One of the real strengths that Paradox Interactive have is that, while all of their internal games fall into the Grand Strategy genre, they visit very different eras. While CK2 and EU4 are still receiving updates and expansions, they’re now getting long in the tooth and fans of historical settings have been waiting with baited breath to see what Paradox are working on next. Despite all the rumours of Victoria III, that next project is Imperator: Rome.
Starting around 450 ab urbe condita – or 304 BC in our current numbering scheme – Rome was still a relatively small republic, their neighbours within Italy and rival empires around the Mediterranean and into the Middle East were yet to be tamed under the sandals of their seemingly indomitable armies. It’s an intriguing period in time and one that’s been visited on a number of occasions – Total War: Rome II was the most recent example, but Paradox themselves were here in 2008 with Europa Universalis: Rome – and as any Roman empire rises, it’s sure to face Carthage in the Punic Wars and spread in all directions.
What’s really interesting to see is just how much of the map is effectively uninhabitable. Large parts of modern day Germany are simply white on the map, as the forests that cover the land make them difficult to settle in with the technology that the nearby tribes were using at the time. That doesn’t make them impassible though, and for the Vandals and other germanic factions to venture down to, well, vandalise the territories of Rome or North Africa, they simply need to march down through these forests. There’s similarly uninhabitable areas on other parts of the map, and even certain limited routes through which you can travel, such as a small path through the most inhospitable heart of modern day Saudi Arabia.
Naturally playing as Rome is likely to be the first port of call for many people, but Imperator: Rome has 400 playable entities including kingdoms, republics and tribes. Admittedly, those with the most to do and the most history to explore and diverge from will be the Rome and seven of the other largest states, such as Carthage, Greece and empires further to the East. In fact, the map stretches all the way across to India, which highlights some of the intriguing possibilities for the game’s future growth. It’s a huge map, but it’s also gorgeously detailed as you zoom in, with Paradox on the cusp of catching up to Creative Assembly’s gorgeous campaign map designs and graphics.
If there’s one problem that has yet to be overcome, it’s how to translate a nomadic style of living into the game. One point that lead designer Johan Andresson made during the presentation was that he wasn’t happy with the borders for all the small tribes living in mainland Europe, and that perhaps it might be better to really show the actually uninhabited white space between them. Once the Romans or other empires eventually expand, that can surely be coloured in, especially as more of the infrastructure is built up in their wake. You can have a real lasting effect on the countryside, setting your armies to building roads and starting to quite fundamentally change and manage the culture that exists there.
Looking from the Roman perspective, a population point in your city is set as either citizens, freemen (who can become Roman soldiers), tribesman, or slaves. They all have an ethnic background and a religion, but you can dive deep into managing them and how to integrate other factions into your society, whether it’s promoting pops to become citizens, shifting their religion to your own, or moving them around.
You will have to pander to the various internal factions and families in the Roman Republic. While monarchies and tribes can effectively do what they want, the republic has the senate, and you’ll be balancing the needs and demands of the religious, the military, the merchant concerns and so on. Strengthen one and it weakens the others, and this could impact a particular governor or army leader’s loyalty. Nobody wants a civil war, after all.
This is very much about painting the world red, to borrow Johan’s words, and less about the characters that lead your republic – these characters, curiously enough, are modelled in 3D and age as you play, but you’re playing the spirit of your faction and not a particular dynasty as in Crusader Kings 2. That’s maybe a bit of a shame when there are such memorable military leaders from the time like Hannibal and, looking at the start date of the game, the wars of the Diadochi between those former generals, friends and family fighting over Alexander the Great’s empire. Similarly, that desire to create a game of conquering all before you means that you will effectively win as soon as you have a grand empire, perhaps around the formation of the Roman Empire which was historically in 27BC.
While there is very much an empire building game, it’s one that I hope still has the breadth to include the kinds of intrigue, relationships and stories that have defined some of Paradox’s other grand strategy game. Imperator: Rome is still quite a while away though, with a release pencilled in for early 2019 and plenty of elements to refine, polish and consider.
This preview and related coverage came from attending PDXCON last week. Travel and accommodation were provided by Paradox Interactive.