Rome wasn't built in a day, and neither will Imperator - but the future is promising

By Joe Robinson 03 Dec 2018 0

In 298 BCE, a great confederation of North Germanic peoples invaded the British Isles. They’d been goaded into the act by a series of riots and assassinations instigated by leaders of several British tribes. It was a complete disaster – the Teutones and Vandals invaded the east of the island and were slaughtered on the plains of the Iceni. The Saxons, waylaid by pirates, arrived late and fared little better. For some reason, Parthia had taken a large chunk of the south coast and was generally just rick-rolling around the place.

Don’t forget to check out our master guide to Imperator: Rome, including release date, feature breakdown and more!

Imperator: Rome, like any grand-strategy game, makes for some absurd and entertaining stories when played in a multiplayer setting, but it’s important to look past the fun and evaluate the newest member of the PDS stable on its merits.

Unfortunately, at this stage in Imperator’s development, I could just easily gush about all of the things I’m excited about as I could be overly-critical about the parts that have me concerned or that still need some work. The game’s not even in Beta yet – it’s still early days and that’s probably the most definitive comment you’re going to get from this gameplay impressions piece.

Imperator SG 3

But there’s still a lot to be said, so here’s a slightly eclectic mix of observations from my time spent playing the game in both solo and multiplayer.

Tutorial

As with any new game, it’s often wise to start at the beginning and give the tutorial a try. Not that the benchmark was that high in general, but this is one of the best tutorials Paradox have ever put together. Quite simply, you’re put in charge of Rome and are given a modest objective list that should take a bout a couple of hours to fully complete.

Each objectives come with instructions (some vague, some specific depending on the task) in terms of what you need to do, and then once completed there is some follow up text to further expand or explain the actions you would have just done to complete the objectives.

It’s a very neat, very straight-forward method of teaching the game, but it also doesn’t lock you out or anything. Essentially, you’re playing a standard game (with some buffs unique to the tutorial for some extra help), and you can choose to ignore the task list if you want. You can also do them in any order, although there’s a loose hierarchy of scale and complexity.

Imperator SG 1

I wouldn’t actually mind seeing a miniature version of this system rolled out to the main game in general, kind of like the mission system from EU4 (either the original version, or the new version post Rule Britannia). One thing that can be said for Imperator right now is that it can sometimes be hard to figure out what you want to do, or what the best course of action is. Guidance and inspiration as game-features are I think something EU4 and other games take for granted at times, so it’s imperative similar content is put into Imperator.

Characters

It’s important to try and manage expectations here. I suspect anyone coming to this game as a fan of Crusader Kings 2 runs the danger of being disappointed. Not because the character mechanics are bad, but because they’re nowhere near as deep (at least for now).

Characters will have their own ambitions, they will belong to their own internal-factions and they’ll have an opinion on the faction ruler, but beyond that there’s not a lot too it. They gain things like personal wealth, holdings, popularity, etc… via in-game actions and events. If their loyalty to you drops and other stats rise too high, they may try and strike out on their own.
As the player you’ll spend a lot of time managing other characters more than managing your own ‘embodiment’ in the game, although you can give your avatar key roles (like leading an army) if you wish it.

Imperator SG 2

The importance of characters seem to vary by government type. In Republics, where you have to contend with the Senate (there will be a collective opinion on actions – if you try and force things through the senate you will get tyranny), courting individual characters to try and get them on side is more important. As a Tribe, it felt like characters had a less important role to play – you got plenty of character events but they were all kind of samey and ultimately, I didn’t feel like any of the choices I was making were that important. If a character got upset with me, I usually just bribed them.

Military and Warfare

Our sister website Wargamer.com has a dedicated write-up on warfare in Imperator, but as a quick tl;dr, it’s surprisingly subtle. There are some very interesting choices you can make in terms of army composition, stance and unit order that can significantly impact the outcome of a battle, so they’re worth paying attention to.

Population & Migration

I probably spent the most amount of time playing as the Saxons, who were a type of government that could make use of the ‘migration’ mechanic. It was surprisingly fun, and it offers a very flexible way of managing your population.

Population management in general feels kind of important right now, but there’s a lot that wasn’t really defined or explained very well beyond making sure you have a good mix. Citizens are the only one’s who can research, for example, and Freeman and Tribesman have an impact on available manpower. Slaves are what produce resources for trade and generate tax income, so you’ll want a lot of them.

Migration allows you to move an entire regions population from one place to another. Where there’s a lot of empty space around you, settling down is easy – and then you get a pop boost because you assimilate all of the neutral pops in that region. If you have enough power points, you could migrate the same group several times and hoover up a lot of spare population to get a boost.

It’s also possible to spend civic power to move pops from one province to another, provided they are adjacent. If you’re looking to colonize an empty space instead of migrating, you’ll need at least 10 pops in a region that borders the empty region, so internal movement is a useful tactic.

Imperator wg Head

The above is just a small taste of what I played. While there’s plenty more to talk about, it’d take a lot more time and words than I think would be manageable to fully unpack what was experienced.
I imagine some of you might also be wanting to know how it ‘feels’ to play – that abstract, vague concept that can mean a lot (and so very little) with regards to one’s enjoyment. You’ve probably read this elsewhere, but it feels like an interesting mix of all the past PDS games, at least the historical ones. That’s good, but it also means that it’s not going to satisfy any one game’s crowd 100% to start with. But this mixture is already proving potent, and I daresay Imperator may one-day rise to be the greatest grand-strategy game of the bunch.

It will need time and post-release content to get there, however. It’s easy to forget what EU4 and CK2 were like at launch, and Imperator will not have the benefit of seven years’ worth of content expansions to rely on. As we said above, It’s early days; but even when the game is closer to completion, I think you’ll find that Imperator will be a game with a solid foundation and a lot of breadth, but lacking depth.

With time, all things are possible. The future of Imperator is looking good, but it’s a future that spans far beyond the initial release. It will be what it will be come launch, but from what we’ve seen so far it’s still going to be worth embracing, not just on its future potential, but on its own merits.

Imperator: Rome is due out sometime “early” in 2019.

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