So here we have the teaser trailer for the freshly announced Rome: Total War II. Given Creative Assembly’s amazing success with Shogun 2 and my own inability to resist anything vaguely Roman, I suppose I should be excited. And with drops of information being passed out (fewer armies, meaning more significant battles, for example), it seems the CA team is saying some of the right things.
But a few words about the teaser trailer.
Live action teasers can go in a lot of directions. You can go the serious route, as CA did here and as Micosoft did with Halo 3. You can go the complete other way around, too, and admit that many of our serious games are a little silly, as Paradox did with their Crusader Kings 2 “7 Deadly Sins” series. You want to evoke some kind of emotional response to the game and about the game, but also communicate your own attitude about the game. If you can’t get actors, you have people motion and gesticulate and have somber music play.
It is probably somewhat intentional that CA’s trailer evokes the HBO series, Rome. You have the stunning reversal on the Senate steps where an old man is dragged away in chains. You have a lover/courtesan/assassin plunging her hair-knife (is that a thing?) into a man’s chest. You have two Roman soldiers who appear to know each other meeting in the aftermath of a battle and the victor executing the defeated man. The tag line suggests that to gain power in Rome you will have to do unspeakable things – will you pay the price? (A silly question to ask strategy gamers who have probably starved more cities on their computer than all the tyrants of history.)
The tricky thing for CA is that this trailer does suggest emotional connections to the governing of Rome that people might hope they follow through on.
It’s not easy. For a very long time, CA has excelled at making beautiful battles on scenic maps. As attached as we have often gotten to our generals and daimyos and kings, however, few of them really lived as characters with ambitions. And, to really capture the awesome weirdness of Roman politics and intrigue would take the sort of game that Paradox failed to make in EU: Rome, but showed was possible in CK2. But these are not CA types of games. CA is a big budget movie that requires cavalry swooping in and letting the player accept the fact that a poorly ordered charge could cost them an important general or tribune or whatever.
This probably won’t be the final live action teaser for Rome. This one (“Faces of Rome”) tells only one of the many facets of any Total War game, and maybe it will be better developed in Rome 2. But it’s not like they can do a live action trailer of a siege or a naval battle. At least not convincingly.
Rome: Total War II is targeted for some time in 2013, and I’ll be following it closely. The more I learn, the more I’ll write. But for now, this teaser just sits on my screen making me wonder if anything besides the “assassination by scarlet woman” will be effectively conveyed in the final product. (They have always loved their assassinations.)