Rome Total War: Overview

By SubRosa

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Rome Total War is a PC game created by the Creative Assembly. It is a strategy game simulating ancient warfare and empire-building in the period of Rome’s rise to greatness, beginning in 270 B.C.E and running to the year 16 C.E. It features both turn-based play at the strategic level of the game, and real-time-strategy play when battles are fought out at the tactical level.

The game was released in September of 2004, and is the third game in their Total War series, the earlier two being Shogun: Total War and Medieval: Total War. Since its release RTW has been complemented with the addition of a first expansion pack a year after the game’s initial release. Named Barbarian Invasion, the expansion focuses on the fall of the Roman Empire. It was later followed in the summer of 2006 by a second expansion named Alexander that depicts that famous general’s conquests. Furthermore, the game engine was modified for use in the History Channel’s Decisive Battles series, as well as in the BBC’s Time Commanders.

Rome Total War offers several options of play, in both single and multiplayer modes. In Singleplayer a person can play a Custom Battle in which they select the Faction and units they wish to command, as well as those the computer will use against them. A Quick Battle is simple, but skips the selection and jumps straight into a random battle. Historical Battles allow the player to re-fight some of those great battles of history, such as the Battle of Lake Trasimene, or The Battle of Carrhae, and more. Finally, they may play a Campaign, leading a single nation to conquer the ancient world. In Multiplayer a person can play in battles either online or through a local network.

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In the singleplayer game, the player has complete control over one of the 21 factions in the game. Each represents a different nation or political power bloc in the ancient world. At the beginning of the game only the 3 main Roman families are playable.

Afterward certain factions can be unlocked to be played later if the character can first conquer said factions. There are also some factions that cannot be unlocked even if the player conquers them. This was most likely due to game-balancing issues. However, they can all be unlocked through a simple modification of the game files.

The factions are:


  • Roman-Julii
  • Roman-Brutii
  • Roman-Scipii


  • Gaul
  • Briton
  • Germania
  • The Greek Cities
  • The Seleucid Empire
  • Egypt
  • Carthage
  • Parthia


  • Dacia
  • Scythia
  • Macedon
  • Thrace
  • Spain (Iberia)
  • Numidia
  • Armenia
  • Pontus
  • Rebels/Slaves
  • Roman-Senate


The Strategic Map

The mechanics of the singleplayer game consists of two distinct phases. One is the Strategic, where game play is turn-based and the player is presented with a map of the Ancient Mediterranean world called the Strategic Map or Strat Map. This is where city building, economics, troop recruitment, diplomacy, and army deployments take place.

Previous Total War games had a Strategic Map divided into territories, and armies could only move from one territory to another much like in the game Risk. However, there was no movement to specific places within the territories. If you tried to move into a territory occupied by an enemy army a battle automatically ensued. On the other hand Rome Total War allows units to be moved anywhere on the map, regardless of provincial boundaries. This allows the player to pick and choose the kind of ground they fight upon, such as river-crossings, mountain slopes, forests, etc… It also means that the player does not have to fight simply by crossing into the territory of another faction.

Units may only attack enemies when they move adjacent to them on the Strategic Map. Battles are then resolved in one of two ways. One allows the computer to automatically determine the winner, the other allows the player to fight it out themself in real-time play. This takes the player to the second phase of the game. That of tactical battles fought on the Battle Map.

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The goal of the singleplayer game is to conquer a set number of territories. How many depends on the type of campaign the player selects. A Long Campaign requires the conquest of 50 territories and the city of Rome. A Short Campaign requires only 15 territories, but the player must also destroy or outlast one or two specific neighbors/rivals. For example The Greek Cities must destroy or outlast Macedon and Thrace.

The player does this by maneuvering armies on the Strategic Map in order to attack and take enemy territories. The player must also defend against enemy factions trying to do the same to them of course. The player may also recruit special agents to assist. The Strategic Map is divided into 103 territories, each of which contains a city which is its capital. Whichever faction controls this city also controls the province it is situated within.

While the player must defend themself against enemy factions, they must also always be on the look out for rebels appearing within their own territory as well. These outlaw armies will block trade, devastate the land, and attack the player’s nearby units. Sometimes if public order within cities dips too low they will also rebel as well.

These cities are where the player may raise troops and special agents. In order to do so the player must first construct buildings where said troops and agents can be recruited. The player may construct other buildings as well, such as temples, markets, ports, sewers, mines, and more. These buildings do things such as increase the trade revenues of a settlement, help maintain public order, preserve health, etc…

Cities grow in tiers based upon the number of denizens within. Every time a city grows to a higher tier, better versions of each building type can be constructed there. These in turn grant better troops or higher bonuses in whatever aspect of the game they affect.

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The armies recruitable by the player will vary according to both the faction they are playing and what level of buildings they possess in their cities. For example, the Roman factions can recruit units such as Hastati, Principes, Velites, et al. On the other hand the Greek Cities can recruit varying types of Hoplites, the Parthians can recruit Cataphracts, and more. This varied unit roster brings a different feel of gameplay for every faction, making each unique.

In addition to the units each faction may recruit in their barrack facilities, they may also hire mercenaries. The type and availability of which varies by region. For example Mercenary Cretan Archers may be hired in many parts of Greece, but not in say Gaul.

As well as ground forces, the player also commands fleets. These can ferry troops across seas, blockade enemy ports (resulting in a loss of income for the enemy faction), and of course destroy enemy fleets.


Generals and Agents

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In addition to regular soldiers, each faction may also recruit special agents. These are spies, assassins, and diplomats.

Spies will reveal larger areas of the Strategic Map for the player to see, as well as reveal the specific composition of enemy forces. They may even infiltrate enemy cities and possibly open the gates when the player’s army attacks them.

Diplomats can make political and economic agreements with other factions, including alliances and trade pacts. They can also bribe enemy armies to disband or even join the player’s faction. Cities can also be bribed to join the player’s faction in this manner as well.

Assassins have the ability to kill other characters. They are the only agents in the game that can directly do this. They may also undertake acts of sabotage in enemy (or neutral) cities.

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However, the most important characters are the Generals each faction possesses. These special characters represent the ruling family (or families) of the faction. Each General has ability scores that affect various fields of endeavour. These are:

  • Command: This is the General’s leadership ability, which directly affects the performance of troops in battles.
  • Influence: This is the General’s personal magnetism. It assists in maintaining public order in cities, and also affects the size of a General’s bodyguard.
  • Management: This is the General’s administrative ability. It directly affects the amount of wealth a city generates when the General is within it.

In addition Generals also gain retinue members, who are essentially hangers-on that affect the General’s abilities and other game mechanics. Some retinue members can be very helpful to the General, and other quite detrimental. For example, the Bard grants a General a +1 to his Influence, while the Drunken Uncle penalizes his Influence by 1 point.

Generals will also develop traits over time that likewise will affect his ability scores and other game effects. These work in the same basic manner as retinue members. Except where retinue members may be transferred between Generals, traits stay with them forever.

New Generals are gained in several ways. The first being the simple matter of existing Generals having children and said children coming of age to fight. Enemy Generals can also be bribed into joining the player’s faction. In certain conditions Generals can be adopted from the rank and file of the military as well. They are also gained when the women of the family marry, as their husbands become Generals in the player’s faction.

Generals are lost in several ways too. Death in battle is one, and the assassin’s blade is another. They can also die from plague and natural disasters that occur in the areas they inhabit. Even if they survive all these, old age will eventually kill them, as it does everyone. As Rome Total War can span several centuries, generations will come and go throughout the play of the game.

The Romans

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The Roman factions are special in several ways. This is Rome Total War after all.

Rome is not truly one faction, but is rather a super-faction consisting of three regularly-playable factions (the Julii, Brutii, and Scipii) plus one extra special one (the Senate) that is not meant to be played by a human. They all begin the game allied to one another, and are under the (supposed) direction of the Roman Senate.

While the Senate cannot directly control the player’s Roman faction, it will issue the player missions. If the player fulfills them the Senate will reward the player with things such as money, elite troops, and Senatorial positions (the latter are simulated by positive traits which the player’s Generals will acquire). If the player does not fulfill the Senate’s directives they will incur the Senate’s displeasure. This is something that is ultimately unavoidable however.

For the player’s Roman faction also has another group that affects them. The Plebians. The player mainly gains popularity with the Plebs through conquest. People love a winner, and Romans are no exception. When the player’s popularity with the People reaches a certain point the Senate, out of fear, will outlaw the player’s faction.

This triggers the Roman Civil War. Often the highlight of every Roman Campaign, when the Civil War begins the player’s former Roman allies turn on them and become their worst enemies.

The other way the Romans differ from other factions is the Marian Reforms, which simulate the military reforms instituted by Gaius Marius that dramatically altered the makeup of the Roman army. These take place when the Roman factions have reached a certain point of development in the game.

When the reforms happen the player loses the ability to recruit or retrain the troops they originally possessed. However, afterward they gain much more potent units in the form of Auxiliaries and Legionary troops, who are among the most powerful in the game.

The other factions do gain something in the Marian Reforms as well, in that the bodyguards of their Generals all change to a more powerful unit type.


The Battle Map

Tactical battles showcase the Real-Time-Strategy half of Rome Total War. They are initiated in the Campaign Game when either when the player attacks or is attacked by another faction and the player elects to fight on the Battle Map rather than allow the computer to automatically resolve the battle. They can also be played through a Custom Battle, Quick Battle, or in Multiplayer. In fact these latter modes of play consist entirely of tactical-level battles on the Battle Map.

As noted previously, battles fought on the Battle Map are done in real time. However, the player may pause at any time and and issue orders to their units, check their status, and verify where they may be moving to. This makes the game very forgiving for those not accustomed to RTS gameplay.

The Battle Map is rendered in beautifully detailed graphics, featuring naturally rolling hills, tall grass, trees, brush, rock formations, and even human-structures such as roads, farms and temples. If played out as part of a Campaign, the terrain on the Battle Map reflects that of the area on the Strategic Map where the battle was initiatied. For example: if the battle is fought at a river-crossing on the Strategic Map, there will be a river in the center of the Battle Map. This adds an element of strategic thinking to the game, in that the player can choose to attack in areas where their forces will most benefit from it on the Battle Map. In Custom and Multiplayer battles the player may choose the terrain in which the battle will be fought.

Units are rendered down to each individual soldier, and their sizes are scalable to allow users to field larger or smaller numbers of soldiers, which makes the game very friendly to players with older computers.

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The player may command up to a maximum of 20 units in a battle. It is possible to have more of your units (and of allied factions) join in the battle. However, these troops will be under the control of the computer. The player may disable this feature so no computer control allies enter the game.

Factors such as weather and terrain do make a difference in Rome Total War, as they directly affect the ability of units to fight. Some units will gain bonuses in certain terrain, and other penalties. High ground will increase the range of missile weapons. Rain or fog will decrease their range.

In addition to this, many units suffer penalties when attacking certain units, or receive bonuses when fighting others. For example, spear-armed infantry units receive a bonus against cavalry, however sword-armed infantry units receive a bonus against spear-armed infantry. This reflects the rock-paper-scissors nature of ancient arms systems. The skillful use of these factors will often determine victory or defeat.

A key factor in every battle is that of morale, which is influenced by many different things. Among them are how tired a unit is, whether a friendly or enemy general is near, whether there are enemies on their flanks or behind them, how many losses it has taken, and whether other friendly units are fleeing the battle.

Battles are rarely won or lost due to simply killing every soldier of the enemy army. Rather they are won by routing the enemy from the field (however, it is often possible to hunt down the fleeing enemy soldiers and kill them all before they can escape).


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Rome Total War features multiplayer play as well as singleplayer gameplay. This comes in the form of LAN battles as well as Internet play that is hosted for no charge by GameSpy. The entire online interface is built into the game, so no extra applications are needed to immediately jump online and start playing. It is a credit to the game that even though I write this several years after its release, there is still a thriving multiplayer community on the Internet. As previously stated, all battles are fought on the same Battle Map used in the singleplayer game.

Multiplayer does have different options to determine the resolution of battles however. Most common is the Last Man Standing game type, in which the only player who remains on the map wins. Another option is the Scored Resolution, where the winner is determined by a score calculated by the computer based on the type and number of enemies each player killed. Typically this option is only used in free-for-alls or battles where three or more teams are competing against one another.

Up to 8 players can participate in a single game, and anywhere from 2-8 teams are possible. In the absence of human players, the computer can be given control of any number of factions as well. So for example it is possible for a team of humans to play a team of computer-controlled factions.

Each player has a single faction to choose units from. A player may choose any faction to play, and the same faction may be represented multiple times in a single team. However, a faction used on one team cannot be selected by the opposing team.

The units comprising each army are chosen by the players prior to play. Each player is given an equal amount of points (called denarii after the monetary unit used in the single player game), with which to select them. This denarii amount is chosen by the player who hosts the game. As well as simply purchasing units, these denarii can also be used to upgrade units with better weapons, armor, and experience.

The Hosting player also chooses what map the battle will take place on, and can also set conditions such as the game type, weather, time of day, and whether there will be a time limit. The Host also determines the difficulty level that the AI will play at if a computer-controlled faction is in the battle.

Historical Battles

The player also has the option of playing several historical battles. These can either be played by a single-player as a Custom Battle is, or in Multiplayer. The single-player battles are:

  • Asculum
  • Carrhae
  • Cynocephalae
  • Gergovia
  • Raphia
  • Telamon
  • Teutoborg Forest
  • The Siege of Sparta
  • Lake Trasimene
  • The Trebia

The multiplayer battles are:

  • Asculum
  • Gergovia
  • Bibracte
  • Carrhae
  • Raphia
  • The Siege of Sparta
  • Lake Trasimene
  • The Trebia