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Rome Total War Gold Edition ($40, requires Microsoft Windows 98/Me/2000/ XP, 1Ghz processor, 256MB RAM, 8X CD drive, 3GB hard drive space, 64MB 3D video card, SEGA, is the latest entry in the excellent Total War battlefield simulation series. This version takes players to the days of the Roman empire. The game’s battle engine can portray as many as 10,000 units on the battlefield. The player commands groups of units and designates their formations and approach to an opponent. Each unit is impressive, portrayed in three dimensions and featuring motion-captured animation.

Major clashes can still become confusing for the virtual general to follow, but the improvements made in modeling the soldiers, cavalry horses and war machines are substantial. Whether engaging in day or night battles, thousands of infantry and cavalry marching under a sky of flaming arrows make for dramatic scenes. This game has even been used as an illustrator on the History Channel’s Decisive Battles program.

Like most wargames, Rome Total War not only lets players re-create classic battles but also gives them an opportunity to try for alternative endings. Those looking for historical challenges beyond the battlefield can engage the game’s strategy element. This adds context and ties together battles as a player leads his own faction, using politics and religion to forge alliances and break enemies.

The Gold Edition also packs in the Barbarian Invasion add-on, which looks at the challenges a divided Rome faced from other peoples, such as the Franks and Saxons. Each race features some historical characteristics and well-researched uniforms and weapons, though a few of the troop types veer into fantasy territory. Still, there are not too many products that can bring such classic massive land fights to a desktop. Rome Total War Gold Edition delivers a good value and considerable playability. It is rated T for Teen, due to violence.


Originally published in the August 2006 issue of Military History. To subscribe, click here.