Grand Ages: Rome (PC) review
"Grand Ages: Rome is made by the same developers and initially could be mistaken to be the same game as IR. The strict attention to detail is still prevalent, as is the fluid economy and employment system. The one big thing that GA introduces is more variation. With its predecessor, it was easy to apply the same strategy to every map – maps which were all too similar to one another. The obvious aim of its spiritual sequel is to mix things up a little. This is something that's prominent from first play-through. "
A few months back I reviewed Imperium Ronanum, a city-builder for the PC. Its attempts to place the player in the seat of a Roman governor were reasonably successful. IR had competent construction tools and a dynamic economy. The level of graphical detail was impressive, from the water effects to being able to watch citizens go about their daily lives – lives that the player had a direct impact upon. Build a market and people would flock to buy and sell goods. The products came from outlying settlements such as farms and orchards; these plantations were also staffed by the city's populace and put in place by the player. The whole system was so subliminally designed that any rookie could begin building their own living, breathing metropolis within an hour of installation.
Whilst Imperium Ronanum was littered with positives, there were still a plethora of reasons why it scored so low. Reductionist gameplay was a major flaw, as within a day of playing the title I was bored with the simplicity. Trying to spice up my governing life resulted in little success; Numerous barbarian camps existed on each scenario, but could be easily destroyed by simply sending a few infantry squads in their direction. I was rarely forced to defend my assets from a direct assault and even when the attacks came, they were stupidly easy to beat back. It was always obvious that IR wanted the player to do one thing: Build stuff. Too bad there's a limit on how much stuff there was to put down on the terrain.
Grand Ages: Rome is made by the same developers and initially could be mistaken to be the same game as IR. The strict attention to detail is still prevalent, as is the fluid economy and employment system. The one big thing that GA introduces is more variation. With its predecessor, it was easy to apply the same strategy to every map – maps which were all too similar to one another. The obvious aim of its spiritual sequel is to mix things up a little. This is something that's prominent from first play-through.
Instead of giving the player the same set of starting circumstances each time, you are made to pick a 'family' out of a few that were popular during the era. Each has their own (small) benefits, like how different factions offer various bonuses in a typical RTS. It works reasonably well, but there's never really a feel of drastic difference between families. Picking a favourite probably comes down to how appealing their insignia and colours are, rather than what they offer to gameplay. 'Belonging' to such a peer group does help to relate to the characters within the game. Unfortunately, this trend of falling of short of seriously mixing things up continues throughout the rest of the title.
For example, the game obviously opts for a more militaristic approach, with most of the populace being bred for war. There are barbarian camps on almost every map and you are actively encouraged (whether it be for money or resources) to go out and destroy them. Army units are huge in Grand Ages, but are simply split into archers, infantry and mounted regiments. I'm not suggesting that the game would fair any better if it implemented dragon riders, but using the same three kinds of units over and over gets really boring. The interesting stuff takes a very long time to create, and it is likely you'll lose patience and just wipe out the enemy before you get near the bigger weapons. Siege machines are all but useless anyway, just providing an absurd amount of overkill and smashing up settlements in seconds.
The combat aspect has improved in other ways. The animations are far easier on the eye than those found in Imperium Ronanum, or other city-building game. It's satisfying to see your men march across the map to invade new territory, and it's glorious when they engage the enemy units. Great sound effects also add quality, bringing a really awesome feeling of actually commanding troops on the battlefield as steel clanks against steel and orders are shouted from all directions. Sadly, there is still no huge challenge when it comes down to dealing with natives, but at least Grand Ages makes it pleasurable to watch and participate in skirmishes.
The improvements continue elsewhere, with possible plots to build your city now spread across the entire Roman Empire. This makes for a great collection of starting maps that allow the player to experience the founding of the golden city of Alexandria (despite it being of Greek origin) to establishing a small forward camp in Gaul and everything in between. Each location is complimented wonderfully by great lighting effects that bring out the best in the surrounding terrain. It adds a sort of aesthetic polish that makes the city look that little bit better once you've built some of the more memorable architecture.
At the end of the day, Grand Ages comes down to one thing: Creating and managing a city. This means either building one from scratch, or playing the campaign and having to deal with problems in a pre-designed scenario. Whichever you choose, expect for the experience to be a deep and rich one. There is far more things to do in this title than any of its predecessors or peers in the genre. Everything from organising Colosseum fights to developing a farming commune can be implemented, with each activity being as rewarding as the last. However, sooner or late you will run out of things to do, and the number of small tweaks to spice up each replay may not be enough to keep impatient players coming back.
Freelance review by Freelance Writer (March 16, 2009)
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