Where Rome II attempts to make up for this is by giving you freedom and flexibility to be define your cities and armies with your choices. Instead of independent cities, the map is broken up into provinces, each containing two or four cities, with the incentive to take over whole provinces being that you can pass edicts to give a bonus to the whole region. The cities themselves take shape from the individual buildings you set-up. They will determine not only what units show up to garrison the town automatically, the happiness of your people and what the city's income is like, but also what kind of military units can be recruited there. You could build one city to be an economic powerhouse, while another contains all the barracks and workshops to produce the best military units. Even the armies and generals themselves can pick up traits and skills, making you always cringe when your best general falls in combat, assassination or simply due to old age.
Your armies can be moved around the map with a great deal of freedom, as they'll automatically ford rivers and load up on transport ships. Your armies can also be given specific movement orders, like force marching to get more campaign map movement at the expense of their morale or even to forgo movement all together to set up fortifications. Ultimately this all serves one purpose: getting into the battles that are at the heart of Total War. The tactical battles look as gorgeous and detailed as ever, letting you view the combat from above or zoom all the way down to the individual men that make up your units. For history buffs, there is rarely any other gaming experience as satisfying as using your cavalry to successful roll up your opponent's army with a flank charge and watching the tiny men rout and flee.
It's a fantastic experience when it's all working properly. Unfortunately, combat doesn't always work perfectly, and several of its problems are lingering issues that the series has always had. The simple nature of the game engine and what's being presented means the game does have a tendency to chug the graphics, even when you're not trying to watch your general put your foes to the sword from close in. For smaller encounters, it's not an issue, but when lots of units are clashing on screen, the game's framerate will slow down, especially if you're not playing on a top of the line machine. Another issue that still hasn't been quite ironed out is the occasionally dodgy pathfinding, and what appears to be the relatively simple movement order for your army will send them all running off on strange tangents. These have largely been holdover from the series or are someway inherent to the design, so they should hardly be deal breakers for long time fans.
Arguably the two biggest issues have to do with an AI opponent that seems to flitter between strokes of genius and ineptitude. A tiny nation besieged by a superior force might call for help by offering itself as a satrapy, or vassal, to another larger nation, better to pay a portion of your income to your new leaders than to be wiped out entirely, but then that same AI may throw troops at your forces with reckless abandon in fights that they have no chance of winning. I don't think I've used the auto battle resolution as much as I have in Rome II. Of course, that's when the AI is proving to be aggressive at all; it seems to prefer to let things be while you build up a mighty empire next door. The other major issue is how long the game takes to calculate between turns. Starting out, a single turn may only take half a minute to process, but as you get deeper into the game, expanding your territory and vision through troop movement and trade routes, the time it takes to finish stretches into uncomfortably long minutes. Ultimately, the rest of the game is well worth working through these issues, but it's disappointing that they keep the game from being the masterpiece that it could be.
Bottomline: Like a grizzled veteran of countless battles, Total War: Rome II is still set in its ways, for better or worse.
Recommendation: Technical issues aside, seeing your massive armies clash is still a joy to behold.