Imperator: Rome Review
Reviewed on PC
The title of Imperator: Rome is nothing if not literal: you are an imperator in Ancient Rome. That’s about as direct as you can get in a title, although it does leave little room for puns.
Imperator: Rome is a grand-strategy game in the same spirit as developer Paradox Interactive’s Europa Universalis series. A play map based on the real atlas is split into individual regions, usually dictated by the countries or kingdoms that would have existed at the time, and gameplay consists of a real-time push-pull between economical and military expansion and development.
As the name suggests, Imperator: Rome takes place early period of the Roman Empire, and so the different factions and tribes in the map range from small tribes like the Iceni to large empires like the Greek, and of course Rome is a major player too.
The setting isn’t the only part of the game influenced by the name - an imperator in Roman times was a military commander, and that shows - aggressive expansion is a lot more viable in Imperator: Rome than in other Paradox titles, thanks in part to reduced penalties for creating, maintaining and using massive armies, and also due to the game having an incredibly balanced map.
Resources, necessary both to creating war machines or well-oiled economies, are spread out a lot more evenly than they have been in certain other Paradox titles, so it’s a lot easier to create the economic systems needed to create and fund large armies. It does also incentivise massive expansion, as you’ll need multiple territories to collect a variety of products instead of a few bountiful ones, once again referring to the imperator name.
If there is one issue with the map, it’s that of territory division - the starting map has a few large empires, and plenty of one-nation tribes and kingdoms, but there’s not much in the way of mid-tier opponents, until later when some empires have been reduced in size or others grown. Mid-tier opponents are vital for a game like this - when you get to a certain stage small nations are easy pickings, and larger ones are too big to touch, but middling empires are small enough to be tempting to attack while big enough to pose a challenge, which creates an interesting gameplay dynamic.
The status quo does reflect the omnipresent drive for historical accuracy Paradox strives for, but historical accuracy should never be an excuse to inhibit gameplay, and there likely would have been ways to work around this issue.
Another minor issue is a slightly more basic character system than in other Paradox games - it feels as though the important names in the family are just that - names, with traits - instead of actual characters with strengths and weaknesses.
The issues don’t detract much from the game, and they only become apparent after long periods of play. What’s obvious after short amounts of game time is how good looking the game is, with its Roman-inspired art style and UI, and just how easy the UI is to use - it feels a lot more intuitive than many of Paradox’s other games, making it much easier to jump in and play without having to spend too long on the tutorial.
That’s lucky, because the tutorial is by far the biggest weak spot of Imperator: Rome - while it shows you how to fulfill some basic tasks, it’s only real lesson is on aggressive expansion, and it doesn’t explore the economy, how population works, what attrition does, and many other vital pieces of the game. You can figure these questions out through playing the game, but likely not before you’ve made a few mistakes and stumbled a bit to try and figure them out.
Overall, however, Imperator: Rome is easily one of Paradox Interactive’s best games, and if you can find an online guide or YouTube video diving deep into the complex systems and mechanics working behind the scenes, it can make for an engaging historical experience.