I’ve always had a soft spot for Roman real-time and turn-based strategy games. It's an affection I trace all the way back to Caesar II, which I used to play way back in the day.
Yet, since Rome: Total War came along I've kind of lost that passion and begun to see that that specific genre and setting combination had been re-run so many times that even the really good jokes about how often the setting had been exploited were no longer funny.
Still, I fought back this pessimism as best I could and settled down to play some Imperium Romanum, the follow-up to the million-selling Glory of the Roman Empire, and see if I could rekindle my love for the genre…
Tried and True
Imperium Romanum isn't trying to be revolutionary or special. It isn't trying to be the next Half-Life or Total Annihilation and it knows that it doesn't really stand a chance of getting into that hall of fame – that much is obvious from the off.
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Instead, Imperium Romanum seems content to tread in the bootprints of these giants and do what it can to fit well. It does a good job at it too.
So, at its core Imperium Romanum is a moderately generic strategy game that sees players gaming across three different game modes in an attempt to bring renown and success to the Roman culture. And yes; it's Roman gaming only. Unlike Total War, Imperium Romanum doesn't offer you a chance to play as Gauls or Spartans – you're in Rome, so follow the proverb or find something else to play.
Unusually though, Imperium Romanum doesn't put a focus on the combat either and much of the game is spent with a definite city-built disposition. There's very little in the way complex battle strategies and offensive units can only divided into three types – Hastati (infantry), Equite (cavalry) and Archers (archers).
Immediately it's obvious that combat is the weakpoint of the game, in fact. Not only are there only three units, there are only four types of orders to give them; deploy, retreat, stop or change formation. Formation only has a minimal effect too, so really it's only a case of attack or don't attack.
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On top of this, combat is pretty ham-handed in that you can't target individual enemies. When deployed, all your units from a specific barrack act as one squad and move as one so that dividing your assets is impossible. If you want to attack an enemy it's a case of deploying them to an area of the battlefield and then telling them to attack the nearest enemy units.
Naturally, this massively limits the tactical prowess you can display. There's no way to easily bring your infantry behind the frontline and flank the enemy archers and often battles will boil down to sending out superior numbers and letting the math do the work. The game designers have tried to spice things up with a morale system which tracks the success of a unit, but it does little to keep things interesting for long.
So, it's kind of a good thing then that the focus is on city-building and organic growth rather than conquest as that's where the game starts to improve.