Flash of Steel header image 2

General Chaos – AI in Rome: Total War

August 17th, 2005 by Troy Goodfellow · 1 Comment · Uncategorized

It is neither a secret or a surprise that I love Rome: Total War. The subject matter is my favorite game setting (the ancient world) and the execution of the game is amazing. After the Risk-like strategy levels of both Shogun and Medieval, Creative Assembly gave us something new and strategically interesting in Rome. The AI was no longer psychically able to always move where you were moving to or from, there were fewer pointless civilian units, and the geography of the maps made it important to engage the enemy where you would have a terrain advantage.

But some people are never happy. For all the beauty and brilliance of Rome‘s design, there were clear signs of an AI that easily lost the forest for the trees.

The most obvious example is the suicidal general problem. Generals are very important in the Total War games. Their command power and success offers a morale boost to the army they lead. A five star general can easily whip armies twice the size of his own – three times the size if he has veteran troops. Their death in battle can presage a rout, as the forces he led lose heart and flee. So this is a unit you want to keep safe.

It is also a unit you want to use. General’s Bodyguards are elite units with devastating power if used properly. It is this tension between power and vulnerability that makes them precious to the player.

For the AI, though, the general is just another super-unit. It never puts a premium on keeping him out of danger and will send the commander charging into the thickest part of the battle. This makes him easy pickings for any decent player.

When the battle is auto-resolved, though, the AI general will survive most of the time. Unless the army is obliterated, the strategic game knows well enough that an enemy family member is something to be protected and preserved. If you want to kill that ten star Gallic chieftain, you have to get into the battle and know that he will come to you.

This nuisance becomes a hazard when the player has the AI control reinforcements in a battle. You cannot always control all of your side’s troops; sometimes the computer will take command of allied forces depending on the ranks of the leaders involved. Choose one army to attack, and your friendly neighborhood allied faction leader could rush to your aid by running through an enemy hoplite wall.

This is just of the problems. The AI will happily break up a phalanx line to chase down light infantry so you can smash it to pieces from the rear. It will open a battle by sending the cavalry from one side to the other instead of deploying them like that or, more sensibly, leaving them to cover a flank. Artillery is always exposed. On the strategic map, it will attack with three small armies instead of one big one. It will waste time and men on the mostly harmless rebel armies and never reinforce its navies.

Almost as surprising as the AI’s mental lapses are the people who swear that the AI in Medieval was so much better. It wasn’t. On the strategic map it would cheat in movement to get a manpower advantage in a battle. On the battle map, it, too, would leave the flanks of pikemen open to assault. It, too, would chase a decoy unit all over God’s green earth. It, too, was negligent in the use of its general, in this case often cautious to the point of cowardice. Even if Medieval’s AI was marginally better in some circumstances, Rome trumps it in so many other areas (graphics, interface, sound, map, variety) that to raise Medieval to its successor’s level is madness.

AI confusion aside, Rome remains my favorite game from last year. I am less enthused about Barbarian Invasion, not least because the expansion will not do much to improve the original game. Plus it only has two historic battles. Where’s my Pharsalus?

I’ll keep playing the game, of course, even if the AI is a little silly. But if Julius Caesar was controlled by a computer, he never would have made it to the Rubicon in one piece.


One Comment so far ↓