02 July, 2015

Review – Total War: Attila, The Last Roman, The Skies Darken Over The Last Roman

After countless seasons of battle and hard campaigning I return with word of The Last Roman and for the most part, it’s pretty positive.

Total War: ATTILA The Last Roman

The Last Roman

Total War: ATTILA’s first expansion, The Last Roman, promises to shake up its campaign dynamics with the introduction of the Roman Expedition; a horde effectively. Led by the proven general Belisarius, the Roman Expedition begins its path to conquest on the shores of North Africa, south of Carthage. Armed with just two armies, ranks thick with Foederati, Belisarius has been tasked with reclaiming the lands of the fallen Western Roman Empire, by Emperor Justinian. Lands now settled by the once nomadic tribes; the Vandals control part of North Africa, the Visigoths Hispania, the Ostrogoths hold Italia, and itself Rome. The map is large, detailed, and ripe for conquest, as you can see below.

Total War: ATTILA The Last Roman

The Last Roman completely shifts the behaviour of the Romans, in an interesting, though not entirely original way. Whereas, my time with the Roman Empire(s) in the Grand Campaign of ATTILA was almost entirely defensive; whether beating back hordes of foreign barbarians or clashing with traitorous Roman separatists. The Expedition is almost exclusively offensive, capturing town after town in the name of the Roman Empire. The Expedition doesn’t occupy the conquered regions though; they are reclaimed and handed over to Justinian’s Empire. A few Legions of which follow behind the Expedition, reinforcing the front line, those Legions don’t really help the Expedition or even engage rebels in the Empire’s own lands from what I can tell. Rather frustratingly, regions I had captured and left in the Empire’s hands, specifically in Africa, fell to rebellion and the Empire’s forces didn’t seem to react.

As with ATTILA’s hordes, the Expedition armies require a well-developed camp to fund and support themselves, Emperor Justinian will foot the bill for a few turns, but ultimately maintaining the Expedition falls to Belisarius. The Expedition’s reliance on the camps is greater than that of the hordes; they are reclaiming, not looting or sacking settlements, thus not receiving the spoils of conquest. Additional funding is provided through missions of course, which are exponentially more interesting in The Last Roman.

Total War: ATTILA The Last Roman
The missions come as long (text-based) messages and requests from Emperor Justinian, Belisarius’ wife Antonina, and Justinian’s wife Theodora. Each have their own agendas, rewards, and penalties, for example; ignore a request from Theodora and the Expedition may find its funding decreasing. Or, go out of the way to placate Antonina and the army may lose its integrity, its belief in Belisarius’ leadership. Rewards may come in the form of fresh armies from the East, new adopted family members, or simply hard cash. These missions and messages are a more effective way of bringing the political strife of the Empire and its courts to light, when compared to the standard politics system. I found myself wishing that the political occurrences in the Grand Campaign were as fleshed out as the missions here, or even that the other factions in The Last Roman had an equivalent, because sadly they do not. The real issue though, is that there are simply not enough. By the time I had wrapped up the conquest of Africa, quite early on, the missions had completely dried up. I’m not sure if it was a bug or designed that way, but the sudden absence of story was disappointing nonetheless.

A quick aside, early on in the campaign, the skies darken and ash rains down. This is a result of an Indonesian super-volcano that erupted during that period of time (or so I’m told); of course the Romans have no idea of the cause.  The ash darkens both the campaign map and the battlefields, lasting around ten turns. It is an appreciated touch; the lack of sunlight adds a pinch of apocalypse to the already diminished Roman people.

Total War: ATTILA The Last Roman
I bless the ashes down in Africa.
Rather than reclaiming settlements for the Empire, the Expedition can strike out on its own and become independent, forming the Kingdom of Rome. I saved my game quite late into the campaign, achieved the loyalist victory conditions and watched the cutscene play out at twelve frames per second – campaign videos always seem to – then reverted back to my earlier save and played out the separatist path. I had positioned my armies around friendly Roman settlements in Northern Gaul, and struck, taking four of them in the same turn I declared independence. Yet even with four quite well-developed settlements, I was still haemorrhaging a huge amount of money each turn; by claiming land as my own I lost all the army camps. Thus began the only truly challenging part of the campaign; I had to simultaneously disband large portions of my army, redevelop multiple settlements, and beat back the three Roman Legions that had shadowed the Expedition throughout the campaign. Once my savagely red economy was fixed, I turned the armies south and begun retracing their paths to capture the campaign map for a second time. It was pretty great.   

Total War: ATTILA The Last Roman
Bucellarii storm the streets of Ravenna. 
With new factions in a new period comes new units. Reflecting the late-period Roman military, the backbone of the Expedition and the Empire (which isn’t playable) consists largely of Foederati, which can later be developed into Skutatoi, coming with both spear and axe variants, alongside the standard sword infantry.  Hailing from the East, the Expedition boasts excellent heavy cavalry; Cataphractii, Clibanarii, and the finally the new Bucellarii, described as ‘Guard Cavalry’; they wield spear and bow from armoured horseback. On the skirmishing side of things, the Expedition has a selection of horse archers, including Hippo Toxotai. I found the roster to be pretty flexible, supporting the style of play I enjoy. The Ostrogothic Kingdom, who now hold Italia have gained access to some new, Roman-inspired units; the core infantry are Milites, which can be later developed into Milites Comitatenses, of both sword and spear variety. They can also recruit Veterans and the Elite Domestici, alongside the powerful Scholae cavalry. However, the other playable barbarian factions; the Vandals, Franks, and Visigoths, aren’t as fleshed out. Sadly, the Roman Empire, the African Berbers, and the Moors are not playable at all – the Steam Workshop community has of course rectified that, if you choose to mod the game.

Total War: ATTILA The Last Roman

Total War: Attila, The Last Roman score 3/5The Last Roman introduces some interesting dynamics to the campaign structure of ATTILA. While the Roman Expedition itself is little more than a glorified horde, the reclamation mechanic allows for an unrelenting pace; conquest at the speed of barbarian pillaging. It is a satisfying twist, especially for the Romans who in my experience, spent most of their time defending and retreating in ATTILA. The deeper missions and storytelling may only surface as text but I found the intrigue and politics far more engaging than that of ATTILA’s Grand Campaign. However, it is hugely disappointing that the story and missions only last a few early years of the campaign, and the other, barbarian factions don’t even get that much.

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