Imperator: Rome's 1.2 Cicero Patch is a Bold step in the Right Direction10 Oct 2019 0
Playing Paradox's newest grand strategy title, Imperator: Rome, at launch was a bit like walking around a Roman ruin turned museum. It was undeniably grand in scope and vision, and was still an excellent way to spend some time, but the world didn’t exactly feel lived-in — a place more of legacy than vitality. Boasting plenty of features inherited from Paradox Development Studio’s other hits, the game was a nice synergy of everything the studio has learned since the release of Victoria II, but it also had a strange, empty quality.
After a few dozen hours, Imperator felt like a good, potentially great, strategy title that was lacking some fundamental things: culture-specific events, fleshed our features and mechanics, a lack of competent enemies, and generally a lack of decisions and flavor to add any kind of goal-setting for the player. That is, until now.
Patch 1.2, dubbed the “Cicero” update went live on September 24th. If you’re someone who hadn't dipped their toes into the patch’s beta, the scale of the changes will come as a bit of a surprise. Cicero is a dramatic overhaul of the base game, changing some of the most foundational elements that Imperator was built on, as well as a litany of smaller, but much needed, additions that have helped to flesh out some areas that were overlooked at launch. While there’s still areas for improvement, Cicero is a great leap forward, and one that shows that the ship is (thankfully) headed in the right direction.
Mana Must be Destroyed
The most dramatic change to come to Imperator in Cicero is the abandonment of the Monarch Power system that was previously at the core of just about every mechanic. At launch, the central way by which you would interact with essentially every aspect of the game was through spending either Military, Religious, Oratory, or Civic power — derisively dubbed Helmet, Sun, Scroll, and Laurel mana by the community. The system was a hereditary mechanic passed on from the Europa Universalis series, but was a serious point of contention with some players who chafed at the system’s ahistorical abstraction of many of the era’s most fundamental features.
The only remaining remnants of the original mana-like system are the new Political Influence points and a revamped Military Experience system. Political Influence, which attempts to abstractly model a kind of back-room-dealing political capital in your would-be empire, can be used to add province modifiers and boost the building capacity of cities. It’s generated by the loyalty of your cabinet, adding an extra incentive to stack your offices with cronies, rather than disloyal, but high-stat rivals.
Military Experience, the other remaining currency, is what is now used in lieu of Military Power to acquire Military Traditions, the doctrinal backbone that largely determines your army composition. It ticks up passively based on your leaders military skill, but also gets a significant boost from your cohort’s experience in combat, adding a logical incentive to increase your military experience by actually engaging in combat. The new system also promotes the use of your own cohorts, as relying on mercenaries now provides a malus towards military experience — adding a bit more value to your own soldier’s blood, sweat, and toil.
Other than those two systems, however, the only other currency you can spend to shift and shape your empire is, well, money. All of the other systems that used to rely on Monarch Points now either cost gold or occur organically from your policy decisions. Population migration, conversion, and promotion, for example, which used to (quite ahistorically) be changeable for a slight price in Religious or Oratory points, now happen slowly over time. Different governor policies, buildings, and toggles can promote a shift in migration or conversion, but the changes will happen slowly, rather than instantly.
No longer can you convert an entire province to a radically different ethnic or religious group after banking enough points for a few years, changing a province full of scruffy germanic tribesman into happy hellanistic latins at the stroke of your imperial pen. Now, the system operates less like Europa Universalis IV and more like Victoria II where policy decisions, rather than some abstracted currency, have knock-on effects that can produce your desired outcome. For a game that was previously so fundamentally centered around the Monarch Points system, the Cicero update represents a radical break from the past, and a bold statement by the development team that they are willing to go back to the drawing board to meet the expectations of their community. The system’s not perfect, but it’s an excellent leap forward in the right direction.
Cities and Settlements
The other notable dramatic overhaul the update has brought on is a complete revamp of the city system. Previously, the map would be divided into regions composed of provinces, and provinces composed of cities, with each discrete tile representing an individual city in an area. This system was a useful, albeit ahistorical, abstraction that would allow you to build copies of Imperator's four key buildings in each city, depending on the population. But the limitations inherent in the lack of building variety and the resulting simplification of each individual tile as a “city,” even in areas with extremely light population density resulted in a system that worked, but wasn't very fun to engage with, and didn’t feel particularly right for the era.
The new, overhauled system Cicero has ushered in has solved many of these issues. Now, instead of four buildings, there are fifteen possible options with a much wider array of abilities and effects. The added variety makes for a much more thoughtful decision making process, and gives you the option to specialize certain provinces to be a breadbasket (for the newly added food mechanic) or a manpower pool, while also giving the player added options for promoting migration, happiness, or cultural and religious conversion, among a litany of other choices.
In order to do this, however, the old all-tiles-are-cities system has been dropped and replaced with a new classification system. Tiles can now be either a settlement, a city, or a metropolis, each having unique features. Settlements, the new basic unit, can only have 1 building, as they are less densely populated, and the building options are limited. Most of the tiles in a province will be settlements, but for a bit of gold, you can transform a settlement tile into a city, greatly increasing the tile’s potential population and building capacity, while also unlocking all of the city specific buildings. When one of your cities reaches eighty population, it can be further transformed into a metropolis, a kind of megacity with a much higher population capacity and some additional bonuses.
With the addition of these new city and settlement options, tailoring your provinces to serve a specific function is now a much more realistic prospect, allowing the player to engage in some long-term planning that was missing in the game at launch. It also opens up the possibility to 'play tall' as one might do in other Paradox titles — instead of expanding as rapidly as possible across the map, crafting a smaller, highly developed empire that can punch way above its weight class. In a genre so defined by player-directed goals, this is a very welcome addition that starts to open up an entirely new avenue of play.
While there has been plenty of other minor improvements, like the fan-demanded introduction of co-consuls for Rome and other Republics, as well as a new war council feature and some other changes to tribal mechanics that have made them far more playable, the last major introduction has been the new, and much needed, food system. Now you will need to exploit the food resources in your provinces or use trade routes to bring in food from abroad. The feature adds a logistical dimension that was lacking at launch, and now also provides a new way for roving armies to avoid the previously punishing attrition, at least for a little while.
This feature will hopefully become part of a future trade/logistics overhaul in the next update - 1.3 Livy - but it's good to have even a token bit of realism to a critical concern of the ancient period that was previously just hand-waved away.
The Future of the Empire
Cicero has brought Imperator a long way since launch. It’s an extraordinarily impressive leap forward for a game that is not yet even a year old. In its current incarnation, the game is reminiscent of Paradox’s far-future grand strategy title Stellaris in its early incarnations: a fun, well-crafted game that will undeniably come into its own after some TLC to flesh out the parts that still feel a bit empty.
One of the key issues that still remains in the game is the lack of notable peer enemies— competent rivals to compete with the player in the late game. (Although famously Rome never officially recognised anyone as a 'peer'-ED) Once the player can get over the strategic tipping point, by either eliminating all possible rivals or militarily outpacing them, the eventual outcome of total regional supremacy becomes something of a fait accompli, preventable only by some self-sabotage or some excessively quick and reckless expansion.
This is a problem that plagues many a grand strategy game, including many of Paradox’s other mainline titles, but seems to be excessively damming in the ancient world. The most fun I had with Imperator pre-Cicero was playing as Syracuse, manoeuvring between the two Mediterranean colossi, walking a tight-rope of risk and reward as you navigate one of the most undesirable positions in the Mediterranean. Ultimately, I never saw that run through to conclusion. Not because it was too difficult, but because as soon as I had strangled the nascent Roman Empire in its crib and the Punic menace collapsed into warring vassal states, there was little left to do besides stretch out endlessly across the Mediterranean, with no one left to stop me.
1.2 Cicero has taken some steps towards rectifying this particular issue with the introduction of the Antagonist system. Operating in a similar way to EUIV’s Lucky Nation system, it is designed to give some historically successful states a slight stat boost to prevent them from getting pummelled into obscurity after a single war goes south. While this may irk some people who enjoy seeing a new tapestry of colors on the map every game, it's a necessary evil. Watching someone else rise in the Italian peninsular was amusing pre-1.2, but they were almost never a credible challenge the player.
Ultimately, Imperator will need some mechanism to replicate the social decay that unrestrained expansion brought to Rome, as the mid-to-late game still lacks some truly engaging depth. This is a problem that Paradox has resolved before, and I’m confident they will solve again.
The overhauls Cicero ushers in are a great sign of what's to come. The scope and scale of the update shows that the dev team is actively looking at the community feedback, and is willing to take bold steps to address the issues Imperator will face as it reinvents itself and grows with future patchs & DLC. A new content update due out in Q4 of 2019, and the future is looking bright.
Editor's Note: To reinforce the point, at the time of writing Imperator's Steam rating for the last 30 days is now at 70%, and the global rating has now risen to 40%.