Imperium Romanum: Emperor Expansion Review
By Chris Commodore |
Earlier this year we put the original Imperium Romanum through its paces and came away unimpressed with the overall package. Though it offered some neat new ideas in the form of mission cards, the generic city building elements and simplified combat meant that the gameplay never really took off. Now the team from Kalypso is back with an expansion that includes several new missions and a handful of minor gameplay changes that won't win over anyone who didn't like it the first time around.
At the start, Imperium Romanum: Emperor Expansion offers four entirely new campaigns, each consisting of four separate missions. Though the missions have a sort of historical flow and progress in terms of their difficulty, you're free to play any mission from any campaign any time you want. Three campaigns have you building up the Roman presence in Britain, Germania and Africa, using the same type of gameplay found in the original game. Starting with a basic forum, you'll need to build houses, agriculture, industry and a large enough military force to protect it all.
This is the glory that was Rome?The general trend is to give the player small objectives -- a few at a time -- and then unlock more objectives as those are completed. This way, the player is always working towards something that's close to achievable, without having to look too far down the road towards much larger objectives. Like the original game, the Emperor Expansion uses these small objectives to help guide the player's strategy, getting them to build up the important infrastructure of the city piece by piece. It can feel a bit too constraining at times but it provides a ready and regular sense of achievement. On the other hand, there are some long term goals introduced from time to time that have the player building with an eye towards the future. One of the campaign missions actually introduces randomized objective cards but the value this adds to the game's replayability is neglible.
Things get a bit more aggressive in the campaign focused on Caesar's Civil War, but all this serves to do is to highlight the deficiencies in the game's superficial combat system. Once again you're limited to a very small variety of units and a handful of uninspired commands -- think "move" and "fight" and you've just about got it covered. With a bit more variety in terms of troop types and some more sophisticated control over formations and dispositions, the game might begin to approach the appeal of the setting. As it is, it falls short of delivering anything close to what you would expect from Caesar's epic clash with Pompey and Crassus.
If you're into the more open-ended gameplay, the Emperor Expansion also includes a handful of scenarios that have no restrictions or objectives. These are fun if you just want to play around in the toy box, but, without the focus of the objective cards, it really feels like you're spinning your chariot wheels here. Sure, there are issues of public order and health to consider here, but Imperium Romanum lacks the sense of feedback and consequence that makes the sandbox play of other city building games so attractive.
The new patron gods add a new dimension to the gameplay, but things are still a bit flat.The one new thing feature that we did like was the option to associate your city with a certain patron god when you upgrade your forum. Much like the temples in Zeus and Poseidon, the forum upgrades here let you pick a patron deity who will contribute to your city according to their own character. Vulcan, for example, will help your prefects extinguish fires more quickly, and Mercury will increase the walking speed of your slaves. You can even make a series of progressive cash offerings to your patron god to obtain even more abilities, like Mars's ability to increase the size of your regiments, or Saturn's ability to improve the efficiency of your agricultural industries.
And lest you think the developers are neglecting the current craze in games, the Emperor Expansion offers achievements. Educate 100 children and you earn the title Teacher and 400 points. Eliminate all the Barbarians on a map and you'll be called Conqueror and be awarded 200 points. Gather 1337 flour and you can even earn the coveted Elite Farmer sobriquet. You also get 1337 points. While the achievements are a nice way to stroke your vanity, we haven't yet found any practical use for them.
The developers have increased the appeal of some of the game's buildings, but the graphical improvements aren't such that you we were able to tell a great difference between the new assets and the old ones. That's not really a problem however, because the original game looked quite nice. Yes, there are still plenty of hard edges in the extreme close-ups, but the overall visual presentation here is solid and helps establish the atmosphere.