Imperator: Rome Review
A new conquest for Paradox’s grand strategy empire.
I’ve seen things you people wouldn’t believe. Attack ships on fire off the shoulder of Lycia. I watched legionnaire shields glitter in the dark near the Ishtar Gate. All those moments will be lost in time, like tears in rain.
Imperator: Rome is the latest grand strategy title from Paradox Interactive, this time returning to the BCs – when the Roman nation was still a minor nation bordered by their early rivals, the Samnites and Etruscans.
As with Paradox’ other efforts, Imperator: Rome is gigantic. Considering that the engine is tracking influential families and their rivals on a scale closer to Crusader Kings II than any of their other games, and that the map stretches from the Iberian peninsula to northeastern Tibet, its an incredible achievement that they’ve got it running with no slow-down, especially considering the push-back that CKII often received when the development team and community talked about expanding the size of the map.
The counterpoint to this is that a lot of the map is inhospitable or not functioning as parts of settled nations at the start. If you opt to play as one of the Germanic tribes, like the Bastarnia or Saxons, and manage to get your population density up high enough then you can claim the unsettled lands which otherwise separate the South and North of Europe. The same applies for Ireland, which is almost entirely unsettled; however, the warring tribes over the water will definitely try and swing by if you’re doing too well.
Imperator: Rome is closer in experience to Europa Universalis than any of the other Paradox series, although the team have brought a lot of the tribal and council features over from CKII’s post-content releases. For those unfamiliar with these, what I mean is that your own domestic efforts are supported or sabotaged by a series of influential people who have their own wants and needs.
If you don’t keep your council in check then you’ll end up with penalties, and if you end up with that then you’ll end up with rebellions on your hands. You’ll have to choose technologies and military doctrines to advance, all while also trying to ensure you keep the nation stable – something measured, handily, through a variable called stability.
Stability is, as in the real world, fickle, and you can lose it much easier than you can gain it. Change course on your nation’s goals, double back on your word, or simply be unlucky, and it’ll be stripped away.
In addition to stability, the biggest things slowing down a wild tour across the globe are tyranny and aggressive expansion trackers. These three all knot up nicely. If you push forward into war without a decent casus belli then you’re endangering the stability of the nation and aggressively expanding. Put down those who oppose you internally and you are a tyrant.
Steamrolling the world is still very possible, of course, but the real joy in Imperator: Rome comes from the internal political struggles of running a rapidly growing nation. The ranks of influential families fluctuate over time, as do their wealth and numbers. This is something you can use to your advantage as you always play as the ‘spirit of the country’, being the naturally determined ruler, be that through monarchy or republic.
The rival faction, or tribe, leaders may well be your successors, but if you don’t like what they bring then you can ensure that their bloodline doesn’t continue. That’s the thing about Paradox’ Grand Strategy games, the only finite ends come in running out of time or falling to defeat. As such, each is essentially a sandbox.
I’ve spent enough time talking about what it is, so let’s talk about some of the launch issues. With sandbox titles there’s never really a way to win, per se, outside of those specified by the player and their playstyle. As such, it is incredibly hard to teach people how to play.
Paradox have gotten a lot better at this, with the Hearts of Iron Italy tutorial a tight, guided tour through most of militarisation, and the Stellaris tutorial leading directly into the full game so seamlessly that many people forget to turn it off for future playthroughs. Imperator: Rome’s tutorial, however, simply dumps you into the fresh sneakers of 304BCE Rome and gives you a few helpful nods and a few vague goals.
Rome, and indeed all of the starting six recommended nations, are easier or interesting starts, but this tutorial feels utterly hands off and doesn’t even cover basics like loading infantry into boats (put the boats out at sea and move the units into the tile; it won’t work if the boats are docked). Nor does it touch on the political or global aspects of it, simply giving direction rather than teaching.
Some information also comes at a premium as well. Scorned families – those who able to be, but are not, financially or politically involved enough with the nation – are the hottest of topics. Leave a powerful rival out of a job, or shun his child’s ambition to sit on your council, and you’ll have a problem down the line. Yet when it comes to picking a new person for the role you’ll need to continually mouse over the tooltip to see the names of the scorned families. There should really be an icon of some sort on those who are available for the job – it is, after all, in everybody’s best interest to get them employed.
Something else missing, that I really hope makes a visit in future updates, is the ability to mark characters of interest. So much of Paradox sandbox metagame is in the connections that we as players make. If a General strikes down one of mine then I’d quite like the chance to track them on-screen and serve justice when I conquer their land.
Imperator: Rome is a game of potentials and political pacing. I’ve united the British tribes and pushed onto the continent, I’ve created a large nation in modern Spain, I’ve taken Phrygia as Armenia. I’ve also been smashed to bits in my first war as Alupa and wiped while trying to start up as the Vandals and head down into Europe a couple of centuries ahead. I won’t do the Blade Runner quote thing again, but it’s basically a very good game, especially if you have patience and a good head for numbers.
[Reviewed on PC]