Nemesis of the Roman Empire
Release Date: March 17, 2004
You've seen Gladiator right? No? Are you Communist? Oh, okay. Anyhow, remember that battle where Maximus and his gladiator buddies have to face a bunch of spear chuckin' chics riding in chariots? Well, that's supposed to be a re-enactment of the Battle of Cannae fought on the Plains of Sarma. You probably didn't get to that part in high school history class, huh? Figures. Anyhow, Haemimont Games is going to let you re-enact that battle all over again, except from a little more of a hands-on approach in their upcoming game Nemesis of the Roman Empire. You might remember Haemimont Games for such games such as Celtic Kings: Rage of War or…Alice's Trip Through the Windshield Glass (Simpsons reference?). Nemesis spicks up where Kings left off. The Roman Republic is fledging still even after having taming the fearsome Gauls into the annoying French. All of that seems precursor now to the mighty southern threat of Hannibal Barca and the barbarian horde of the mighty Carthage.
If you are not familiar with the Celtic Kings franchise then there is some explanation in order. Yes, the CK series is a Real Time Strategy game. Yes it is played from a ¾ isometric perspective. Yes it is 2D sprite based game. No, it is not an exercise in a micro management click fest. Nemesis is planned to progress the CK series in a new direction by introducing the Carthaginians and Iberians. What makes this game so promising from the outset is that the player is allowed the chance to forge his or her way through the Punic Wars from a Roman or Carthaginian perspective. The battles take you through a historical path. Along the way you'll fight through Sicily, Hispania, The Alps and Tuscany. The game traces the actual campaign routes of Hannibal and also gives a little incite into the inner workings of the Roman Senate.
Thus far, Nemesis looks great. The artwork for the game is lush and detailed. The characters are distinct and animated with a degree of deepness not seen in most cartoons. The scenery is drawn with a distinct edginess and grit you would come to expect from living in the hardy outskirts of the Roman Empire. The forest and its surrounding elements are not merely window dressing; you can also maneuver your armies through the woods so as to flank your opposition. You will quickly find that marching your Legion down the middle of the road will quickly land you into ambush after ambush. From that standpoint, Nemesis looks to be a game of both form and function which belies a certain depth to its gameplay not widely exhibited by RTS games. The simply tactic of building armies and chucking them into battle is a foolhardy one. The late stage beta release I demoed proved that to me clearly enough.
From the gameplay side of things, Nemesis differs from what you would expect from an RTS game. There is certainly resource management, but Haemimont chose to handle this aspect of the game in a much more realistic manner. Instead of having peasants build towns in seemingly arbitrary spots and augment them with new buildings as the need arises, each town and outpost is already built and cannot be added to. Each town has its town hall, barracks, tavern and arena. These buildings serve your basic needs and allow you to hire heroes and equip peasants and turn them into soldiers. As the game design document specifies, there is no population cap. All you need to do is keep your people fed and they will stick around to pay you taxes. You can even invest gold into some abstract project that will mature and return a 25% profit over your original investment which is not only a novel but realistic concept. So from that standpoint, managing your towns is not necessarily easier, but very different. Nemesis will force you out of the traditional mindset of RTS gaming.
Another gameplay twist is the Hero System. Back in the day, if you were going to get things done and rise above the common peasantry of your local pig sty, you needed to be someone worth following. Today, if you've got a quick tongue and big check book (or friends with a big check book) you can buy the presidency. Nemesis will recall you to the old school way of rising up, the way of the Hero. Basically, the Hero system is another concession to micro managing your army and it is shaping up to being a very intuitive means of gameplay. The way it works is simply. You hire a Hero from your local arena. You can upgrade your hero or hook him up with some fresh gear, but in order for him to be truly useful you need to give him a little posse of soldiers to command. You can bind any amount of combination of soldiers to your hero. You then click on the hero, set your formation and tell him to go "there" and kill "them". Let the raping and pillaging commence, kick back and watch your hero lead your savage hordes of axe men and Berbury Assassins.
Overall, Celtic Kings: Nemesis of the Roman Empire is shaping up quite nicely. There are some interface and gameplay issues that could use some ironing out before the final release which is not too far off. Currently the game is in mostly a post-production phase. The cinematics and voice overs are being wrapped up and the game will get some fine tuning. If there is one thing I picked up early from the beta version of this game then it is the merciless nature of the AI. Haemimont has written some computer opponents with some personality here. Yes, there are different types of computers to play against with different tendencies and styles and none of them should be taken lightly. In my limited experience with the game, I found myself getting whooped up pretty handily by the computer. For those of you stuck in the old RTS click-click-click gameplay, Nemesis promises a fresh breath. At first it may seem to be odd and clunky, but Nemesis has already demonstrated class, charm and the maturity of a long running franchise. Be on the look out for it in the near future and seriously give this title some thought if this is your bag of gaming. If not for the wonderfully lush and moody environments and visuals, then for the diverse gameplay offering that Haemimont has the guts to serve on a silver platter.