Thursday, November 24, 2016

Rome: Total War - 20/20 hours

The Warhammer mod for Rome: Total War is impressive in its comprehensiveness  .  .  . I assume. I actually don't know enough about Warhammer to tell if anything important was left out. All I know is that there was a lot of faction-specific lore, right down to detailed descriptions of the game's units and buildings. So, if it's not complete, then at least it's detailed enough that I'm impressed . . . for what that's worth.

The biggest downside to the mod is that the base game isn't really complex enough to do it justice. I mean, it's fun enough commanding armies of elves or orcs, and when taken as a set, their units have characteristic strengths and weaknesses, but I've been spoiled by more contemporary games that have more pronounced asymmetrical factions. It would have been nice if the orcs had their own unique mechanics to reflect the fact that they are a spore-based life form. That's a nitpick, though. Clearly a lot of work went into it, and it made my last five hours with the game more enjoyable, so I'm very grateful it exists.

Looking back at Rome: Total War, my problem with it boiled down to the inconvenient fact that I never really felt the urge to conquer. A lot of games don't give you the choice and just force you into battle after battle. Still others try and provoke you with story and characters (I find it a lot easier to seize a city when doing so will wipe the smirk off of some smug NPC's face). This game felt a lot like Age of Wonders to me in that there was no particular pressure to pursue the main victory condition, but also little else to do if you didn't engage in an endless war. There's some unsatisfying city-management, but I got the feeling that the main purpose of the cities was to be so shitty that you had to loot the frontier just to keep them afloat.

Anyway, I wouldn't say Rome: Total War is a bad game. The tactics of troop positioning and the strategy of army composition were very deep. The battles were on an epic scale scarcely seen in other RTS games. And the setting itself is rich and interesting. I just wasn't picking up what it was laying down.

It's funny how that works. I can try to classify my likes and dislikes into a rational taxonomy, but there are always exceptions and edge cases. I don't like RTS games, but I enjoyed Planetary Annihilation. I don't like strategy games that force you to fight all the time, but then I enjoyed XCOM (and more generally, I don't see how I can say I prefer nonviolent games when Borderlands 2 and Kingdoms of Amalur are among my favorites).

I think I have to accept the imperfections of my nature. Some video games hook me with a particular audacity of premise or enjoyable pattern of gameplay, but while I can make predictions based on my past experiences, those predictions always have an element of uncertainty about them. I can't simply identify which aspects of my favorite games appeal to me and then judge a new game based on its similarity to the abstraction (the most notable failure of that model is when it comes to roguelike games, which I swore, before I got involved in the genre, that I would enjoy).

So, maybe I would have been a huge fan of Rome: Total War in another life, or if I'd played it ten years ago, when I wasn't quite as gun-shy as I am today, or if I'd decided to watch the TV series Rome right before starting the game. All I can say is that this time it did not have that indefinable something that captures my attention and puts me into an obsessive spiral. I can see why it's so well-loved, though, and even though I spent most of my time with it counting the hours, I could probably be persuaded to play the other games in the series (mostly, I'd want the economy updated so it didn't make me want to put my fist through the wall).

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