Creative Assembly’s historical strategy game Total War: Rome 2 came out in September 2013, and in the five years since it’s notched more than 21,000 user reviews on Steam adding up to a “mostly positive” overall rating. Yet over the past couple of days, more than 660 reviews have rated it “overwhelmingly negative.” What could have so suddenly and dramatically reversed the fortunes of a five-year-old strategy game that’s still in the thick of the Steam Top 100?
It’s a review bombing, of course, and the reason (equally of course) is women, specifically a claim that the recent free Ancestral update dramatically increased the likelihood of generals in the game being female. It’s not clear what specifically started the uproar: Questions about female generals date back to March but it didn’t seem to really gain traction until mid-August, with a screen courtesy of a Steam user named Erick showing five out of eight “Available Generals” as women, followed by predictable complaints about “historical accuracy.” Around the same time, a Patriarchy Mod that purports to reduce the percentage chance of female politicians and general appearing in the game turned up on the Steam Workshop.
Eventually, a Creative Assembly developer declared the original thread on the topic “a mess” and locked it. “As has been said previously: Total War games are historically authentic, not historically accurate,” they wrote. “If having female units upsets you that much you can either mod them out or just not play.”
That seemingly inspired a drawn-out user review from a Steam user named Chaos Puppy (with a link to Erick’s screen), who claimed, among other things, that Total War: Rome 2 is “historically inaccurate, like over 50% of your generals [are] women.” He also claimed to be upset that the developer response was to tell people not to buy the game if they don’t like it, which isn’t actually what was said at all, but never mind that—the story began to make the rounds, outrage mounted, and the review bombs began to drop.
The irony is that the original complaint—a sudden, dramatic uptick in female generals—doesn’t appear to be grounded in actual fact. The patch notes make no mention of female generals (“Female cursus honorum grants attributes at higher levels” is the only reference to women at all), and according to a video posted on YouTube channel RepublicOfPlay, there’s only a 10 to 15 percent chance of a general being female, except for the Kush faction, which runs at 50 percent.
This, redditor AAABattery03 explained, is enough on its own to explain the all-female generals screen shared by Chaos Puppy. “The probability to get 5 out of 8 generals to be female, with a 10% spawn rate, would be 8C5 * (0.1)5 * (0.9)3 = 0.04%. That means if 10,000 players were to boot up the game right now, and spawn 8 generals from Egypt, you’d expect exactly 4 of them to get the outcome ‘5 female, 3 male generals’,” they wrote.
“Then consider that we have tens of thousands of active players, a few thousand of who are extremely active [Steamcharts lists Total War: Rome 2’s average concurrent user count over the past 30 days as 6499], and so we can expect hundreds of thousands of different combinations of generals to be spawned every month or so, we’d expect a lot of occurrences of the 5F 3M outcome,” AAABattery03 writes. “So it’s very likely it’s just not a bug. One could argue that the spawn rate should be adjusted to make it more ‘accurate’ but the thing is that on ‘average’ it is coming out as accurate, and the outliers who feel it to be inaccurate should be told to mod it.”
Which is exactly what the Creative Assembly moderator suggested in a post that’s been decried as “unacceptable” and “needlessly aggressive.”
“People can’t refund the game, five years into the game’s lifecycle, and you’re telling them to mod it out of the game or stop playing if they don’t like a change that you made without warning,” the RepublicOfPlay video says, comparing it to EA’s “Don’t buy the game” response to complaints about women in Battlefield 5. “It’s essentially giving the middle finger to the fan base, saying, ‘We’re not listening and we’re digging our heels in.’ It’s insulting to even those who didn’t give a shit about the female issue because it also devalues their opinions as well.”
So basically, it appears that nothing in the game actually changed, people got mad about it, Creative Assembly recommended that they mod the game if they’re not happy with its current state, and that somehow made them even madder. Et voila, review bombs, which are continuing to come in. So far they haven’t had an overly detrimental effect on Total War: Rome 2’s overall review standing on Steam, but that orange-hued “Overwhelmingly Negative” at the top of the store page does not look good.
I’ve reached out to Creative Assembly and Sega for more information, including whether the percentages of female generals was actually changed in the first place, and will update if I receive a reply.