Roman conquest makes for Total War

THE barbarians may be massing on the border and your legions may be widely spread, but life is good as you head one of the most dominant military machines to ever walk the face of the earth in this superb strategy epic.

Rome II is a brilliant, expansive strategy game that sees you engaging in an ancient campaign of Roman conquest and subjugation, while also revelling in intense tactical battles.

The game is easily the best in the series to date and there is so much to see and do, as long as you are patient enough.

The action plays out in two distinct modes.

There is an empire management element that sees you presiding over a huge map, as you select regions and then micromanage them.

In this mode you run your wartime economy and plan for battles.

On top of this, there is tactical combat mode that sees you engaging in the actual battles themselves.

These are gloriously played out in real time 3D, and look astonishingly good, provided your PC is powerful enough to keep up with the thousands of soldiers milling about.

Both of these components come together to serve up a game that is both massively engaging and full of entertainment.

There are eight playable factions, each with its own strengths and weaknesses, and you must govern your people, as well as command your military forces.

Being a great general is of no value at all if you cannot keep your people happy and above all productive, far behind the front lines.

This is done by building temples, keeping the food supply under control and managing taxes so that you don't offend too many citizens.

On top of this there is the need to forge alliances with neighbours and the essential task of fielding armies to protect your power base, while also engaging in fresh conquests.

This does become rather complex quite quickly and the game eases your burden by giving you an automated 'provincial administrator' to fall back on, so that the minutiae of empire management is taken out of your hands.

The strategy game element plays out in distinct 'turns' with you being given plenty of time to determine your course of action. This is just as well, as your options are seemingly limitless and sometimes the game gets a bit cumbersome during this phase.

Indicators like region, morale and systems that allow you to manage alliances would have been more user friendly if they also included some trend indicators or warning system, so that you know which changes are urgent when managing your war economy.

There are humble foot soldiers, many missile troops and then more unusual forces like naval triremes, war elephants and siege catapults.

Massing on the ancient battlefield and orchestrating forest ambushes, downhill cavalry charges or clever envelopment attacks, is what Rome II is all about.

Fans of military strategy will love the way the game gives you so many tactical tools to experiment with.

On the downside the game can be a bit buggy (although a patch has just been released).

Also you really will need to possess a seriously powerful PC to enjoy Rome II at its best. If you do a truly epic strategy experience awaits you.

Format: PC. Distributor: Creative Assembly. Players: 1. Price: $69.95. Rating: 8/10.

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