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Lifewire / Thomas Hindmarch
A slower, more cerebral experience than a lot of games
Lots of customization and new strategies to adopt
A lightweight game will run on most anything
Doesn’t feel quite finished
The tutorial is absolutely required due to the difficult learning curve
Weirdly dry and boring
One of the most divisive games in the Paradox Interactive strategy line, Imperator: Rome has a handful of die-hard defenders and a legion of vocal critics. A forthcoming major update, backed up by a lengthy development road map and the developers’ track record, may yet beat the game into shape, but for right now, there’s little reason to play Imperator: Rome over most of the other games in its genre.
Imperator: Rome is the latest, and chronologically furthest back, of Paradox Interactive’s “grand strategy” lineup. The Paradox ethos, so to speak, is to make giant sprawling strategy games about founding, creating, and defending an empire in some particularly evocative era of history.
For Imperator: Rome, that’s the 4th century BC, near the start of the Hellenistic Period. Alexander the Great has been dead for over a decade, and without a clear heir, his generals are beginning to feud over his empire. In real-world history, this period would end as the Roman Republic began the upward climb that would end in it becoming the Roman Empire in 27 B.C.
We’re not there yet, however. You can play Imperator: Rome as the titular nation, which is one of the most stable powers in the field, but Macedonia, Egypt, or Maurya (the current state of what will become India) are all contenders. You can take control, push your nation towards new forms of government or outright tyranny if you like, and change the course of history.
Imperator is a PC exclusive that’s only available digitally. It also takes up a surprisingly skinny 3GB of hard drive space, so pick your favorite online store and hit download. It’ll be ready to go before you know it.
304 B.C. is a strange time to be alive. Egypt is falling apart at the seams, the Romans are just beginning their rise to power, and the sudden death of Alexander the Great has resulted in his empire succumbing to what will become a 40-year struggle for succession. The world, from Europe to northern Africa, is threatening to descend into post-dynasty chaos.
For right now, Imperator: Rome is easily the weakest grand strategy game in Paradox’s lineup. It’s not bad, it’s just maddeningly slow.
The time is right for a new ruler to arise and put together a new empire from what’s barely left standing, and that ruler could be you. Pick one of a handful of nations left standing–Rome, Egypt, Macedonia, or Maurya–and extend the borders of your territory by diplomacy, bribery, or main force.
In practice, playing Imperator: Rome means you’ll spend a lot of time watching your resources build up. Imperator: Rome asks you to keep track of a lot of things at once, ranging from normal concerns like trade routes and unit strength to intangibles like religious fervor, oratorical power, and local stability. A well-organized empire will gradually generate a bit of every useful stat every month, but you need a lot to do anything truly useful. You can research military tech, but it takes broad whacks of the relevant stat to do so, and the same stat is used to recruit mercenaries or fuel unit replenishment.
Imperator: Rome asks you to keep track of a lot of things at once, ranging from normal concerns like trade routes and unit strength to intangibles like religious fervor, oratorical power, and local stability.
Even declaring war on a hated enemy is a lengthy process that involves finding or making up a casus belli, then moving units into position for a protracted siege and eventually suing for peace. Playing Imperator: Rome, we were made uncomfortably aware of just how many mechanics and abstractions exist in other strategy games in order to speed up play. You can pause the game at any time to leisurely establish your trade routes, unit captains, city governments, and naval construction, then let time move forward again so you can watch your projects complete and let your resources stack back up.
In general, the central gameplay loop of Imperator: Rome feels like something’s missing, like the game was forced to ship without a couple of extra coats of polish. It’s not exactly a bad game, because it does what it wants to do, but the sheer amount of bureaucratic labor and resource wrangling makes it feel artificially complex and slow-paced. You can comfortably expect Imperator: Rome campaigns to stretch on for days in real time, mostly due to the sheer amount of time where you’re waiting for something to happen.
A lot of Imperator: Rome looks like something you’d have built in the late ‘90s. It’s all still shots, maps, drawn images, and text, arranged densely upon the screen.
Playing Imperator: Rome, we’re made uncomfortably aware of just how many mechanics and abstractions exist in other strategy games in order to speed up play.
While it’s smoother than that description indicates, with an excellently-done scaling effect whenever you zoom in or out of the map, this game isn’t meant to be a real feast for the eyes. It’s a crowded beast of a UI that juggles a lot of factors about as well as can be expected, with a few nice pieces of art, but you won’t use Imperator: Rome to stress-test your new graphics card.
The base game is an affordable $39.99, available on Windows, Mac, or Linux, and available digitally via Steam or the Humble Store. If you’re looking to go all in, you can pay $54.99 for the base game, some PC wallpaper images, a digital artbook, extra musical tracks, and a handful of additional bells and whistles.
Alternatively, it was announced at this year’s E3 that Imperator: Rome will be one of the titles in Microsoft’s Game Pass for PC, so you can pick it up for the cost of a monthly subscription if you sign up when it’s one of the games in that month’s rotation.
Paradox’s current dominance of its particular grand-strategy niche means that most comparable games to Imperator: Rome are also Paradox products.
If the general struggles for territory in Imperator: Rome are what interest you, it’s hard to do better than the Europa Universalis series, currently on its fourth installment, which in turn is on its 48th official paid DLC. Enjoying a Paradox game tends to be a lifestyle choice, as the company supports its releases for years afterward.
If Imperator: Rome’s focus on the cast of characters is more your style, then you should really check out Paradox’s Crusader Kings II, which is similarly well-supported by DLC (its 15th and most recent expansion, Holy Fury, is considered one of its best), and has been enthralling strategy fans for years. As a European king, you set out to use vassals, descendants, and relatives to spread a web of influence across the land, occasionally with hilarious results like traitorous offspring and marriageable bears.
A long, slow ride that hasn’t hit its stride.
Give Imperator: Rome some more time in the oven before you try it, if at all. A lot of Paradox games don’t really hit their stride early in their lifespan, and Imperator: Rome, in particular, has a lot riding on its first couple of major patches. For right now, Imperator: Rome is easily the weakest grand strategy game in Paradox’s lineup. It’s not bad, it’s just maddeningly slow.