When it was brought to my attention that a preview of History Channel's: Great Battles of Rome was available for review, I just had to get it. I had seen the documentary that History Channel televised awhile ago. They made reference that the battle scenes were computerized, which intrigued me. I had wondered if this was some sophisticated computer program or if it would be a PC version that others could play.
Once I installed the game, I quickly got into the tutorial, which is very easy to follow. The instructions are step-by-step progression from easy scenarios to more difficult ones. The tutorial has you playing the barbarian side; the Roman side begins the campaign. One of the things that stands out is you have an real-time-strategy-type game but with a blending of a role-playing game that involves your general and his troops.
The campaign starts simple and easy, but with each win, the next scenario gets a bit more difficult. The game autosaves and remembers where you left off after each win or will replay the previous one if you lose. If you decide to start a new campaign, be forewarned that the previous campaign will be removed unless you manually save your old campaign. You can have up to a maximum of 20 different units in play, depending on the scenario played, making for a massive battle ground that you must strategically direct.
What types of units can you recruit for your personal army? We have skirmishers and light and heavy infantry. Archers, light and heavy cavalry — including elephants — and your general. Each of these has variations and requires you to decide what to purchase and what to disband as you progress. Remember that these units can receive promotions that increase their fighting abilities as they progress in levels. Your decisions can affect that next battle.
There are at least 100-plus key battles combined into 14 Roman campaigns that involve 700 years of history. The narrative video completes and complements the game, with background cutscenes giving you historic references to each scenario. Each scenario is fought on diverse landscape, including night battles. This lets you create defending positions or spring surprises with the formations under your control.
Lets delve into some of the game options, shall we? When you start, the formations in your army are militia and skirmishers, with light cavalry. The militia is your basic light infantry, with the skirmishers being a form of archer but using spears. The light cavalry speaks for itself. You can purchase additional units only when you have enough gold. Gold is awarded after you win a scenario. Another award is fame. Fame is used to replenish the losses inflicted on your formations. This can be done individually or can be used to repair every unit, but you must be aware that fame is deducted from the total earned. As you progress through certain scenarios and win, additional types and variations of units can be purchased, but increasingly with additional cost. Can you afford that heavy infantry unit, or would you be better off with a couple of light units instead? You can disband older units for newer ones, but you must weigh that against the veteran status the old unit had versus the new unit purchased.
Each unit, including the general, has a role-playing aspect to it. A new unit starts out at level 1. As the battles progress, they earn experience, which is dependent on how involved they were in the battle. If they lost morale and routed, experience will be minimal. That's right — units can lose morale and run from a fight if losses are heavy enough. Let's get back to the leveling. As you earn enough points, the next level will be awarded as a promotion, which gives you the chance to train those units.
Say you want to improve the morale of your unit so it won't break in battle early; picking junior noncommissioned officers will increase that morale. You are given a list of skills that range from basic training to more advanced, such as blocking to advanced blocking or dodging to advanced dodging. These stay with your unit throughout all battles they are involved in. This includes your general, who also can be awarded points based on his involvement. As of this writing, my general is level 12 and has considerable training under his sword. That's why it's important to remember when disbanding older units that your newer ones will be vulnerable until they can level and train to hold their own in future battles.
One thing I truly liked was the initial setup. You click and drag each unit to a starting position so they are facing off against an opponent. This means you can set cavalry against lightly armed skirmishers, maybe hide your heavy infantry in the woods to pounce out and catch the opponent in the flank, or position archers behind so they can be protected by infantry while inflicting punishing attacks to the ranks of your approaching enemies.
Another thing which is fun and has strategic value is the camera view. You can zoom in and watch up close the fighting or zoom out to see your entire army at a glance. The camera also can rotate, giving you a dramatic view. The screen is broken down into the main arena with a mini-map that is clickable, so you can zip to any part of the battle. Commands are given before the battle starts and can be given during the battle, in case one unit needs to help another in trouble.
As with anything, there are a few items that can frustrate the armchair general. One is that the pathing of the units is a bit off, depending on the commands you set up. Units will attack the nearest opponent if they come too close, even though you may have wanted to attack another unit instead. Commands are affected by the general's command and control bar. This reflects the delay between issuing a command and the unit actually committing itself to that command. It's pure frustration when in the thick of battle, and you need to move units around fast.
Another problem is controlling said units as you must right-click on the unit to gain control of it. When you have controlled chaos, it's hard to pick the right unit out of the melee. Units have a tendency to stop and stand still after a fight; you then have to direct them to say, the other side of the field of battle that still is waging. Sometimes the scenario isn't quite clear on the objectives needed to win the battle. Some commands, such as rally, don't seem to have much affect on a routing unit if it's within the general's field of control, which is a ring centered on the general.
The game requires a hefty computer to handle all the action. If you can meet the requirements, you'll have a visually pleasing game — one which you'll have a problem putting away. I played scenario after scenario and forgot to watch my time, resulting in a late night rush to bed. I'm not much of a RTS person, as I always seem to get my posterior whipped, but this was one game preview I really enjoyed playing.
My knowledge of the industry mostly evolves around beta testing games, such as Earth & Beyond from EA, Saga of Ryzom, and companies like MSN and Acolade. Self taught web design is another interest I have. Family life is entertaining at times. It also can get weird as well, after you have been married 31 years.