Sega and Creative Assembly set out to make the latest installment of the Total War series the pinnacle of strategy games. While critics of the game’s quality are both praising it for its graphical polish and decrying it for its complexity, from an accessibility standpoint Total War: Rome II walks a fine line—completely including some disabled gamers while leaving others blockaded by several major barriers.
The only group that will have serious problems with this title is gamers with visual disabilities. This is because the game is highly complex and relies on text to communicate vital details such as the benefits of following certain upgrade paths, the stats of unit groups, and other important information. Unfortunately, this text is incredibly small even for non-disabled gamers. To make matters worse, the game relies on other fine details, such as thin health bars displayed under each unit in an army, which can be hard to see even for the able bodied—let alone the real-time battle mechanic which tasks players with controlling legions of soldiers who are only differentiated by small, similarly colored banners. But where this game really struggles in its visual accessibility is in the metagame. Total War: Rome II throws so much important information at a player using text and symbols that if a player misses just one or two important notifications, it could have a hugely negative impact on the empire they are trying to build.
There two saving graces for this game form the standpoint of visual accessibility. First, battles don’t need to be fought by micromanaging units. The game features an auto-resolve function which lets the computer control the player’s army for them. Second, the game also features an error message system that warns players if they are about to advance the turn while leaving certain important actions undone, such as researching technologies or leveling up characters. However, these two features can only take the game so far. Unless a visually impaired player is very familiar with Total War: Rome II so that they don’t need to be reminded what steps to take each turn, it’s not hard to imagine most visually disabled players struggling with this game simply because they do not see the information that they need in order to manage their empire effectively.
Thankfully, however, both players with fine motor limitations and players with hearing limitations will have far fewer problems with this title. For starters, players with fine motor disabilities will be happy to know that although Rome II is incredibly complex and unforgiving, because of its turn-based nature players with fine motor disabilities will be able to immerse themselves completely in the intricacies of running an empire without their disability inhibiting the gameplay—even if they do have to restart a campaign several times because of mistakes made in the early game. The only real-time element of the game appears when players choose to fight battles themselves. They can take direct control of the army and engage enemies using their own strategies and tactical expertise. But this feature is completely optional. Players always have the option of training their armies and having the computers fight the battle for them. This is a little bit riskier due to some AI glitches, but it is a completely accessible way of engaging the enemy in Total War: Rome II. Beyond this, because Rome II is completely mouse driven, this game can be played with one hand without negatively affecting even the real-time elements of the gameplay.
The auditory accessibility of Total War: Rome II is even greater. There is very little dialogue to speak of, and when advisers speak directly to the player, everything they say is communicated verbatim in text. Beyond this, all sound in the game functions as purely decorative, allowing even completely deaf players to get the full experience of this game.
While it is disappointing to see how many barriers the visually impaired will run into while playing Rome II, the fact that it is free of barriers for both those with fine motor and auditory impairments means that for many disabled gamers this title will not represent much of a gamble.
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The Bottom Line for Disabled Gamers: Total War: Rome II
– Some major events such as battles are displayed using large, readable icons.
– There is an error message that pops up if players miss certain important steps each turn.
– The game relies on the ability to read small icons and tiny text in order for players to manage their armies effectively.
– The game features a very slow pace, allowing players to take turns instead of having to manage armies in real time.
– All battles can either be automatically resolved using the computer to fight battles on behalf of the players, or players can manage squads of soldiers directly and fight the battles themselves.
– The game is very complex and unforgiving.
– Sound plays a purely ornamental role in this game.
– There is no dialogue.