The long-running Total War series has gone in a wildly fictional direction with its latest entry Total War: Warhammer, but their core has always been sandbox games starting in a real historical setting. The “create your own history” aspect lets players create their own timelines, but all of the games have specific starting dates.
These starting dates are generally rooted in a time where multiple nations had a more or less equal chance to rise up and conquer, or at least close to an equal footing.
One of the best-received games in the series has been Shogun II, but the creators have always put in a fantastic effort on their Rome era games. Rome Total War was a defining entry in the series, and Total War Rome II was absolutely epic in scope, though it suffered from a staggering amount of bugs needing over a year to get to the point of being a truly great game.
One thing the Rome games do perfectly is to start the player in the absolute best time period for nearly any type of scenario to happen. Most historical eras in Europe had at least one dominant power, From Persia in its various forms to the Roman Empire. At the start of Rome, specifically the larger scale Rome II, there are limitless options and few outcomes would be surprising.
272 BCE is the chosen date for Rome II’s main campaign that has a map that spans from Scotland to the western fringes of India. The most important aspect of this start date is that Rome is completely primed to become the dominant power in the western Mediterranean, but they are far from the most powerful and quite vulnerable. In 272, the Romans had finally kicked Pyrrhus of Epirus out of Italy and subjugated the Samnites of the southern and central Apennines. All of central and southern Italy was theirs.
The only problem is their looming northern neighbors, the Etruscans who present an early challenge to the Romans trying to push northward to secure the rest of the peninsula. Carthage is present, but the Romans can’t simply dive into the Punic Wars without building their base of power. Italy can be easily invaded by sea if players don’t have a solid naval defense and a push to the Alps can leave Rome undefended.
In the east things seem quite unbalanced with the Egyptian (Ptolemaic Empire) and Seleucid Empires, but one can see that these factions are primed to fall. The Seleucid Empire was crumbling during this period, although it should be noted that regions like Persia and the beginnings of the Parthian Empire were not quite separate entities by 272 but the game does put them in a little early, one of the historical changes for start positions. The Seleucids are smaller than their glory days, but primed for reexpansion, especially into Mesopotamia.
Speaking of changes for gameplay, 272 was about as perfect of a start as you could get, but the developers still made multiple changes for game balance, as an enjoyable game takes preference over history. Thankfully, there are mods, such as one titled Vae Victis, that work tirelessly to make everything, including start positions, as accurate as possible. The mod makers nitpick every detail and the changes result in a stronger Rome and Seleucia and even weaker minor nations, but if you are a hardcore history nut, they add an extra layer of realism.
Egypt is a concentrated power, exerting full control over the northern Nile and east to Jerusalem, but the Seleucids keep them in check there. Long routes to the southern Nile make for tough conquests and desert tribes are ready to raid from Arabia and the Sahara.
Greece The Balkan Peninsula and Asia Minor are a wonderful mess. This is a time where a Gallic invasion halted in the center of modern-day Turkey and just settled down among the various Hellenic factions. Pontus and Bithynia are primed to make Asia Minor their home base to conquer the Mediterranean.
Macedonia takes a step back in power by 272 as they fell victim to the conquests of Pyrrhus, but by 272 they began to fight back and hold their own. Athens and Sparta are far removed from their glory days as the new powers loom over them to the north, but they can play nice in the diplomatic arenas and become wealthy enough through trade to strike northward with their still-effective hoplites.
Gaul and Germany are well represented. Multiple tribes fill up the whole region, making a fractured population, but each tribe can hold their own against an invasion, while the Greek colony of Massalia (Marseille) can trade, but can also strike out into Gaul or even northern Italy.
One of the great things about the Total War series is the mods. Players can get modifications that unlock all the various factions to be playable meaning that players can take ownership of even the most minor factions. Have a truly central Mediterranean Empire as Syracuse, or fight out of Arabia as one of the minor tribes, even revive Persia to its former glory. In total, there are over 100 factions in the base game, and any one of them can rise up as a regional power and go on to conquer the known world.
Starting a game and pressing on to the other side of the map is always entertaining. You might find that Athens actually whipped Macedon and Epirus to extend all the way to Germania. Rome could be growing an empire, but they could have been exterminated early by the Etruscans. One of the Spanish tribes like the Lusitanians could rise up and conquer all of Spain before you get there. The possibilities are endless and you are bound to run into countless cultures, units and fighting styles in any normal playthrough.
– all pictures provided by the author