I came, I saw, I made a great big mess
Tom Hatfield plays Paradox’s newest grand strategy, and nearly starts a civil war in the process.
When I sat down in front of Paradox’s new grand strategy game I had one big question: what is Imperator: Rome exactly? Is it Crusader Kings in togas? Is it a Roman Europa Universalis? Is it, as the fans will no doubt ask, Vicky 3? The answer is none and all of these things.
“You have the population mechanics that are similar to games like Stellaris or Victoria, the warfare and diplomacy which is similar to EuropaUniversalis and the characters that are closer to Crusader Kings,” explains Johan Andersson, the creative director on Imperator and a Paradox veteran of over 20 years. He knows what he’s talking about, because he’s worked on every single one of those games. In fact when I ask him which Paradox games he’s worked on, the list goes on for several minutes. “I didn’t do super much on Stellaris, but everything else,” Andersson says. Imperator is the culmination of all this experience.
The first thing I notice upon sitting down is that the UI is dominated by a deeply Hellenic white marble and a generally bright and vibrant colour palette. “It’s a very hopeful aesthetic” explains lead artist Joacim Carlberg. “Which contrasts to our previous games, at least CrusaderKings, which does take place in the Dark Ages after all.” There’s also a terrific zoom option that automatically fades out from a detailed terrain map to a flat political one as you zoom out.
Things are generally more accessible than previous Paradox games as well, with fewer options buried multiple menus deep. One of the nicest touches is the diplomacy screen where, instead of picking countries from a list, you simply open the diplomacy tab and then click on the country on the main map. It’s still not easy to understand, the sheer amount of information the game is throwing out makes that difficult, but it is better.
The second thing that strikes me is the Senate. Yes, we’re in the era of Republican Rome, not Imperial Rome – in fact the game starts in the early days of the Republic and ends before the historic transition to Empire. “The Republican era is actually also when Rome is in its primary expansion phase,” explains Henrik Lohmander, game designer. “When it comes to encompass the whole Mediterranean and the Republic deals with the growing pains that come from that, and that’s how they eventually end up being the Empire. Better to end there perhaps than do the Empire badly.” Players will still be able to transition to Empire early, if they so wish.
But I’m getting ahead of myself. Right now Rome is a republic, and that means the Senate votes on everything I do. The pool of senators is drawn from several factions, including military, merchants and religious types, all of which have different likes and dislikes (the merchants for example, don’t want to go to war with anyone you are trading with). The numbers of senators from each faction change as they gain popularity, and if a faction is happy they provide a stat bonus to the Republic.
In addition to this more abstract system there are also named characters, each belongs to a faction, and they do jobs like governors, advisors and generals. They also have traits and personalities (Brutus is crafty, of course) and some lovely memorable portraits. Here is where things start going wrong for me, because I pick the best general I can find and stick him in charge of my only army. His name is Marius Quintus, and he’s a populist.
Si vis pacem, para bellum
Like any good Roman, I immediately declare war on my nearest neighbour, the Samnites. War is simpler in ancient times. There isn’t really such a thing as a ‘De Jure
Things are generally more accessible than previous Paradox games
“That one, that country over there. I want it.”