Imperium Romanum Review (PC)

Our hands-on preview of Imperium Romanum a little over two weeks ago left us wanting to spend more time with the finished product, and with the full release now only a couple of days away, we finally have the chance to revisit the glory of Rome through the eyes of the final build. Much of what was said in the preview holds true here, with Imperium taking up arms against the preconception of Roman city-building titles, being at once incredibly deep and historically accurate yet also streamlined and extremely user-friendly. If you're at all interested in Roman history, or indeed just want to give the strategy genre a tryout, you can do far worse than to give this some time.

So, covering all the bases then, Imperium is at heart a city-building game, pure and simple. Whilst there are three different single-player modes to get stuck into (more on those later), each one essentially boils down to laying out buildings and resources in your chosen pattern, and attempting to resolve the need for wealth and expansion whilst keeping your citizens happy and safe. It's a balancing act right away though, with even the tiniest decisions bringing about consequences further down the line.

Settlements occasionally need to be conquered
Graphical quality is excellent for a strategy title

As this is Rome that we're dealing with, the building types are all of a fairly primitive nature compared to modern cities. Basic amenities such as food and water need to be taken care of with wells, pig farms and the like, whilst clothing requires buildings such as flax farms and tailor shops. Housing is built at a primitive level initially and eventually upgrades according to the wealth of the inhabitants, which is in turn affected by a number of factors such as the surrounding area and the ability to work. Buildings in disarray due to a lack of maintenance (a constant supply of stone is important here) are at risk of catching fire, and people unable to find work will eventually turn to crime, sometimes starting the fires themselves.

As mentioned in the preview however, as this is Rome we're dealing with, it isn't just a basic way of life that needs to be provided. As your city expands and the population becomes more prosperous, other types of decorative elements take precedence in the build queue. This isn't a game simply about making everything work to a satisfactory level, it's about building an attractive and wealthy city, and basking in the results as your influence expands.

Over time your empire will grow to a considerable size, and fortunately Imperium features a decent enough interface for keeping track of everything. Numerous statistical graphs are available to sift through for problematic areas, and neglected sections of the map soon begin to take on a darker hue as citizens leave or businesses are unable to find a proper workforce. In that manner, it's always fairly obvious which neighbourhoods need attention, and issues can normally be cured with the addition of whatever resource is lacking in that particular area.

Fires can be dealt with in a couple of different ways
Seems familiar...

Of course none of this comes for free, and you'll need a constant supply of Denarii (the game's overall currency) in order to keep building new structures, and to fund expansion. Taxation is a key element here, with wealthy citizens providing more resources for the public coffers, whilst trade routes can also be examined, and goods bought and sold outside of the city. Completing goals such as attracting a particular number of people to your city, or keeping the satisfaction rating above a certain level, also brings about financial rewards from the senate.

There are three play modes available by default, with each one offering up a different approach to the core subject matter. History mode is perhaps the most interesting, starting off at the beginning of the Roman timeline with the foundations of the great city by Romulus and Remus in 509BC, and continues to develop all the way through to 120AD. Branching paths are offered as your city builds, taking in most of the major events throughout Roman history. Playing through this mode is as educating as it is challenging, with points of interest narrated and explained as you build up the might of Rome in an accurate fashion.

'Rome' mode recreates the basic layout of the titular city and terrain, minus some of the important historical buildings. It'll be your job to recreate each of these, building up resources and keeping the population happy along the way. Each task is delegated with the unique 'tablet' system (in use throughout all storyline modes), with players able to take as many as three simultaneous goals at any time, or keep it to a single focus if so desired. Finally, the Scenario mode allows you the option of a starting plot in a number of cities spread throughout Italy and the empire, and allows you to build your own city entirely from scratch. Each map offers up a varying difficulty level in the form of resource availability and frequency of attack from barbarian tribes.

You'll end up proud of your city
The gladiator arena is a central piece in any larger city

And on that note, unfortunately the conflict with barbarians is where the majority of the problems lie with Imperium. Combat simply isn't well-developed, with a paltry selection of formations, and none of the standard control options of even a basic RTS game. You simply build squadrons of soldiers, archers or mounted soldiers, and send them to a specific place on the map. From that point it's literally a case of choosing attack or retreat, and success largely depends on numerical advantages. Whilst combat can be scaled back to a point that it's completely non-essential, it would have been nice to have seen an increased focus in this area. After all, Rome was build on a legacy of war and military might, not just the incredible development of civic services and societal improvements.

Also, it's worth noting here that Imperium is definitely not a game for those that like to get into micro-management detail. Many of the more laborious tasks are simply glossed over, with workers going about their business automatically, citizens assigning themselves to jobs, and in general the only intervention needed in your city will be to build new units and study the balance sheets. This is both a positive and negative aspect depending on how you look at strategy games. On a personal note, I couldn't be more happy that the microscopic detail takes care of itself, as I'd rather be free to concentrate on the overall picture, however, some hardcore players will definitely be in danger of feeling like the game plays on auto-pilot at times.

Overall though it's difficult to fault the blending of elements on offer here. Graphical detail is excellent on high-level systems, whilst the engine is flexible enough to scale down to more modest rigs with ease. The level of historical detail on offer will be enviable to even the more established franchises, and whilst Imperium doesn't do anything to reinvent the genre as a whole, it's certainly a well-refined product that's worth a look to veteran players; or particularly those of you jumping in for the first time. Solid, if unspectacular then.

Favorite Gaming Moment: Basking in the glory of a newly-developed metropolis



By Nicolas19 (SI Core) on Dec 08, 2008
A good, solid enjoyable game, would recommend it to all.
By nobuargaoda (SI Core Veteran) on Dec 08, 2008
I'll look forward for this game....seems promising to me!
By devel (SI Elite) on Dec 08, 2008
I know I am not an avid fan of RTS's, but this title got my attention.
I'm used to see Total War and related games by a friend, and that's all he talks about, but I think I'll try this one because it's not as focused in War and Anihilation of other Cultures as the others. But good review Emmanuel, gave the desire of testing it to be even higher.
By thespartaniii (I just got here) on Jan 01, 2009
horrible game. i got it only yesterday, and am already bored. unlike most games, which offer up a variety of different mission types and the like, imperium gives you the same thing almost every mission. once you play one mission, you've basically played them all.

i am a history buff however, and do like the tablets with the historical info.

the combat is also laughable. with only a few types of soldies that don't march, but mosey to the enemy, and an uninvolving battle system, dissapointing is an understatement for the combat aspect of the game.

if you like games such as sim city, than you might like this. i personally prefer games that are more like half city building and half combat, or just tbs/rts games like total war. imperium is a game that is really just a city building game with a very rare, underwhelmingcombat sequence in a few missions. i wouldn't recommend it to anyone