Imperator: Rome has a world ripe for conquest

Imperator

When Paradox unveiled the map for its latest grand strategy romp, Imperator: Rome, I don’t mind admitting that I made an involuntary noise that normally only comes out of me when I’m biting into something delicious and unhealthy. It is excellent map porn. Zoomed out, it’s clean and no-nonsense, but when you narrow your focus, it explodes with colour and detail, particularly on the coast, where golden beaches hit seas gorgeous enough that you’ll want to lap them up. Europa Universalis looks drab in comparison.

It makes an excellent first impression, but it doesn’t have many opportunities to make a second one. While Imperator is due out in 2019, the build I got to see is still so early on that, were I to get a glimpse of any other corner of the map, I’d only see barren wastelands waiting for the touch of an artist.

Imperator1

There are a lot of literal wastelands, too — places not exactly ripe for human occupation, and vast swathes of terra incognita that may, eventually, be settled. It’s a world waiting to be filled in or, as creative director Johan Andersson puts it, “painted in your colours”. Covering the Republic era up to the foundation of the Roman Empire, Imperator’s version of the ancient world — with its 7,000 cities and over 400 playable nations — is one ripe for conquest.

Though it has shed the name, Imperator is still a sequel to Europa Universalis: Rome, where nations are the focus, rather than dynasties. Instead of playing individuals across a bloodline, as you would in Crusader Kings, you’ll be taking command of city states, kingdoms and empires. In the south and east are superpowers and the legacies of Alexander, in the north there are countless squabbling tribes and then right in the middle of it all is the ambitious but initially weak Roman Republic.

“Countries not characters is my design philosophy,” says Andersson. “Henrik [Fåhraeus, Crusader Kings 2 game director] is more into characters.” That’s not to say that everything is abstracted or absent that human touch, however. These countries are still full of senators, generals, clan chiefs and various factions with special interests. While your end goal might be taking over as much of the world as you can, there’s still a lot of people management to do, whether that’s picking the best candidate for a governor position or dealing with your population of citizens and ethnic minorities.

Imperator2

You can pander to them individually, giving them good jobs and treating them well, or by faction, supporting the military or religious groups. If you’re not a fan of pandering to your people, however, Andersson assures me that you’ll still be free to be a nasty piece of work, in part measured by your tyranny meter.

“It shows how much you’ve been crucifying people, sacrificing infants, and imprisoning people on false charges and other such fun things,” explains Andersson. “Basically how much of an arsehole you are. For some reason it always goes high when I play.”

Andersson fires up the the population screen for Rome, showing off the different kinds of pops. There are four kinds in Imperator: citizens, freedmen, tribesmen and slaves. Each pop type produces something different. Citizens produce commerce and research, for instance, while freedmen provide the manpower you’ll need for your armies. But individual pops also come with their own cultures, religions and personal happiness level. One of the pops in Rome is unhappier than the rest because they’re not Roman citizens, but thankfully Rome is also drowning in wine, keeping everyone too drunk to be really unhappy.

Wine is one of many trade goods that can potentially make you rich, but just as importantly can be used to influence your pops or enhance your country. So while wine keeps people in good spirits, papyrus increases research speed and elephants allow you to field intimidating war elephants in battle. Different provinces will have different trade goods, but you can increase their production by putting more people to work, or you can start importing what you need. When you’ve got a surplus, that’s when you can start setting up trade routes, fattening up your purse.

Of course, if you’ve got your eye on some lovely trade goods from a foreign land, you could always take the more direct approach, raising an army and conquering the province in question. Imperator has increased the variety of units from three to nine, and each comes with their own tactics and wrinkles. The military traditions of the country in question also have an impact. The Roman war machine can build extra roads, for instance, letting them expand more efficiently if they’re willing to swallow the cost.

As is typical of Paradox titles, Imperator embraces imbalance. Everyone starts off in their own unique position, and the playing field is anything but level. That doesn’t mean you shouldn’t have ridiculous ambitions, though. If you want to create an Iceni empire that spans all of Europe, then you can absolutely try that.

Imperator3

“A lot of the starts are extremely hard,” says Andersson, “but because people conquered the world as Cree in Europa Universalis 4, I wouldn’t be surprised to see them do the same with the Iceni.” It won’t be for everyone, though. “I don’t think I’m a bad EU4 player, but even I can’t do some of the things they can.”

While Imperator eschews parity between nations, there are still some things that smaller powers can do to get a leg up on their larger neighbours. Defensive leagues in particular sound like they’ll be imperative for city states and tribes dealing with foreign aggression, allowing them to band together in a massive alliance. It’s an ability exclusive to them, giving them the opportunity to stand up to powerful adversaries, even if that means siding with other foes.

“If you attack someone in a defensive league, you automatically go to war with everyone,” Andersson explains. “The idea is that you’re allowed to fight internally as much as you want, but when someone from the outside comes in, you close ranks and fight together.

Imperator4

Imperator is another chance for Paradox to get things right. With Europa Universalis: Rome, Andersson was full of ideas, but many of them got cut after the development cycle was greatly reduced.

“With the original EU: Rome, in the middle of it, half of Paradox Development Studio basically left the company, for various reasons,” Andersson recalls. At one point, the team was just four people. “We were like, now it’s one year left on an 18 month cycle, let’s make a great, unique game. The then current CEO said no and told us to cut six months off the development cycle. So we never really managed to do our great big Rome game.”

Imperator5

Imperator isn’t necessarily the game Andersson wanted to make back then, however. “I like to think I’ve learned a few things since then that will make it a bit better.” Certainly, if you compare the first Rome to Europa Universalis 4, you can see how Paradox’s development style has evolved and improved. Yet… I do wonder if some bad habits are returning.

It seems too early to be showing the game off, and it’s hard to get a clear idea of what Imperator is — yeah, it’s a grand strategy game, but I’m yet to see the glue or hook that holds it all together. The little I have seen is still promising, mind, and the changes to the military side of things should definitely pique the interest of warmongers.

Imperator: Rome is due out in 2019.

41 Comments

  1. Zealuu says:

    I don’t understand this bit:


    It seems too early to be showing the game off, and it’s hard to get a clear idea of what Imperator is — yeah, it’s a grand strategy game, but I’m yet to see the glue or hook that holds it all together.

    What’s missing?

    Looking at the screenshots and reading the feature bullet points (which reads like they’ve hand-picked the best parts of their current main series iterations and put sandals on it), I absolutely can’t wait to get my hands on this.

  2. Auldman says:

    Honestly the only Paradox title I did not bounce off of hard for just being too time consuming to learn was CKII. I love this period of history so I might give it a shot but I worry the learning curve will be too steep for a guy that only gets a few hours of gaming in a week.

    • shauneyboy68 says:

      I’m kinda in the same boat as you, but once CK2 clicked, the other recent titles (Stellaris, EU4, HOI4) have all been pretty easy.

      • TimePointFive says:

        I wouldn’t say easy as much as pointless.
        TBH Crusader Kings 2 seems like such a flash in the pan when it comes to brilliant game design. I’m sorry Paradox, but if I wanted systemic and interesting war games, I go to Matrix and Slytherine. If I want an incredibly compelling, deeply strategic and mappy single player RPG, it’s Crusader Kings 2 for days.

        • battles_atlas says:

          Whereas for me CK2 was the one Paradox game I didn’t get into. If you’re reading the other games as war games then there is your mistake. EU and HoI are more like society simulators, where industrial production and policy making is at least as important as battlefield actions. CK on the other hand struck me as far to individualistic to be interesting.

    • battles_atlas says:

      If you’re a new arrival you just need to pick one of the big nations to learn as you play. As US in Hearts of Iron you basically can’t lose, great way of getting to grips with things.

  3. Faldrath says:

    But can you play as a small village in Armorica?

  4. morganjah says:

    “It shows how much you’ve been crucifying people, sacrificing infants, and imprisoning people on false charges and other such fun things,” explains Andersson. “Basically how much of an arsehole you are. For some reason it always goes high when I play.”

    It’s only funny because no one who knows Johann would be surprised by this.

  5. morganjah says:

    So, a playable Rome game in 2024!

  6. klops says:

    It sure is pretty. How many play any Paradox games with the map mode on?

  7. Shadow says:

    Sounds good, but it’s a bit of a shame they keep shying away from CK2’s character-based model.

    You’d think individual figures were just as important in Roman times as in the Middle Ages, if not more so, and there was plenty of plotting to be had.

    • TheAngriestHobo says:

      Yeah, that whole “countries over characters is my design philosophy” bit seemed odd to me. Strategy games have been focusing on countries since the original Civ came out in 1991… considering that Paradox’s most successful game is the one that eschews this approach, it’s bizarre that they’re so reluctant to revisit the CK2 model.

      • Throwback says:

        You don’t kill the goose that lays golden eggs.

      • Xerophyte says:

        I’m not sure it’s the most successful. I don’t know about total sales and income since that’s not publicly available, but EU4 averages about twice as many players as CK2 on Steam.

        CK2 is certainly the more interesting design but as a person who enjoys both it and EU4 I’m personally happy to wait a while and see how this particular game shakes out. I can certainly see why the spirit-of-the-nation thing would be disappointing if you really want personal narratives. I do like that it seems like Imperator has some of Vicky’s pop mechanics since those were also cool.

        • TheAngriestHobo says:

          Fair. Maybe “successful” wasn’t the most accurate word to use; I was basing that off of anecdotal evidence rather than metrics.

          I still think that CK2 is the game with more immediate appeal and better staying power, though. As a point of comparison, I have 91 hours in EU4 and 1060 in CK2. Not sure how that measures up against other people’s ratios, but I wouldn’t be at all surprised if it were not unusual.

          • Landiss says:

            I’m quite sure it is the other way around on average, although numbers for EU must be in 4-digits for a lot of people. I wasn’t the fan of the 4 and didn’t buy any DLC for it, and yet I played it for a bit more than CK2, for which I got 7 DLCs.

            I would still prefer a lot of the design of EU2 though, especially the map aesthetic and the approach to historical events.

          • battles_atlas says:

            I’ve outplayed HoI and EU over CK2 by a factor of about 20. I think the difference in your perception might be that, at least amongst RPSers, the CK fans are louder, as they have much more to be aggrieved about, given how they’ve been relatively under-served. Results in a partisanship that seems less necessary amongst those of us who enjoy structure over agency.

      • modzero says:

        Yeah, pretty sure Stellaris had most sales, and it seems CK2 is performing the worst of the current iteration in terms of concurrent players on Steam charts. Which is frankly quite disappointing to me.

    • dsch says:

      No, because politics in the Middle Ages was based directly on feudal relations between lieges and vassals (which is why the focus on characters is perfect for CK2), while for the Romans, there were more important civic institutions and much stronger ideas of the state and the public realm.

      • Captain Narol says:

        This game is not just about Rome but about the whole era (400 playable factions) !

        In that time, things were mainly revolving about powerful families/clans and the concept of nations was still very embryonic, even in Rome.

        Seriously, I think a Character-centric approach would have been much more suited but I’m still very hyped for this game and I trust Paradox to mix the best parts of EU and CKII to make it great !

        • Zorgulon says:

          Yeah, I want to chime in to agree with this. Imagining the Roman Republic/Empire as being better represented by monolithic states instead of individuals or families is a bit odd.

          When I first heard about this I was hoping it would follow CK2’s model a bit more. I mean it still has a lot of potential, I’m just a little disappointed.

          • dsch says:

            Except the game is not about “mononlithic states,” since there are still going to be important roles for characters, it’s just that they won’t be the core of the model as in CK. I don’t see what’s so hard to understand about the fact that, yes, there were political dynasties produced in certain families, but that is in no way inconsistent with the existence of a strong civic identity and public institutions that have to be modeled on a state level rather than as personal relations between individuals. The name of the Roman res publica literally means “public affairs,” SPQR designates the two classes of the state, and if you ever read Roman political theory, the fundamental concept is always the state and not the family. The Roman civil wars were about conflict between the classes, and not about your second cousin claiming your title.

            Does this hold for other peoples of the period? It certainly does for the Greek city states, and to some extent for the Hellenistic kingdoms. It works less well for the tribal peoples, but it also would be a gross misrepresentation to use the CK model, and frankly we don’t know in enough detail the politics and religion of the tribal peoples to be able to model interpersonal relations in a satisfying way, unlike for the period depicted in CK.

          • morganjah says:

            I don’t agree with that at all. The story of the Roman Republic was about aristocratic families fighting among themselves and sometimes using the plebes as weapons against each other.

          • dsch says:

            It’s nice that you believe that, I guess.

  8. dsch says:

    Citizens produce commerce and research, for instance, while freedmen provide the manpower you’ll need for your armies.

    This is a bit odd because the core of Roman armies (and Greek ones, for that matter) was made up of citizen soldiers.

    • Hedgeclipper says:

      Yes, that line was a real dash of cold water on my anticipation for this game.

    • Landiss says:

      Yeah, it does seem like a big simplification. But I guess they have to have mechanics that work for all countries in the game, not just something special for Rome. Also, in late Rome I guess it would be more correct, as bigger and bigger parts of the army were formed from former barbaric tribes and not Roman citizens. I’m not sure how many freedmen there were in relation to other groups and what was their role in military though.

    • Conrad B Hart says:

      It’s probably a game mechanics thing (the game has to be fun, after all) but it really would be cool to get to decide the army composition. One of the reasons the republic fell was the Marian reforms and it’d be interesting to see how far you could go as an empire with just a citizen army boosted by foreign auxiliaries.

  9. Koldunas says:

    “Covering the Republic era up to the foundation of the Roman Empire” wait, so a game called “Imperator: Rome” will not have Roman Emperors? Yes, I know it used to mean something different in Roman Republic, but it still seems a bit misleading? I assumed I would be able to roleplay myself some Nero, Hadrian or Caligula.

  10. JohnOak says:

    I’m still excited to try this but it’s a bummer that the focus is more on countries and not on the characters. Given that the history of this particular time period is often told from the perspective of the so called “great men”, it’s sad that we don’t get to play as Julius Caesar and form our own dynasty or as Pompey and change history by winning the civil war. I was hoping for a mix of EU and CK but oh well…

    • morganjah says:

      I agree completely. Just as the story of Crusader Kings is about the dynasties, and EU about the nation-states, the Roman Republic is all about the struggle between the aristocratic families.
      I thought that failing to recognize that was the biggest failure of their earlier attempt.

    • jakobsbror says:

      I very much agree. Rome was about the struggle of aristocratic families against one another. CKII was so much fun, I was hoping they would make a game about Romans where you could continue your game into CKII. I guess that’s too much asking!

Comment on this story

HTML: Allowed code: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <s> <strike> <strong>