Release Date: March 17, 2004
If you're anything like me, you bring home the newest RTS title, play it for a while, and then realize that it's pretty much the same game as all the others, with slightly different graphics. Sure, sure, there might be some new interface tweaks, a new plot twist or two in the background story, but basically, it's the same game. Build your defenses, build your army, and kill your opponent. Well, imagine my surprise when I fired up Enlight's latest RTS title, Nemesis of the Roman Empire.
The differences here jump right out at you from the moment you start the tutorial. For starters, there's nothing to build! Every building you can have during the course of the game is already built and is somewhere out on the map. All you need to do is find them and capture them. Second, there are no resources to gather! That's right! No more will you need to send out groups of peasants to cut wood, mine stone, or gather food. The only resources in the game are gold and food, and they are gathered automatically. We'll talk more about that a bit later though, just so I don't get too far ahead of myself.
The next relatively new thing going on here is heroes. Heroes are your friends. They can take control of up to 50 of your units, lending them experience to increase their level and proficiency. You then issue orders to the Hero, and he passes them on to the troops. (Think Heroes of Might and Magic, but real-time instead of turn-based.) Heroes also give you the option to change the group's formation, which is very useful for a protracted open field battle.
Experience is kind of a new thing in the genre as well. Most RTS units, with a few exceptions, gain no experience. They do the same amount of damage and have the same combat odds whether they've just been created or been scarred by constant warfare. In Nemesis, the more experienced a warrior/Hero is, the better his combat odds are. They also receive additional hit points as their level goes up, so as to make them harder to kill. A small group of hardy veterans can mow through a freshly trained army like wheat!
Okay, here's where we talk about resources and logistics. Wait! Before you skip down the next few paragraphs, let me explain. Logistics is probably the single most important issue in this game. If you don't have a basic understanding of logistics, you will spend a lot of time wondering why a small pack of wolves massacred your invincible army.
They say, "An army marches on its belly," and in this game, take it literally. Your troops out in the field can quite literally starve. They lose health slowly, down to 10% of maximum, until they are fed. (Fortunately, they don't starve completely to death, just till they're very, very sleepy...)
Food is produced in villages, and you need to capture villages to produce food for your stronghold. The production is handled automatically, depending on the population level of the village. All you need to do is tell them where to stick it (insert punch line here). The village will then start to ship food to the destination by pack mule. (Reviewer's Note: it is probably not the best idea to send pack mules through the middle of a marching enemy army ... doh!) The village will keep sending food until it is captured by an enemy.
Gold is produced in the stronghold and also in stone outposts (more on this in a bit). Your stronghold contains a population of peasants, these peasants pay taxes, and taxes = gold! The more peasants in your stronghold, the faster your gold increases. These peasants are also the source of your troops, but beyond that, you have no real interaction with them. They will gradually reproduce until the population limit of the stronghold is reached. Gold can also be produced as investment interest in a stone outpost. When you put 2000 units of gold into one, it gains interest at a rate of eight units of gold per two seconds. Gold can only be used where it is stored, so again we bring in the pack mule. The mule will carry the earned interest back to the stronghold to pay for troop training, equipment upgrades and the like.
The stronghold is a walled town that holds several important buildings. The central building is the town hall, which is where your troops gather when they're in town. From the town hall, you can also create those wonderful pack mules to move food or gold to wherever you heart desires. The armory lets you purchase the different weapons and armor that your troops will require, and the arena allows you to hire Heroes and hire special troops.
Sorry, didn't mean to get so in to mechanics, but like I said, it's not the traditional RTS. Enlight seems to have done a very nice job of blending elements of an RPG into the RTS world, and I, for one, was quite impressed with the way they worked it out.
Okay, onto online play. Online play is handled through GameSpy Arcade – 'nuff said. I never had any serious issues, and play was smooth and quite enjoyable. The single player campaigns are well laid out, and the background story is good, almost compelling, if not 100% historically accurate.
Overall, I really enjoyed this game, as evidenced by the 40 hours I spent playing it in the first 5 days I had it. If you're an RTS kind of guy, and you're looking for something slightly different, Nemesis of the Roman Empire just might be the game you've been looking for.
I have a feeling that tonight, Hannibal is going to take Rome, with my help of course! Keep the pack mules running, and maybe I'll see you online someday.