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I've been playing Total War since 2002 when Medieval came out and have owned all of them at some point. I waited until recently to purchase as friends who bought at release hated it. Recently they have tried it again with patches and mods and began singing it's praises so I purchased. I added mods before I even played the training mission so can't comment on full vanilla.
There is a lot to learn but sussing out exactly how to use each agent and building is part of the fun. The only real fault I have that I haven't found a mod to sort is a glitch with seiges. The AI cleverly opens it's gates if you bombard with artillery ( I have got an AI mod so may not on vanilla ) so you can't destroy it. They don't actually shut they gate again after you run out of ammo but you can't charge any units through as there is just a red line in the doorway stopping you. I've just added a seige ram mod as they are not standard in the game like the first Rome for some reason to see if that sorts it when I use instead of artillary. I mean over a decade on from the original stuff like this is unacceptable really but other than that so far it has been a great game.
I'm not sure I would like this without mods though, just simple things like unit cards look terrible and make the game less polished than the first one. These days with the modding community games are about customising them to your preferences with the original release being more of a base to start from. That said I would be much more likley to purchase near release and pay more for them ( I only paid £7.50 on a steam deal ) if they were at leat working right from the box.
I keep adding mods all the time but in my opinion must haves are unlimited armies, decent unit cards, more detailed building icons to save going through the encyclopedia all the time and the garison mod which gives a larger one for bigger settlements. This is my favourite game of all time now just because the options are unlimited with so many ways to play and at least with my AI mods different outcomes just from replaying a couple of turns differently.
The Emperor edition campaigns also start you with a bit of an empire (if you are Rome anyway) which is more realistic and harder in the early game to manage than the old starting with a couple of settlements in the Grand campaign. I prefer this type of game and probably won't bother with the normal campaigns anymore. I always thought Barbarian Invasion was good with first Rome but I wasn't as good at running an economy then and found it rock hard, now it would be the only Rome one scenario I would play.
The only other thing I would say about this game is that like Shogun 2 you need a fast hard drive as loading times are long. Other than that it plays ok on a modest machine if you turn the graphics down and still looks good. If you have a low end machine with a mechanical drive I'd learn the ropes on Rome 1 or Medieval 2 first until you get an upgrade because to be honest if you don't like those you probably won't like this. Once you can play one Total War game well you can play them all. Unless you like posh sailors shouting "ship shape & Bristol fashion" with lots of guns I'd skip Empire & Napoleon Total Wars as the battle tactics are totally different. Guns sound cool but in fact are pretty boring in this type of game as it is just basically who has the most firepower wins.
I'm looking forward to Medieval 3 but I won't purchase in a hurry if it doesn't get decent reviews at release and neither should you.