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Glory of the Roman Empire

Platform(s): PC
Genre: Strategy
Publisher: CDV

About Mark Buckingham

Mark Buckingham is many things: freelance writer and editor, gamer, tech-head, reader, significant other, movie watcher, pianist, and hockey player.


PC Review - 'Glory of the Roman Empire'

by Mark Buckingham on Nov. 3, 2006 @ 12:55 a.m. PST

Glory of the Roman Empire will challenge gamers to grow a small village into a thriving community through trade with neighbors, while also expanding and defending its borders through more militaristic means. Players will need to focus on the physical and emotional health of the citizenry, as villagers age and mature under strong leadership, contributing to the development of more advanced societies and larger cities. More than 30 missions based in 11 historically inspired towns will immerse players in the historical aspects of the Roman Empire.

Genre: Real-Time Strategy
Publisher: CDV
Developer: Haemimont
Release Date June 28, 2006

For a game about the Roman Empire, there isn't a whole lot in Glory of the Roman Empire to identify that, other than a thin coat of paint. It's a city-building sim "lite," and while casual players might enjoy it for a short fix, serious fans will be bored within an hour or two.

For the most part, you can play GotRE with just the mouse and WASD config, scrolling and rotating the camera to wherever you want it. However, building near the map borders can be tricky, since the camera is restricted by the edges. Several common tasks are pre-mapped to different keys on the keyboard if you want to study and learn them, but there's really no need, once you get the hang of the really simple mouse-based building interface.

Erecting your city doesn't require navigating a lot of complex menus. Just right-click, then pick what you want to build by category, and then select a building type, based on images and popup names. From there, you can drag them across the terrain to see where they can be built or not, then rotate them when placing them with the mouse wheel, making aesthetic city planning simple to achieve.

However, city layouts don't really affect the people's opinion of you as much as what is actually in it. Build a house between a pig farm and a butcher, and despite the obvious smell, those citizens don't mind a bit. Community is more about an area-of-effect circle than having suburban neighbors, or in which part of the city they live. Quality and usefulness of city building is determined solely by proximity, not accessibility, since road building seems to do nothing for your people. It's more about whether their circle of laziness overlaps with the area served by a given utility building.

You can build someone's house miles away from the road, and it doesn't seem to deter people from going there. They won't complain about that, but they will complain if you only have three altars in their immediate neighborhood instead of five. The people have no patience or faith in you, either. They'll start rioting over the fact that you don't have enough marketplaces and then set fire to the half-built marketplace you were trying to make for them. Mobs – you can't live with 'em.

Playing GotRE is generally very simple and easy to pick up. There's virtually no micromanagement to worry about – build it, get workers, and forget about it.

However, too many tasks are automated. You can't assign a job to a particular person or send gold directly from trade posts to the Town Hall to buy more slaves. Slaves are often too important to development and the economy, and they can be difficult to acquire if you don't have enough to really expand your economy in the first place. Players also can't delegate slaves directly to specific tasks or projects, but this also prevents some upkeep activities from getting done.

What's more, as your town expands, you have 10 slaves working in the heart of city and 10 working in the equivalent of the 'burbs, and while the urban slaves are exhausted, I could find no way to re-route my slaves with a light work schedule to go help out in town. Left to be exhausted long enough, your slaves will start to riot. This seems like it should have been easy to fix.

Also, if you're going to include the Roman Empire in the title, some stronger ties to the historical Roman setting, dates, events, or people would have been good. There are generic baths, temples, colosseums, and other things loosely related to the era, and the names of cities are borrowed straight from the actual geography, but that's it. There are no historical battles or people or events to replay.

The replay value for casual fans may be pretty high, since you can jump in and play a few challenges or campaign missions in a short time, or just dabble in Free Build mode and do what you want. However, Free Build mode doesn't generate random terrain or start points, and you can't adjust the difficulty level without simply changing to a harder default map. You have to basically play each map the same way each time, without any surprises. That may not be an issue for some, but I found it to be a tad limited.

There are a few gameplay modes available in GotRE, but nothing surprising. Campaign mode is more or less the game's tutorial. It sets certain accomplishments before you to strive for, and once achieved, you can move on to the next challenge, or just hang around and keep building, although it doesn't benefit you that much. Sometimes you have to come back to the same city again to do more work, and if you had previously spent a bunch of time building things, they may either get in the way or be gone entirely. This rather defeats the purpose of spending any more time than the bare necessities to complete a mission.

Challenge mode gives you an objective, such as getting 100 slaves or 200 citizens, or amassing a certain amount of wealth as quickly as possible. However, it then often plants an arbitrary handicap on you, such as only being able to build a fixed number of houses to increase your population. You can also pick an advantage like unlimited timber for the level, but it also cuts down your score, which is really the only reason to play these challenges. Sure, you get to see if you can pull it off, but the main thing is to see how quickly you can accomplish it and how high of a score you can get.

The visuals are pretty sharp in GotRE, and they demand a fairly recent video card to run at max detail. Things look pretty, even up close, and the devil's in the details. Watch people walk to and fro while doing their daily tasks. Prefects run from the well to a burning building and throw water from buckets. Foliage and water effects look yummy, swishing about in the breeze. Day and night cycles change in regular succession, and shadows wax and wane across the landscape accordingly. Watch in real-time as pigs and plant life evolve through the seasons, scarecrows pop up, and birds flutter from one rooftop to another. It's all very easy on the eyes.

On the downside, building types look repetitive and can be difficult to distinguish from a distance. Judging by rooftops alone, houses and butchers and bakeries look all too similar, forcing you to go to your settlement overview menu and click through the building type you're seeking until the desired one is selected.

There also isn't a lot of readily identifiable Roman architecture, aside from the hardly useful monuments. The Neptune Fountain, for example, provides water to an area even if there is no other water available to that area. However, constructing monuments is good for the reputation of the citizens and buildings around it. Of course, you'll have to build it out in the boonies, spread your town and supplies even thinner, and tax the slave schedule even harder as they travel the extra time. Worth it? Not really.

One interesting addition is that all the text in GotRE can be toggled between English and Latin by pressing the tilde (~) key. Fancy, but it doesn't really serve a purpose.

In the audio department, effects and music are sublime and don't intrude or distract. I found the music and effects to be generally pleasing but not memorable. Some might lament the loss of actual voices in lieu of basic cheers and grumbles, but I'd rather have basic noises than getting stuck with shoddy voice actors.

Multiplayer is non-existent. The only online feature is posting scores on an internet leaderboard. With the focus not being on combat, multiplayer would have been a little trickier to design and keep interesting, but it would have been nice to have a feature that could have given the game some legs and a bit more replayability.

All in all, Glory of the Roman Empire is pretty darn easy to get into, but it doesn't have a ton of depth or historical significance beyond that. Even without spending much time with the manual or the tutorial, I fumbled my way into building a pretty productive city on the first try, but after blowing through each environment and challenge, I'm not exactly dying to play it again and listen to my citizens whine. Maybe I'm personally better suited to the role of a god than a governor.

Score: 6.0/10

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