I wonder how much of the problem with Rome 2 TW stems from a lack of any interesting central conceit around which to organize the strategic layer. For comparison, I’ve been getting back into total war after a long absence by playing through Attila Total War, largely on the recommendation of the Three Moves Ahead crew and I have been thoroughly enjoying it.
The truth is that while TW: Attila presentation of history falls squarely into the realm of popular imagination (it owes a lot Edward Gibbon’s more or less debunked interpretation of Rome’s decline, for example), its strength is in its clear, driving historical thesis around which the strategic layer mechanics are based. Between the impending threats of The Huns, ever-lengthening winters, and whole peoples on the move, the whole experience feels dynamic, volatile, and explicitly apocalyptic at times.
Compare this to Rome 2, or even the beloved Shogun 2 (the last installment I had the opportunity to play before Attila) where the history often feels like a window dressing in service of the battles and in particular the fetishized aesthetics of famous warrior cultures, I.e. legionnaires and samurai. The strategic layer then becomes largely a matter of amoeba-like territorial expansion without a sense of stakes or drama. This is true of the latter half of Attila’s campaign as well, but the real possibility of failure and the ability to recover from it in the first half mitigates some of the boredom that comes with inevitability.