Imperator: Rome - Review

Author: Claudio Chianese
Date: 2020-07-30 17:44:46
I'll tell you a little personal anecdote: Crusader Kings II, one of the most successful titles developed by Paradox, was released on February 14, 2012 and was given to me on Valentine's Day by my girlfriend at the time. The relationship ended long ago, but Crusader Kings II, seven years later, continues to be updated: about a month ago the great monuments were added and so I found myself playing a campaign on the Cathar side, with the intent to avenge the Albigensian Crusade by building a cathedral near Montségur. This will be enough to make you understand how peculiar the dedication with which Paradox works on its titles even after the release, a commitment comparable to that of indie pearls such as RimWorld and Dwarf Fortress. For this reason too I found it particularly difficult to judge Imperator: Rome, both as a reviewer and as a strategic enthusiast. The review may seem overly critical, so let's make it clear: Imperator is a good game, adequately complex and also quite fun; at the same time, however, it is mediocre when compared to the standard established by Paradox in recent years. But let's start from the beginning: Imperator offers us to lead a nation between 304 BC, the era in which Rome was beginning to assert its hegemony in Italy at the expense of the Samnites and Etruscans, and 27 BC, the beginning of the principality of Octavian Augustus. The map is really wide, and goes from the Iberian Peninsula to India: all nations, from the great empires of the Diadochi to the tribes of Britain, are playable, a choice that is undoubtedly wide. Unlike other Paradox titles, however, the start date of the campaign is only one, so it will not be possible, for example, to relive De Bello Gallico in the shoes of Cesare.

The approach is, in theory, that of the sandbox: a generic score to establish the winner, but a playability that can develop in any direction we want, peaceful or aggressive. In reality, Imperator: Rome is strongly unbalanced on the military level and all the mechanics contribute to the formation of a war machine to be launched towards the conquest of new lands. Speaking of war, Imperator is deeper than Europa Universalis IV, with which it shares much of the gameplay: there are different types of troops, from light infantry to war elephants, which offer specific bonuses depending on the tactics we have selected for that particular army. Of course, everything happens automatically, through dice rolls and there is nothing of the tactical complexity of Total War: Rome II or Fields of Glory II. However, maneuvering and coordination between different armies are important, above all because friction causes huge losses: even too much, given that in some provinces of Gaul we will not be able to place even ten thousand men, under penalty of the progressive erosion of our forces.

As we move away from the battlefield, the complexity decreases, however. The new born of Paradox is, in fact, designed to bring together the central aspects of different titles: the scaffolding is that of Europa Universalis IV, the management of the characters is due to Crusader Kings II and the economy partially recovers the now old Victoria II. None of these aspects, however, really rival the inspirational game, with the result that Imperator: Rome seems to lack a real distinctive personality. The characters, to say: each nation has its own dominant families, from which magistrates and generals come. They are more or less capable or loyal, but the scarcity of events and personal traits makes the whole exercise a little sterile: a little sacrosanct corruption is enough to keep the most ambitious commanders at bay, and civil wars they are easy to avoid by rearranging armies and buying loyalty from troops. The game does not simulate the peculiarity of the Roman cursus honorum, the complex system for assigning offices, nor the double consulate, a fundamental institution of the republic - it will be added in a patch to come, the developers say, but at the moment the policy of Imperator remains rather bland.

Although the playable nations are numerically very many, they do not differ much from each other. The only real variation lies in the form of government: republics have a senate that deliberates on declarations of war and internal politics, monarchies must deal with legitimacy and succession, and tribal kingdoms are made unstable by the capiclans with their armies personal, or they can organize mass migrations from one province to another. Unfortunately, any complexity can be flattened by spending specific resources. Let me explain: next to money and soldiers, that is realistic resources, there are four types of "powers", a kind of mana point, which are used for everything. Do you want to get a casus belli against Macedonia? Spending two hundred oratory points and it's done. Establish a property tax? One hundred civic power points are enough. The system is pervasive and unrealistic, but it would be fine as an abstraction if it wasn't all instantaneous. Even long-standing processes such as cultural assimilation and religious conversion of entire provinces can be solved in an instant by pressing a few buttons and spending a few points.

Speaking of religion, then, it must be said that it is an aspect treated superficially. Out of curiosity, I tried to convert to Jainism while leading a kingdom in Sri Lanka. Jainism is an interesting religion, as well as historically, also in strategic terms, because its pacifist philosophy and its vegetarian food standards clash with the basic mechanics of the genre. In the Crusader Kings II expansion dedicated to India, for example, Jainism disabled all interactions related to hunting and several possibilities of offensive war, in the face of greater internal stability. In Imperator only the names of the auspices have changed, that is the bonuses that we buy every now and then, as you can imagine, by spending the special religious points. The numbers themselves have remained the same, and my provinces have happily continued to produce fish and game.

This feeling of genericity pervades the whole game a little: military traditions, for example, are not specific but are divided into cultural groups, six or seven in all, with the result that the Roman army and that of the Lucanians are almost identical . Of course, the other Paradox stocks have benefited from numerous DLCs but, also thanks to the discounts, from the point of view of content-price, Imperator is now a loser from the comparison.