"We cannot do everything." You won't be able to do all things in the new Total War game. We sat down with Rome 2's Lead Battle Designer, Jamie Ferguson, and talked about what's new. In Part 1, Ferguson touches on how Rome 2 puts careful limitations on the player in the name of fun, while providing options to delegate.
I had a brief hands-on with Rome 2, in which I tested out some of the new ideas they've brought into the game. Rome has always seemed like a perfect setting for Total War. The tactics, the lines of battle, zooming in on tower shields pushed against tower shields... And later, the different fighting techniques of each culture Rome comes into contact with.
Line of sight was one instantly noticeable improvement - units will now appear out of the fog of war as your units can see them. It makes ambushes seem that much more real. The Creative Assembly has a list of improvements across all sides of the game - diplomacy, military, sea, grand strategy, etc. I wondered if any research had been done into what players' favourite parts were in such a huge game.
There are improvements to all sides of the game this time around... I'm wondering how much time you find players spending in each part of the game, and how that affects your early decisions regarding what to spend time on?
In previous games, what we've discovered is that basically, all the really important battles the player would fight, and most certainly in the first third of the game, they’d be spending a lot of their time playing all the battles, and going through all of those. As the campaign expands, and you get to that large size, you get more inconsequential battles, people would start auto-resolving those. So we've looked at getting rid of that management chore in a way, by making sure players are always fighting an important battle.
So we've limited the number of armies that is possible for them to actually have. So you don’t have these trails of soldiers spread out across your vast, massive empire. Now, you actually raise your troops at the legion or army level. To get your own native troops, you have to be in native territory, otherwise you have to raise mercenaries. And you don’t have small individual units just marching around on their own, unless they’re spies, or agents, or something like that.
That kind of leads to a very tight and coherent gameplay, it means also that every battle you’re fighting becomes that much more intense and important. And you don’t mind spending that time strategising, trying to work out ways of pulling the enemy in, getting them to give away their advantages.
That seems very much like Rome at the time as well, fighting battles against enemies with more manpower.
Certainly in this period, in the prologue setting, the Romans weren't masters of the Italian peninsula - they had to go and capture it. In the campaign you start out with what you have at the end of the prologue campaign, which is the central part of Italy. And then you have to move out from there. So the Romans definitely had a mindset that they were beset on all sides by enemies, and they seemed to carry that through right until the point until they were the largest empire on earth.
That seems like a better way of going about it than saying, “You can autoresolve battles, but mathematically you’ll always be worse off,” which seems a bit unfair to the player.
What we tried to do there was strike a balance between fairness, and also make sure it’s player agency that causes victory as much as possible. The other thing we looked at is, sometimes people didn't feel as confident in fighting large battles, so for those people what we've done is give them AI subcommanders, and they can drag select some of those units, click on a button that opens up the group selection, and in there you can actually say “AI group control”, you click on a button, and it takes that group of units over to control of the AI.
You give them a basic order, like “Go there and attack those units”, and the AI does everything from that point. If you want to interfere with that, you can just drag select to take back control of them and give them an order to do something else.
Did you find that people were daunted by the larger battles?
The thing is, it is pretty simple to control. If things do get too hectic, we have a pause button, or you can just slow down time. There are ways for the player to manage that situation. Also, the other thing is, even though there maybe thousands of men on the battlefield, the maximum number of units controllable by the player is 40. And that’s with a very large army, and that would be a very late game. So in terms of accessibility, that problem I think we've managed to resolve.
We have actually slowed down the pace a bit - that was something else we picked up from people, that having the game be too fast was something that intimidated people and lead them to the situation of “Whoa, I'm not sure I can control this.” We haven’t slowed it to a point were it becomes dull, but we've kept those speeds to more of a realistic level. We've pulled them back more to human speeds.
Also, If you were able to control all the factions at once there’d be over 700 units. If you were playing as Rome, you’d have a maximum of about 20 types of unit. And that 700 is spread over a number of factions.
Do these all perform similar functions, or have you emphasised the different fighting styles between armies?
We try to kind of create quite a strong differentiation between the factions. There are some factions that are quite similar to one another, for example, the Samnites and the Romans. They’re pretty much from the same culture, therefore they have pretty much the same kinds of units. But if you were to be fighting against the Greeks, you’d get a very different experience, because they have phalanxes, they have spera units, they have a lot of strong heavy hitting cavalry. If you fight against the Eastern factions, then it’s all about their heavily armoured cavalry, they have lots of archers, and lots of lightweight skirmishing infantry. So that creates lots of different challenges. So as you fight across the map you get a very different feel to the battles you fight.
They’ll behave differently. You’ll find it’s an in-built thing, the AI starts to fight differently according to who you’re fighting against. The types of units they have give a very different means of expressions to how it has to fight its battles. You’ll get that very strong sense of different opponents and different strategies.
When you’re up against the Barbarians - if you can survive that initial shock attack, because that’s what they’re all about, is that kind of idea of using force of arms, and using terror of thousands of men hurling themselves at you, it’s that kind of thing of trying to recover from that. The Gauls terrified the Romans. It was something like part of nursery rhymes and stories to frighten children into being good children.
There was a famous phrase that shook the Romans to the core, which was “Woe to the conquered.” that was a famous Gaul general named Brennus, who actually managed to sack Rome. That’s back in the early stages of Roman history, and that stuck with them forever. and they took that lesson to heart, and carried it out against everybody else.
Be sure to check out Part 2 of our interview on Monday!