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The player takes a role equivalent to the head of one the three great Roman houses at the time; the Julii, Brutii, and Scipii. Each of these factions has a different set of attributes and initial objectives. Gameplay consists of a combination of turn-based strategy and 3D real-time tactical battles. The 3D real-time action is unique to other RTS games in that tactical maneuvering is critical to success, whereas, at the time, most RTS games took no account to the direction units are facing in combat, flanking movements, breaking of lines, and other combat manoeuvres. The tactical module addresses the criticism of unrealistic mutual blood baths in other RTS games (units will "rout" in Rome: Total War).[3] The high-quality 3D graphics engine is able to render over thirty thousand men on a single battlefield. The strategic and tactical modes integrate such that the landscape for the battles is the same as seen on that particular spot on the strategic map where the armies meet. If the strategic map is hilly, and covered in snow, the battle map will attempt to reflect that. The game is similar to its predecessors, Shogun: Total War and Medieval: Total War, although there are some changes to the mechanics of sieges, and city fights have been added. Most notable is that players now move their units with movement points; in previous games units were moved by territory. Each unit has a certain distance it can travel on the campaign map, with cavalry able to travel the farthest, and lumbersome artillery pieces having the most limited movement distance. Movement is increased depending on the type of terrain being traversed, and the type of roads present. Armies can be built to conquer nearby provinces; to conquer a province, you must capture its settlement. This involves besieging until you have the necessary equipment to break through the walls/gates. Like many RTS games, players can construct buildings within their settlements to move up through the tech tree, allowing more advanced units to be trained, better equipment to be issued to armed forces, to keep the population happy or to manage trade between settlements. The ultimate goal is to conquer 50 provinces, gaining support from the people, before capturing Rome, thereby becoming Emperor.

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