After the success of Europa Universalis 4 and Crusader Kings 2, there was much appetite for a Classical era version of the two games. Imperator Rome was soon announced, showcasing a merging of ideas from both of those previous games, conceiving dreams of Hellenic empires and Brythonic rebellions. However, much of that excitement has since subsided, with the gameplay mostly not reaching the high expectations that are expected of Paradox. Such is the disappointment that high hopes bring.
On the surface, Imperator Rome definitely looks stunning. The map has a lot of detail, with the provinces being particularly well researched. When it comes to producing authentic maps, Paradox’s commitment is unquestionable. Europa Universalis 4‘s dynamic province names might have been nice, whereby province names change depending on which nation currently owns them — but that’s a small detail that doesn’t matter at this stage, particularly as many of these ancient tribes wouldn’t have recognized such boundaries. It’s just odd to see the province of Londinium before the Romans occupy ancient London.
However, after a moment of great first impressions, the gameplay falls quicker than Pompeii. For one, the user interface is easily the worst of any Paradox game in living memory; it’s genuinely difficult to find the information the player needs to make decisions, which is something crucial for intricate strategy games. Information on truces, alliances, trade deals, etc. are all lost beneath the clutter of other less crucial statistics. For instance, if anybody reading this review knows where to find a province’s chance of rebellion, please leave a comment below.
On the surface, it looks like Julius Ceasar but beneath the armor, it’s Biggus Dickus wielding a toy sword.
Individual provinces seem to be less important, with the region being much more of the focus — clicking on an individual province yields more information in regards to the whole collective region than on that particular area — and trade becomes a vital component of that region’s success, an aspect that actually has a lot of potential. Resources have different effects on the population, similar to how they work in the Civilization series. For instance, fish will help the population grow faster, while camels are needed to produce camel cavalry. It’s one of the few additions that would help strengthen the trade function in Europa Universalis 4.
Likewise, the various unit types are something that could benefit the Europa Universalis series in the future (at least for the fifth installment). The problem is that once again there is a lack of information. The immediate cost for each unit is there, but no details on upkeep. And while the information for the strengths and weaknesses of each unit type are there, it isn’t particularly clear, and it’s difficult to know what the correct balance is. There doesn’t appear to be a unit limit, so the player (and AI) can build large armies without consequence; this means that the player could keep going to war indefinitely to finance a large army (which worked playing Iceni).
Imperator Rome has a clear focus on conquest, which isn’t entirely bad, but does feel empty; it’s difficult to immerse into the different tribes and nations when they lack individuality. For instance, the tribes in ancient Britain have units that look like Romans, but Romans they are not. Watching the Queen of Iceni lead an army of centurions is disheartened laziness. The rebellions that happen are even worse; while playing as Iceni, Cantiaci rebels arose and immediately had their original territory. Not too bad, as it’s easy enough to push back their army and siege down their provinces. However, once a fort is conquered, it moves to an adjacent province, which then reclaims the province that was previously conquered. That these forts can randomly move to an adjacent province is beyond ridiculous, and that they unsiege what the player had just sieged makes the whole process a chore.
That said, while much more hollow than in Crusader Kings 2, the character role-playing aspect can be reasonably enjoyable. Disloyal clan leaders will revolt against the player, so befriending and bribing them are great ways to keep certain individuals close. It isn’t a crucial part of the gameplay, and much of the problems associated with characters are easily resolved, but it’s an enjoyable touch, leaving a little more to do in between conquests.
Similarly to monarch points in Europa Universalis 4, there are power points in Imperator Rome that can be spent to claim inventions, raise stability, fabricate claims, or do anything else that’s worth doing. Military power points allow the player to adopt certain military traditions, while civic power is spent on introducing new inventions, oratory power is used for various diplomatic missions, and religious power can be spent to increase stability or convert religion in provinces. The four powers are a great concept, and they work reasonably well. Oratory power seems to be the most useful, while thus far the religious power has been the least. They could use a little more balancing, but they’re not a major concern.
In two years time, Imperator Rome will be an amazing game behind a giant paywall.
But this is perhaps the bigger picture. Add up all the problems, and Imperator Rome is simply incomplete. To put it bluntly, the game is boring — there’s not enough to do. Imperator Rome has no clothes; on the surface, it looks like Julius Ceasar, but beneath the armor it’s merely Biggus Dickus wielding a toy sword. The game plays as if it’s still in alpha, a little rushed to make a quick buck off of all the Europa Universalis and Crusader King fans.
The even bigger picture here is that all Paradox fans have been here before. In two years time, Imperator Rome will be an amazing game behind a giant paywall. Five DLCs later, all with vital content to make the game playable, and the fans will have the Imperator Rome they first imagined. These DLCs won’t be cheap, and by the end of it, they will have spent close to $200 to get the game they should have had to begin with. The same old tricks we fall for time and time again.
The only recommendation is to wait two years and buy Imperator Rome in its final form, particularly when it inevitably ends up in a Steam sale. There isn’t enough content, enough gameplay, nor enough fun to be had in its current state. Imperator Rome has bags of potential, but once again, we’re waiting for those crucial DLCs to bring the game to life.