This review will of course fly in the face of popular opinion, but someone has to play Devil's Advocate.
I have to say that having played all the TW games since day of their first release, this one has got me a bit stymied. I'm not sure where to place it in the series, except in a category of its' own. Gone is the gritty, grimy look and feel of M2TW...replaced by a bright, colourful, almost whimsical style to the units and map. Everyone has sung the praises for this game to the rafters, but there really are serious downsides.
For one thing a return of the clone armies of RTW that was promised by CA not to happen, has happened.They promised that even the horses in a cavalry unit would be different. In fact all units in a class are identical to their moustaches. Despite the advances made in M2TW with the addition of blood, mud-encrusted uniforms and torched corpses, CA has opted to present a more "family-friendly" look with only a field littered with unblemished "corpses" is an indication that battle has occurred. Even on Ultra settings, the landscape, trees and units themselves can at best be described as average (save for the ships which are quite glorious to behold).
Path finding is a serious problem, particularly with large armies. Try to get them to advance as one large force and the path finding goes haywire with troops heading off in all directions. Ranged gunfire is a very short affair when the two opposing armies meet, with the A.I. generally opting for a charge as soon as it lays eyes on you. Not too authentic there, CA.
The Campaign Map. If you've ever played a TW game you'll be surprised at just how simple and cartoony it is. A bit like Civilization crossed with RISK. Despite what CA and many reviewers have stated, this game has been dumbed-down for the mass market...don't be fooled.
The naval battles, well they're a world of their own. While lavish in the detail, particularly the ships themselves, the unit movements are simple, yet confoundingly bad in their implementation. Ships behave poorly when not directly controlled and seem to enjoy sitting idly while they are pummelled by enemy cannon fire. The AI here works against you remarkably well so micro-management of your fleet becomes imperative. As pretty as it looks, it becomes repetitive all too quickly, and the boarding of ships is difficult when the enemy quickly routs when you close and then you cannot board them for some strange reason...that's when you should be able to board them. You will tire of them fairly quickly in a protracted campaign, so the Auto-resolve will come in handy in a very short space of time for TW vets.
Requiring Steam, in other words an Internet connection to even play the game is a poor choice. There still are many in the world who have no Internet for gaming, or very low speed. This is not Steam-bashing, this is just stating a fact that has already alienated many a potential buyer. As an anti-piracy measure it has failed miserably, with the game already pirated within hours of release on Steam.
The addition of a Mini-Campaign (the American Revolution commencing with the establishment of Jownstown in Virginia) is quite a good introduction to the gameplay mechanics of the game and a welcome inclusion. While not always historically correct, it does make for a fun lead-in into what the player will eventually (or initially for many) find in the enormous Grand Campaign. Kudos must be paid for this.
Overall, I was expecting the same leap from MTW to RTW with this release from M2TW. In the end we get an odd assortment of many games under the banner of a Total War game. Its' fun, but nowehere near as seriously detailed as previous titles. And everything has been simplified despite what the majority of reviewers have claimed. This a is a good thing for many new players, but for strategy purists its' a bit of a slap in the face. As for the bugs...I just pray a patch is coming quickly, for there are many.
Still I will play on, and look forward to the day the modding community get involved. They will be the ones who make this game what it could/should have been.