"Imperium Ronanum: Gold Edition is by no means a bad game. I believe it was built for newcomers to the genre, as everything from resource management to the interface is incredibly simplified. Regulars will still see some uncannily similarities to games they've played before, namely Glory of the Roman Empire. Make no mistake, though: This is not a typical strategy aimed at your average war-monger."
As anyone who has had the pleasure of playing this generation's set of better strategy titles will realise; setting is everything. I believe that the greater creative freedom designers have over developing their games, the more enjoyable the end result will be to play. This is also why I think the likes of Age of Mythology and Rise of Legends to be criminally underrated. I will admit that I am no huge fan of realism in games. Certainly having to stick to a certain era, be historically accurate and still making a title fun to play is no easy task; but developers have done so since Age of Empires. We've already been there, done that and got the achievements, which means any new independent games that drag the player into days of old get instantly discarded by the regular consumer. Occasionally, the unluckiest of us will find these games in our Christmas stocking courtesy of a well-meaning, ill-informed relative wanting us to learn as we play. Otherwise, historical RTSes are widely condemned to the bargain bins of shops around the world, forgotten within two weeks of its release.
Imperium Ronanum: Gold Edition is by no means a bad game. I believe it was built for newcomers to the genre, as everything from resource management to the interface is incredibly simplified. Regulars will still see some uncannily similarities to games they've played before, namely Glory of the Roman Empire. Make no mistake, though: This is not a typical strategy aimed at your average war-monger. The military option is still present, but isn't comparable to any of their peers purchasable at present. Rock, paper, scissors is advanced as combat gets. Thankfully, the game focuses around gameplay not unlike SimCity; where building a sprawling metropolis is the overall aim, not to raze one.
This quality works well and provides a refreshing challenge. Turns out our ancient ancestors weren't so different from people of today: Tax them too much and you'll have a riot on your hands, but fail to keep citizens employed and you'll face a huge spike in criminal activity. The populace's opinions are always readily available, either via census or simply looking at the streets and seeing exactly what the people are up to. There's always stuff to do, too. Your people feeling down? Just force them to work on a monument and they'll be proud of their collective productivity, with the added bonus of whatever you constructed making your city just that little bit bigger and more attractive. In History Mode (one of the game's three gameplay settings), the majority of your time is spent keeping the masses pleased and expanding borders; from the beginning of the Roman timeline (509 BC) to the empire's reformation around 120 AD. The other two modes feature a similar premise; keep the people happy whilst achieving objectives such as defending Pompeii from an erupting Mount Vesuvius or simply seeing how long you can keep a city running. The whole game is nicely narrated and is informative without patronising or overwhelming the player with cut-and-pastes from Wikipedia.
Combined, these elements make for a really nice experience. I haven't played a city building game in quite a while, as I feel that many can provide a forgettable, short session of fun but really lack long-term qualities (once you've built one Colosseum, you've seen them all). Imperium Ronanum breaks the mould by throwing in scenarios that are really quite challenging and conjuring a city from dust over time is quite an empowering feeling.
There's always negatives, however. Imperium Ronanum is an ugly game and whilst the larger pieces of architecture look pretty, the remaining buildings are awfully bland. I've reviewed a lot of compilation packs of games recently and they all bare the same symptoms of more content, but horribly aged graphic engines. This is no different and whilst the Gold Edition bundle includes the original game and its expansion offering up a bountiful array of new campaigns, both still appear dated. The sound suffers from a different condition, background ambience sporadically tunes on and off while voices are terribly loud in comparison. This is something that could have been fixed easily with a better sound manager and it is a shame this essential piece of the immersion experience had to suffer in the productive process. The bad points are finalised with a sprinkling of really bad combat. Sending swordsmen to flail around against units of the same type is as complex as things get and it looks appalling. Some polish on the military wouldn't have gone amiss before re-release, considering that the expansion's scenarios are focused around slaughtering barbarians.
Is this a strategy? Is this a city builder? I'd say the latter and only opt for a purchase if you like seeing settlements blossom into beacons of a sophisticated society, not harbour an overly aggressive horde. Imperium Ronanum manages to do what it does very well, but unfortunately there's no real market for this kind of historical venture at the moment. Guys, Glory... may have been great, but releasing a snazzy sequel set in the same period with a few adjustments simply won't be that big of an improvement to a lot of gamers. Hell, this game could have had splendid graphics, great sound and a combat system to rival Total War but it would still be restrained by the lack of creativity due to the samey setting.
Freelance review by Freelance Writer (November 16, 2008)
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