Why Total War: Rome 2's army traditions system is so exciting
In 61 BC, Julius Caesar levied Legio X Equestris, a legion of several thousand fighting men who fought with distinction in his campaign against Gaul. They were disbanded in 45 BC, shortly before Caesar's assassination. In the ensuing civil war, the 10th Legion was raised again and fought for Lepidus, Marc Antony, and finally Emperor Augustus.
Over that 20-year period, thousands of men died or retired as veterans with lands they had helped conquer in Gaul. Equestris' individual legionaries are not remembered by history. But as a unit, Legio X Equestris were instrumental in Caesar's conquest of Gaul. Creative Assembly wants to give every army in Rome II: Total War a similar legacy, to make them more than masses of faceless troops.
And here history and gameplay merge in a really exciting way: as an army accrues victories, it will also accrue traditions, transforming a generally skilled army into a highly specialized one.
Every upgrade system in Rome II—from the revamped military and civic tech trees down to the abilities of generals, agents and armies—encourages specialization. On the macro level, military and civic developments are now divided into three subcategories (management, tactics and siege for military, economy, philosophy, and construction for civic) you can hop between at will. Teching for naval superiority or a strong farming economy, for example, is much more direct than it was in Shogun II: Total War.
But army traditions are what have me most excited for Rome II, and not just because the historical basis behind them is really cool. Traditions have the potential to completely change how battles play out by the end of a 20 (or 30, or 40, or...) hour-long Rome II campaign, because traditions outlive the poor legionaries who die earning them.
As you might expect from Creative Assembly, Studio Communications Manager Al Bickham explained the army tradition system with a historical comparison. "Think about the 101st Airborne," Bickham said at a recent preview event for Rome II. Remember Band of Brothers? He's talking about those guys: "They're all about their small unit tactics and being in enemy territory and working, effectively, guerrilla warfare. That's what they do. They do that really well. They've done that for the last 100 years, right? That's what [the system] is all about."
In Rome II, traditions extend the upgrade system used for commanding officers to whole armies. But that system has been reworked, too. Instead of progressing a general through a tech tree as he levels up, you now assign one skill at every level (with a cap at level 10). Previously acquired skills can also be leveled up in place of acquiring new ones. If you mainly use your generals to rally and inspire troops, focusing on those abilities will make them horse-mounted masters of morale.
In Shogun II, you could specialize generals by choosing a path through the tech tree, but you'd probably be wasting a few points along the way. Rome II simplifies choosing the abilities and buffs commanders bring to the battlefield. The same system also applies to Rome II's agents.
And where armies previously just grew stronger and gained morale with experience, they'll now gain their own set of specializations in the form of traditions for siegecraft, cavalry, and infantry types. Bickham detailed an example:
"I've spent six of my possible 10 points as an army's been leveling up in siegecraft and heavy infantry. Those guys are going to be city smashers, you know? They're going to be really good shots and very damaging with their onagers and ballistas and scorpions and stuff. I'll have those on my front line doing my city bashing for me."
Rome II tracks the history of each army, listing wins and losses and years in service. Armies can be renamed, and whatever symbol you set as their standard will appear on the legionary character models. And if that army is slaughtered to the last man, the traditions they bled for aren't lost.
"Say you have the 13th Legion," Bickham said, referencing a legion he took into battle at the Rezzed game conference last month. "The 13th Legion cops it. They all die. You can go back to one of your cities, you can recruit a new general, you can give him the banner of the 13th Legion, and you can recruit a new army along with that new general under the banner of the 13th Legion. Get all those traditions back. The whole idea is it's a symbol of the traditions of a fighting unit...The standard, what that army represents, is always there."
By endgame, using the right army in the right battle will be key, as even green troops can strut onto the field with 10 traditions backing them up. Bickham's city smashers, for example, could be torn apart by a heavily trained legion of cavalry. But losing an army of seasoned troops shouldn't spell disaster, either.
"It's no longer about--putting it in the context of previous games, armies were stacks of troops, and you just kind of mashed troops together, and you'd add more, and you'd build the stack," Bickham said. "I think by the end of the game you'll have some incredibly experienced guys you'll be really attached to because you've crafted them over time. They're like macro RPG characters made of thousands of men."