I stormed Carthage before coming to work this morning. As my Praetorian legionaries were going over the walls in siege towers, onagars were battering the walls and auxiliaries were undermining other sections to let in the cavalry. Soon I had the walls, my heavy cavalry were engaging the elephants, the rest of my legions were pushing through the breaches into the city streets, and the onagars had moved to throwing greek fire into the town. I pressed forward and soon had the Carthaginians reduced to a single phalanx of the Sacred Band bristling with spears in the main square infront of a great temple to Baal, they fought well but were being gradually worn down by sheer numbers. Finally I had just to send my cavalry through the streets hunting down the last bits of resistance, and the city was mine. In a break with history, I decided to keep it rather than raze it to the ground, however it is looking dangerously rebellious.
Like other Total War games, it's a curious and very effective mix of a strategic and tactical wargame. The tactical level, sieges and battles, individual troops are modelled, you control them as units of up to about 120 or so troops, with something like 20 units being the maximum in one army. The game runs in real time, but orders can be issued while the game is paused.
The strategic map covers all of Europe, North Africa and bits of near-Asia and the Middle-East. It's still divided into provinces with a single town for each, but this time armies have free movement, can occupy different locations within a province, and only fight if they choose to. The tactical map reflects the terrain from the strategic map, as does the initial positioning of the units joining the battle as I found out to my cost when I was caught in a pincer between two enemy forces.
To criticise, the 3d battles are gorgeous, but the controls still feel a bit more awkward than the older games, more difficult to get the camera angles I want, more difficult to see my own troops in a forest. The strategic aspect look as if the micro-management could get a little heavyweight as the empire gets larger. This is sort of mitigated by the gameplay feature that you can only hand-manage towns which one of your (male) family are resident in as Governor, other towns are auto-managed. I'm not sure how this will go for wanting to build troops. Far more people are tracked as individuals; for example all family, diplomats, spies and assassins have an age and will die off eventually, family members have personality traits and a retinue both of which reflect their past and affect their behaviour.
Overall, this is a great game and can see myself spending a very long time in front of it.