacy already fairly functional,) and a seismic shift from the hopeless state it was in at launch. Back then I could barely squeeze a trade offer out of a life-long friend, and tiny nations would be demanding absurd amounts of cash from major players like Rome in return for the honour of a non-aggression pact.

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Bad luck, Galatia.

Thanks to the partial rethink given to the food/squalor (more on this in a bit,) the AI factions at least manage to exist without starving to death. During war-time they’ll seek out weaknesses or undefended cities and nip in for a quick bit of conquering if you allow them to. Tactically speaking it’s quite straightforward, but in line with comparable strategy titles.

Building Chains & Squalor

Squalor, squalor, squalor. Say it three times and any building above tier 2 becomes a major stress on your province’s public order. In one of Patch 15‘s most significant changes, this isn’t so much the case. Yes, you still need to keep an eye on public order and squalor is still a thing, but many buildings now just have an associated food cost rather than a hit to public order hit. Compare the old level 4 provincial capital (-12 food and -10 public order) with the new one (-8 food.) You don’t have to spam as many temples all over the place just to keep people moderately satisfied, which means your economy can actually branch out into other things.

The building chains have also been revised. You can see all the new chains and their respective costs and bonuses at this unofficial site, and compare it to the older ones here. Those are the Rome faction buildings, but you get the general idea. Military equipment chains (aside from siege weapons) have been retired. You now only get weapon and armour upgrades through iron-producing regions, making them rather important. Specific cultures also have numerous building changes which, without wishing to get too bogged down in each individual alteration, are quite well summerised in the official patch notes.

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I forgot to take any screenshots showing building chains, so here’s another battle.

Politics

I’m pretty sure only a tiny proportion of the Rome 2 player base ever really understood what the hell was going on with politics in this game. It’s so poorly explained to the player and the user interface on the politics screen is so unclear, that the intricacies remained thoroughly obscured. As far as I ever understood it, to maximise your own party’s power it was smart to keep opposition characters out of the capital but also out of battles. In other words, stick them in charge of an army (or navy) who’ll just be protecting a border but unlikely to get into too many fights. It was also possible to gain gravitas for your party generals by magically teleporting them too and from the capital with the “replace general” tab. This never made any sense and was ridiculous.

One of the more substantial changes in Patch 15 gives generals +1 gravitas in the field per military promotion, which should at least negate the temptation to do the teleportation trick above.

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The Voynich Manuscript, numbers stations and Rome 2’s political interface. Mysteries, all.

As of Patch 15, civil war will no longer be an inevitability. Civil wars should also make a bit more sense, because rather than rebellious stacks of doom appearing from nowhere it’ll be all of the generals and admirals from outside your family (plus the regions they’re standing in) who will rebel. There will also be a chance for other regions to rebel as well.

Honestly, I’m still quite sketchy on how the political system in Rome 2 works myself, and didn’t get deep enough into my most recent campaign to experience a civil war. The new Imperator Augustus campaign promised in the full, non-beta release of the Emperor Edition is focused on civil war and appears to have a new, dedicated politics screen. My hope is this will do a better job of explaining the systems than prior efforts.

Patch 15 Conclusions

While that continued confusion over politics shows that Rome 2 still isn’t perfect, Creative Assembly have made genuine strides in improving the game. The user interface is still home to a number of baffling decisions on where to place information, but has seen positive changes (like an indication of how many turns your latest research will take.) After so many hours of play I’m just about used to its eccentricities, but it remains deeply flawed.

So too are the billions of incremental household boosts and level bonuses which add +2% buffs to your generals and armies, but don’t imbue them with an iota of personality.

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Snazzy uniforms, on the other hand, add lots of personality.

But other major problems have been dealt with. Patch 15‘s battles and diplomacy system are as strong as I’ve ever seen them in Rome 2, and while it’ll take further time to unpack and properly assess the building chain changes, toning down the abundant squalor penalties seems like a smart decision. Performance can still be iffy in places, but is far better than it was at release.

Creative Assembly took a look of justified criticism at launch, and what this fifteenth major patch amply demonstrates is that the title was forced out at least six to twelve months too soon. As publisher, it’s actually SEGA who should take the brunt of the blame for that decision. One year on, and it feels like Creative Assembly may just about have salvaged Total War: Rome 2. For anybody who fled the game after release, the free (to existing owners) Emperor Edition is a decent excuse to give this title another chance.

Total War Rome 2: Emperor Edition will be released on 16 September. Existing owners will have their title updated automatically through Steam.

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