With the 1.3 Livy Update, Imperator: Rome is in its best shape to date

By Timothy Borsilli 09 Jan 2020 0

Last month saw the release of Imperator: Rome’s newest patch ⁠— the 1.3 'Livy' update. Building on the radical improvements from the previous 1.2 update, Paradox Development Studio’s foray into the classical period is finally coming into its own as a grand strategy title. While there is still room for the game to grow, Imperator: Rome is a drastically more fun game now than it was at launch. If you abandoned the game after release to wait for some drastic changes, now is as good a time as any to return to the fray and see what’s changed for the better.

The 1.2 update went a long way towards addressing many of the issues the game had at launch, and did so by boldly overhauling many of the game’s core mechanics. Now, the 1.3 update has built upon this firm foundation and improved a slew of old issues and systems, from minor quality of life changes, to more substantial improvements to the way you interact with key mechanics like families. The headline feature, though, is the introduction of a mission system that, while not yet fully fleshed out, goes a long way at combating the feelings of aimlessness that I’ve felt in previous playthroughs.

Imperator Rome Modular Map Modes

Quality of Life

Before getting into the really big changes, it’s worth looking at the minor improvements and quality of life tweaks. The UI got some love with the addition of a new modular mapmode manager, which allows you to keep a swapable tab with just your frequently-used mapmodes on hand for easy use. There's a new minor events manager box in the corner of the screen that allows the player to more easily compartmentalize the important events that demand your attention from the smaller stuff that can be more readily ignored.

Some underdeveloped parts of the map, namely Ireland, Greece, Anatolia, and the Baltics have been updated. Similarly, some unique National Heritages (starting bonuses specific to particular states) that were left undone in the Cicero Update have been added. These improvements, while small, are important steps to making the world feel more like a diversified tapestry of cultures, rather than a merely Rome-centric experience. Little touches like the new “Line System” that visually show you the flow of goods and people in a province also look great and provide for a much more clear visual grammar.

Imperator Rome Army Food System

There has also been some tinkering to some key aspects of warfare. Most notably, the food system that was added for provinces in the previous update has now been extended to armies. To support this, there is now a recruitable supply cohort that can be created and attached to your armies so they can bring a supply of food with them on campaign, alleviating the restrictive drain of attrition on your manpower pool. To compensate for this, though, mercenaries have been tweaked to be considerably more expensive. (If you’re interested in a complete run-down of the changes on warfare, visit the warfare guide on our sister site Wargamer.com)

Family System Updates

The update has also substantially changed the way the family system operates. Now, instead of juggling a dozen or more noble houses of middling importance, each state has only three or four very important great families to worry about. Characters in these great families will have a unique colored highlight over their name, so you can easily spot at a glance who is part of these families and which one they hail from. There are still minor characters to choose from for your offices, but these characters don’t often present a serious threat to your regime. The great families, on the other hand, will each require a certain number of offices in the government commensurate with their importance. If you refuse to dole out your offices to these families, they will become increasingly disloyal until they eventually revolt.

Imperator Rome Great Families

This new focused system is a considerable improvement over the previous incarnation. Instead of having a sprawling, scrolling list of random families to try and tediously keep track of, you only really need to focus on those great houses. The mechanics make for some interesting feedback loops: the more offices a family holds, the larger their power base. Because of this, giving out offices to members of these houses makes them increasingly more powerful within your realm. Should that loyalty ever waiver though, you will have a significant enemy with a substantial power base to deal with. Similarly, the new system provides powerful incentives to fill your governments posts with the most well-connected, rather than the most well-qualified candidates. During my playthrough I found myself often forgoing skilled nobodies to make sure some spoiled princeling got a spot at the table. Those kinds of political hard choices are a great addition and make navigating the domestics politics much more rewarding.

The system also promotes getting to know your families a bit better. Under the old system, you had so many families of minor importance that it was near impossible to keep track of them all. Now, you will become intimately familiar with the irritating rival house that seems to keep stretching your patience thin. Some other flavor elements, such as the addition of the ability to name your newborn children are welcome additions but feels slightly incongruous with the design of the game. Unlike in Crusader Kings, you’re not playing as a dynasty, you’re playing as a state. Building up and balancing families feels slightly out of place when you could become your former arch-rival after the next election.

Imperator Rome Selecting Jobs

Mission System

The largest change the Livy update has brought about is the new Mission system. Each nation now has dynamic and procedural missions that it can advance through to achieve certain bonuses. Navigating down the branching mission-trees gives the player specific objectives: such as to develop or conquer a particular province, build particular kinds of buildings, or change your state in some fundamental way. (Fun Fact: This system was inspired by Hearts of Iron 4#s Focus Trees-ED)

While many grand strategy games often lean heavily on the player to set their own goals in order to generate interesting scenarios and memorable moments, this mission system adds some much-needed direction and sense of progression to a game that can feel aimless at times.

Imperator Rome Procedural Missions

Missions are a bit basic at the moment, with only Rome & Carthage getting bespoke trees via the free Punic Wars content pack. At least this new system interacts with other mechanics in interesting ways. The mission tree to advance from settled tribe to either kingdom or republic, for example, not only lets you pick the new form your realm will take, but it also forces you to take sides among your great families, forcing you to alienate some of your tribes important power-brokers when making decisions.

Perhaps the most exciting part of the addition of the mission system will be the direction that modders will be able to take the game with this tool. I can foresee a lot of the more fleshed out mods using this system to great effect to add the level of detail, direction, and flavor that the base game is currently lacking in a lot of places.

The State of the Tribes

One of the areas that Imperator was seriously lacking at launch was in the depth of tribal nations. Tribes, broadly speaking, felt unconsidered and underdeveloped. It was clear that the bulk of the development time had gone to Rome first, then the Hellenistic states, and everyone else was left basically as an undifferentiated mass of non-romans in a variety of pallets. We imagine Paradox were keen not to go down the CK2 launch route, where only Christian nations were playable, but the Tribes still felt half-baked. They have some unique mechanics but lacked a real sense of flavor to distinguish themselves. This is to say nothing of migratory tribes, for whom the central game mechanics seem wholly unsuited.

Imperator Rome Tribes Kingdom or Republic

Like the Cicero update before it though, Livy has provided a few minor improvements to flesh out tribal nations. Most notable is a mission tree to “evolve” out of tribalism and into a kingdom or a republic. That this remains the only real path for tribes is something of an oversight and hopefully Paradox with add more tribe-centric missions and mechanics in the future that don't follow a rather imperialistic view of everyone who wasn't 'civilised'. Many tribes will require a lot of heavy lifting, probably in the form of dedicated DLC packs, to get them from merely playable to an experience worth seeking out for its own sake.

Where to Go from Here

While the last two updates have been transformative, Imperator still lacks a lot of flavor elements that make games like Crusader Kings or Stellaris so addictive. I want to be able to rename cities, form tribal federations, shape my government in different ways. I want more culture-specific flavor events and more formable nations. These features won’t drastically alter the game, but they will go a long way towards giving Imperator a personality of its own, outside the shadow of its older siblings.

There is still the looming issue of the late game, or at least the point after which you have become so powerful that you have no more credible rivals. In Imperator, partly because of the weakness of the AI, this point will come pretty much as soon as you become the sole major power in your region. Historically, Rome reached this point pretty much around the end of the Punic Wars, but the external issues of geopolitical threats were replaced with internal issues due to wealth inequality and social ruptures around the shortcomings of the political system.

As of right now, a lot of the right mechanics are in place, but they are not yet effectively implemented. The current family systems seem ripe for this kind of gameplay, especially as more flavor events and missions get added.

Imperator Rome Internal Politics

Other mechanics just needs to be tweaked in this direction. Factions in Republics, for example, are still virtually pointless. Rivalries between tribal chiefs are more dangerous, but still not where they need to be. Once all external enemies have been defeated, these kinds of internal political dynamics should take center stage as the main focus of the game. Winning an empire should only be the beginning; maintaining the empire should be the real challenge.

Conclusion

While Imperator still has a lot of room to grow, the Livy update builds on the excellent improvements of the last patch. Imperator’s foundations are strong and it's clear to see in this update that Imperator will be able to make the leap from good to great and join the top tier of grand strategy titles in the PDS roster, so long as updates like this keep coming. The introduction of a much-needed mission system has helped to remedy some of the feelings of aimlessness that were present at launch and the updates to the way families operate is a much-needed improvement that more concisely and coherently encapsulates the role that noble houses were intended to play.

Even though some lingering big issues are yet unresolved, Imperator is still a grand strategy experience well worth playing, and one with a future that looks brighter with each update.

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