• Aggressors: Ancient Rome review by Rick Moscatello

    The glory that is not here.

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    I certainly loved Civilization (at least before sequel V). My main quibble with this great game was ancient warfare was a bit silly—it could take a thousand years to build an army and use said army to conquer an enemy capital (having early moves take 50 years of game time didn’t help). Warfare is basically you build a few swordsmen, watch them go obsolete as you build 19th century type cavalry…then you build tanks and the game ends. Seeing as the scale of Civilization is vast, it’s quite forgivable some parts are going to have vague details.

    The tactics and strategies of ancient warfare may be long obsolete now, but this is the type of warfare humanity is most familiar with, studied the most, and is most common in nearly every civilization’s mythology. For over 2,000 years, swords, spears, shields, and bows were a critical part of every army, whereas tanks have only been significant for less than a century. The Civilization games, for all their brilliance, just don’t get this part right.

    Aggressors: Ancient Rome (AAR) looked like it was going to fix my main problem with Civilization as it’s a 4x game with a primary focus of the ancient world. What could go wrong?

    These types of games live or die based on a number of factors. The game world should good, and there should be a solid option for a random world (or universe if it’s sci-fi); you want something worth exploring, with features you can maximize. Having different factions (various countries, or species if it’s a sci-fi game) to play are critical for replay value. Research usually a big deal, as you want to have options for how to grow your civilization, learning things that give you an edge until the other factions also have the knowledge. Trade/diplomacy is the most optional part of these games, but you’d like to have other ways to interact with other factions besides grinding them into the dust. Finally, combat should be interesting, with real choices and tactics you can use with your units, depending on the situation.

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    The maps look good. I seem to be the only reviewer whose noticed the consistent huge resource surpluses, incidentally

    AAR manages both a solid hit and a clean miss on the “random worlds” thing. You have loads of options to make your own world, and the game even comes with a Mediterranean map, so you can do what you’re intended to do: conquer the known world as Rome. On the other hand, there’s nothing special about these worlds. Oh, there are mines and stuff, but you quickly get loaded down with tons of resources (beyond all-critical gold, and sometimes wood)…they clearly need to refine their economic model here. There’s nothing particularly glorious about Rome even on the Mediterranean map, nothing special about any spot at all. There are no goody-huts, so exploration is pretty meaningless: just about every place is as good for a city as any other.

    There are 20 factions you can play, from Rome and Ptolemaic (i.e., post Alexander the Great) Egypt to Carthage and a host of minor tribes. Things start to fall apart here, as I honestly didn’t see much difference between playing each. Perhaps I’m missing it, but in the faction descriptions there are never indications of what, exactly, is special about the faction, or what you should do to maximize what, if anything is the faction’s strength.

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    I wish some of this was game-changing.

    Research may be key to why the game keeps stumbling: you want a tree here, and the game barely provides much beyond two vines. You can’t really get much to enhance your cities (part of why all the cities look the same), there’s little to enhance your armies. Because all you have is two vines, you seldom have a choice what research to do next, and, again, it doesn’t seem to matter what faction you have, it’s all the same anyway.

    Trade and diplomacy is surprisingly good here, and countries give you a way to trade the gushing quantities of resources you have (I have no idea what the other factions do with the stuff, however). You can negotiate peace treaties, even extensive trade treaties…it’s nice, but really all you’re going to want is gold. Countries do see to enjoy declaring war (and peace) on you inexplicably, however.

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    At least half the city survived.

    Finally, there’s combat, and, alas, it’s weak. While AAR is on a much smaller scale than Civilization (both time and area scale), it’s still the crude “bump into the enemy army/city until it dies” stuff. There is some room for variety in outcome, and it’s possible for a battle to be quite indecisive with but a few casualties on each side (very common in the ancient world), but usually one army is utterly annihilated while the other is barely scratched (quite rare in the ancient world). It’s particularly frustrating with naval engagements, as your expensive ships keep getting one-shotted simply because you can’t build enough at the same time, or protect them from a numerically superior foe. I really would have loved for generals to be a factor (instead of nonexistent), or for tactics to matter or for…anything but “bump and die” to be all there is. Even city combat is disappointing, and often your armies will kill every person in the city, rather than capture it (although such razed cities are cheaper to re-colonize, which is something, I guess).

    For good or ill, AAR does faction management only on a grand scale. You don’t really control individual cities (hence why they don’t matter much), you develop what’s inside your country’s borders. This is mostly just cultivating land and building roads. You control your faction from a main panel but…there isn’t that much you can do. Starting from scratch, you’ll get a warning every turn that your people are unhappy, but there’s nothing you can do. Starting with a major empires…there’s very little here you’ll want to do, beyond make sure your population is growing as fast as possible. There’s an option to have games (i.e., the Olympic games, or similar amusements), but it doesn’t tell you what you need to be able to do it. There’s less micro-managing to be sure, but once again the decisions you can make are pretty limited.

    There is a tutorial which covers the basics well enough, but bottom line there just isn’t anything here to explore, and time and again I’d do something thinking “NOW the game will open up and become interesting,” only to see that I’d done nothing relevant, that no new option was in play which would give me some interesting choices to make.

    As much as I like 4x games, this game seems more thrown together more than carefully designed, with only a few good ideas almost implemented well enough. There’s a great random world generator here but that’s just not enough for a viable game.

    Overall rating: 65
    This article was originally published in forum thread: Aggressors: Ancient Rome review by Rick Moscatello started by Doom View original post