When Feral Interactive announced they were bringing Rome: Total War to iPads, it raised a big question. Could they faithfully recreate the gameplay experience of Rome: Total War -- an action-packed tactical RTS wrapped within a turn-based world-conquering strategy game -- while simultaneously updating the graphics and performance for today's technology? The answer was a resounding "yes" and in 2016 Rome: Total War garnered a well-deserved four-star review and strategy game-of-the-year nod from Pocket Tactics. Feral had no intention of stopping there and in late March 2017 followed up its initial success with Rome: Total War - Barbarian Invasion. This standalone expansion brought the same great gaming experience we saw in the original and gave us new scenarios and tribes with which to play.
Unsurprisingly, it too earned four stars in our review.
Today, a mere four months later, the third title in the Rome: Total War iPad series hit the App Store. Alexander follows a twenty-year old Alexander the (soon-to-be) Great as, after the death of his father King Phillip II, he takes the reigns of Macedonia. Alexander inherits a kingdom in danger—Phillip had conquered and united the waring and always chaotic city-states of Greece, but a great deal of unrest remained. To the north are dangerous and unfriendly foes who'd like nothing better than to take a big bite out of Macedonia. The true foe, the Persian Empire, also lies in wait to the east. King Phillip II had long planned to strike at the Persians but perished before he could put his plan into action. Alexander inherits this quest, along with his father's kingdom, though the way forward is fraught with peril—the Persian fleet is sizable and nothing the Macedonians can muster can stand before it. The empire itself is vast and intimidating in both military and economic might.
That's the way of the world as you begin the Alexander campaign. You must conquer and secure ten key cities within one-hundred turns to win the game. You'll need to quell potential trouble at home, pacify your northern neighbors, neutralize the Persian fleet by taking coastal cities, and march deep into Persia to strike at its very heart. The scenario pushes you into conflict early by starting off with an outnumbered army in Persian territory and a state of war with not only Persia but llyria and Thrace as well. It's a big challenge and fitting for a Rome: Total War expansion. Much like Barbarian Invasion before it, Alexander is essentially an expert mode for the base game and certainly plays like it. You don't have much of a grace period to set your plan into action and small mistakes are easily compounded, especially when playing at the higher difficulty levels.
Rome: Total War - Alexander is all about managing your military might, conquering new cities, and quickly taking the fight into Persia. The turn limit puts a clock on the game and pushes you to march ever eastward. As such, there's less of a focus on city management and economic and cultural progress than in Rome: Total War. In fact, it is often the best move to exterminate the populace of cities you take rather than attempt to tame them for long-term gain. Budgetary considerations make it challenging to both maintain enough soldiers to properly garrison new and unruly subjects and continue the offensive on Persia. This alone makes the game feel considerably different than either of the prior two games.
The gameplay and graphics match what we've come to expect from the Rome: Total War franchise on iPad. The world maps look great and it is fun to see the narrowed-in focus on ancient Greece and Persia. When it comes time to do battle you can micromanage the heck out of your battles, or auto-resolve them, to your heart's content. The controls in both campaign and battle mode remain intuitive, for the most part, though swiping the course for an army or unit can still be a bit cumbersome and frustrating at times.
The campaign is not the only option to play, and Alexander comes with some historical battles to take part in. There are six battles in total and each is introduced by an interesting documentary-style narration to set the scene. Add to this custom battles where you can set all manner of conditions and a Battle Tournament mode where you take part in a series of three battles where you must both protect your general and rout the foe from the field.
Alexander is yet another excellent offering and worthy addition to the franchise. Fans of the base game and Barbarian Invasion expansion will find a new and compelling scenario to explore, though it is worth noting once more that, thanks to the turn limit, the campaign is focused on Alexander's military expedition more than the economic and cultural stabilization of his growing kingdom. It's also worth noting that there's been no improvements or chances made to the original source code - warts and all, this is a straight up port of the original PC experience. If you haven't tried Rome: Total War, I'd suggest starting there and working your way up to the expansions if you want more content.
Rome: Total War - Alexander, like the previous two releases, are only available on iPad.