The battles are indeed awesome
A better-looking Rome: Total War would have been enough for some, myself included -- have you seen how crazy some of the battles look? "Epic" is not a word that frequently leaves my mouth (or fingers, in this case) but it's all too fitting for the skirmishes of Total War: Rome II. I hope you have a solid enough PC to play this thing as it's meant to be played.
For E3, Creative Assembly only talked us through the campaign, since it would have been overwhelming to drop right into an unfamiliar playthrough in which a huge number of potential moves would have resulted in absolute catastrophe. Long story short and 200 turns in, Rome had found its way on the path to war with Egypt and we were able to play a battle as either force. The former, it should be noted, was at a severe disadvantage.
Since the only strategy series I'm halfway decent at is Relic's Dawn of War games, I played as the Egyptians without a second thought. With more ships, an advantageous position on top of a hillside, and dudes with freakin' boulders all ready to go, this was a fine choice.
The coolest moment in a battle full of cool moments was having my ship literally break one of the Roman vessels in half by ramming into it. Second place goes to when I swapped sides, and boarded an Egyptian boat one man at a time. I had to fight the urge to just sit there and watch this clash unfold while the rest of my on-the-ground troops were doing who knows what. Speaking of which, elephants sure can stomp the heck out of soldiers.
Stepping back to Rome II's campaign, Creative Assembly has introduced provinces, a series of smaller regions that when conquered can be given grand edicts. The presenter gave one cash with which to party so that the province would forget that, oh, Rome isn't feeding our people any more. It worked! "Because party."
Rome II has also got an internal politics feature that shows the houses within the Roman faction. Each general has ambition and gravitas, giving them political capital to use on actions. Too much capital means that you're power hungry, obviously, and other houses will come after you. In the demo, the Caesar-hating Marcus Tullius Cicero was assassinated. The player could have merely extorted the man instead, but "When in Rome, kill somebody!" I really liked the enthusiastic dude giving the walkthrough.
Another addition I liked the sound of was the relations meter, which gives a history log of actions that affect other factions so you aren't left guessing. Now, in Rome II, AI won't attack you for seemingly no reason. With this log, you'll know what they liked and disliked; in the case of Egypt, war atrocities committed against Macedon were received favorably. But putting Roman forces on Egyptian land, as it turns out, didn't go over so well. Hence the aforementioned battle.
Lastly, traditions for legions sounded terrific. Your army gains experience as a whole, and leveling up lets you award a legion with specialized abilities. If and when the army gets destroyed completely, its banner can be picked back up by new recruits and the tradition lives on.
I can confirm what most of us were thinking: Total War: Rome II should be great. It's certainly been a long time coming. Now, we continue waiting ... until September 3, 2013. F**k! That's too far away!