Set in 153 BC, Numantia is a Turn Based Strategy game that explores the rich heritage of RecoTechnology’s home country of Spain, following the events of the Roman Republic’s invasion of the Iberian Peninsula. This era of history clearly fascinates the developer, and the level of research seen throughout is simply stunning, but does all of that history get in the way of Numantia being a compelling video game?
The game is divided into two campaigns, played from either the Roman or Iberian perspective, each consisting of 10 episodes. These episodes see the player taking on their rival in turn based battle action, as well as resource managing, acquiring new units and dealing with any political situations that may arise.
On first impression this is not a pretty game. Indeed, on second and third impression, it’s not very pretty either. The battles are presented on dull, dark and dingy fields of action with blocky texture that lead to a graphical mire in which nothing, not the scenery nor the armies themselves, really stands out. The conflict between the units and heroes doesn’t fare much better either, as the battle animations are so basic as to be nearly pointless. Thankfully these graphical issues don’t affect the core gameplay. As the general, you’ll spend most of your time looking at the symbols that represent your units and analysing the accompanying bars that display their size and morale, whilst devising your strategy. Thankfully, there’s a whole lot of strategy to be devised.
Every unit can move, perform a special ability and attack each turn. The key is the sequence they can perform their actions in. As a rule of thumb, light and fast but defensively weak units such as horses and slingers get to go first. That leaves the slow, heavy and tough units, varying from heavy infantry to elephants, to take up the rear. It’s traditional TBS fare, but delivered with confidence and consistency. The rules are clearly defined, allowing for a great deal of strategic experimentation within the stated parameters.
It’s the huge variety of units that really brings the strategy to life however, you’ll soon be utilising phalanx formations to lure in your enemy, javelin throwers and slingmen to harass them from afar and cavalry to flank and attack from behind in order to gain a vital attack boost. Heroes, who are phenomenally powerful, must be carefully utilised and eliminated, as just one hero left unchecked can change the course of a battle totally. It was genuinely thrilling when my Numantian hero, who I’d left in reserve for so long, leapt into the fray at just the right time to bring down a herd of war elephants before they could trample my noble cavalry. It’s the type of open ended story telling that leads to epic retellings, as your recount your escapades like a madman to anyone who’ll listen.
Unfortunately a special mention must go to the controls for all the wrong reasons. Selecting units is slow and awkward, while getting my warriors to face in the right direction, despite being a simple request, would always take me a few attempts due to the direction arrow being barely visible against the battlefield. Meanwhile, the unit recruitment and equipment menus are amongst the worst I’ve encountered and this makes it unnecessarily difficult to allocate equipment or even to quickly discover which hero you gave a leather breastplate too. Its fiddly to the point of frustration and only serves to undermine the sterling battle strategy found elsewhere.
Resource management is basic but serves to add additional strategy as the player has a finite amount of resources available in each episode. Having to choose which units to purchase and which to discard is the extent of the management required of you. There’s also some politics to take care of, which consist of certain situations between characters in your faction that require you to select from multiple courses of action. Often there’s little rhyme or reason to the option that ultimately works best. You click on the choice you think is right and are either rewarded with additional resources or punished with their removal. Its a harmless enough diversion but adds little to the overall experience.
This is a tough game that throws you into the thick of it with little or no hand holding. There is a tutorial, but it explains so little of the key to a good strategy that it would be best to ignore it. Indeed the tutorial seems to avoid detailing most of the depth, complexity and options to be found in the game. Instead it’s the player who is tasked with discovering new strategies, how best to combine the strengths and weaknesses of their units and which special abilities to use and when. You’ll learn by failing and everyone in your army dying, but when it all finally clicks in your brain and a near flawless attack strategy is carried out, the resulting experience is utterly sublime.
A special mention must go to the historical research that has gone into this game, which is extensive. Heading to the extras sections is a delight and you’ll find historical details on every unit, settlement and character in the game. It’s a treasure trove of information and speaks highly of RECOtechnology’s attempts to meld an educational experience to the fun of a videogame. The plight of the city of Numantia and its struggle against the might of Rome is not something that I was aware of until playing this game. I’m glad that it is now.
If you can look past the steep difficulty curves, unimpressive visuals and unwieldy controls, then you will find a deep and compelling historical strategy experience that will keep you engaged for many weeks.
Version Tested: PlayStation 4