The Getae civilisation was nearly destroyed by two slices of toast. My lunch popped up and so I paused the pitched battle I was waging with another local tribe - a pivotal battle where I had a numerical advantage, but nevertheless had to press home my assault. When I came back, everything all browned and buttered, Total War: Rome 2 refused to unpause.
My civilisation didn't end. A journey back through the main menu allowed me to rescue my destiny courtesy of an autosave, and so this didn't become one of those stories of how a kingdom was lost for want of a snack, but I did face a compromise. None of the time controls worked until a crash to desktop had me restarting the game. It was a bit of a pain, as a number of things in Total War: Rome 2 are a bit of a pain, but it didn't really get in the way of my continental ambitions and, more importantly, it didn't stop me from enjoying myself. Not for very long, anyway.
While Rome 2 can't be given a wholly clean bill of health, it's in better shape than it was at release, when I wrote Eurogamer's original Total War: Rome 2 review. In many ways, it's changed. In many ways, it's exactly the same.
It's grown. Benefiting from several updates, bolstered by the new Imperator Augustus expansion and now titled as the Emperor Edition, Total War: Rome 2 has filled out. The new campaign is set just after the death of Julius Ceasar, with Octavian, Mark Antony, Lepidus and Pompey's son Sextus all vying for control of the Republic. Rome is split into factions so taut that all politics becomes a fraught shimmy along an electrified tightrope. What begins as a shaky alliance between Octavian, Mark and their numismatist buddy Lepidus, each of them grasping for more control of their respective corners of the Mediterranean, inevitably collapses into infighting.
All this plays out across a map subtly altered to reflect our turning to a different page of the history book. It's not a tremendous change, but there are a few new cities (Sicily now has three, for example) and some new factions punching each other's teeth out. There's also been a tweak to the political system, in both this campaign and the main game, which makes it easier to see when a civil war is likely and also reduces the cost of political actions. It's a fitting change to introduce alongside a campaign based around the ambitious Antony and Octavian.
If Roman soap operas aren't to your taste, the campaign still offers you the choice to take control of distant Armenians or indifferent Celts, both carving out their own corners of the ancient world and both initially far less susceptible to internal power plays. It's now easier to see how recruiting generals and statesmen from different families affects your level of political influence and thus how, in time, perhaps far down the road, it can be your undoing. That said, I'd only been playing for a couple of years in my first game as Octavian before my own faction fragmented under the weight of war. Past a certain point, keeping a lid on things internally starts to become a much greater challenge than holding your borders.
After a thorough polish, Total War: Rome 2 looks better, performs better and behaves better. Gone are the graphical bugs that brought up low-resolution textures even on the highest settings or produced strange visual deformities. Turns now take less time to resolve, too, at least in the early stages of the game. This makes it much easier to get a campaign underway and get a good few years of progress under your balteus, but slowdown is still inevitable. Once your empire is the sort of size that fills Britain, Italy or Iberia, you can feel the game grinding away. Naturally, not every turn is going to have you committing to an exciting battle or making critical political decisions, so sometimes you're clicking through turns just giving out a few build orders or growing your (now tweaked) research chains. It gets slow. You're doing imperial admin. The AI plays with itself.
It's a more coherent AI, mind, and even a devious one at times. Welcome in their absence are the computer's suicidal assaults against well-defended settlements, though smaller factions now have a strange habit of declaring war against you when you're clearly the biggest cat on the block. Enemy armies are still sometimes vulnerable to kiting, as has always been the case with the series, allowing you to lead entire armies on merry chases around the map. But now the AI actually tries to kite you back from time to time, with feints on both the tactical map and the strategic map.
Best of all, it's capable of acts of outright evil. A highlight of one of my Roman campaigns came when a Balkan faction, one of those with the unplaceable Tommy Wiseau-type accents, took my generous peace offer, lump sum included, and promptly broke it the following turn by attacking with overwhelming force. It was cruel and, anyone would admit, absolutely the right advantage to push.
It's so refreshing to see Total War: Rome 2 smoothed over and playing smarter. It's a noticeably better game. Unfortunately, it's not always that much better and I can't help viewing it as a charming toddler: as something that sometimes surprises me with its smarts, sometimes walks just fine by itself and sometimes pukes in my lap with nary a moment's warning.
Battles at sea feel slower and better paced: great! My spearmen are running up and down the ladder they just erected to climb over city walls: oh no! A seaborne army pathfinding their way from the tip of Italy to north Africa want to take an overland route through France and Gibraltar: oops! And so on.
I don't always mind. Not much. The battles look fantastic, particularly when hundreds of lunatic warriors clash with each other in slow motion. Fighting a pitched battle against a deadly foe is as much fun as chasing down the ragged remains of a once-great army (there's something about ordering 20 units to attack one that's far too satisfying). Building an empire is alarmingly addictive and it might just be that Creative Assembly have perfectly captured that compulsion that so many megalomaniacs have felt throughout history.
Right now, I have a problem in the Alps. My Alps. I don't know where this well equipped, well trained army of 2000 rebellious slaves came from, since my records confirm that I've hardly taken any slaves at all and the few I've brought home from war might be a quarter of that number. It's frustrating, but part of me doesn't care. I'm still having fun. I'm going to have fun beating them and I'm going to have fun pushing my way into France.
Total War: Rome 2 is still rickety in many places and, for all its improvements, it remains a very similar experience. It's not worth getting now if you were on the fence before. It's not a radically different experience or a dramatically changed game. Like the Roman Republic itself, it's still prone to collapsing and to repeating its mistakes over and over, but that doesn't stop it from being terribly entertaining and, at times, worryingly compulsive. Total War: Rome 2 is good, quite a bit better even, but it's not the best thing since sliced bread.