Rome was not built in a day, so it's a good job we have city builder games to help us accomplish that task.
Taking many cues from history Grand Ages: Rome is a return to the city builder/conquest RTS that began with Imperium Romanum. There is a non-linear campaign that spans several historical events during the Roman Empire and allows you to tackle them with a character of your own choosing. You will build fledgling trade ports, small empires and eventually administrate over some of the most bustling cities in the empire.
What a difference a bit of foresight, planning, GUI polish and a rebuild can make to a game. Grand Ages: Rome is a better game than Imperium Romanum by far and comes with lots of brand new additions to the experience. City building and administration couldn't be easier now, the GUI has been tightened up and the objective panel allows you to see exactly what you need to do in any given map/situation.
You are allowed to create a male or female character from one of the many Roman families; these houses have different abilities/talents that you can choose from during the course of play. You can amass personal wealth to buy estates that unlock bonuses and also talent points to buy special perks as you progress. These can range from the first 5 houses that you build are free, to more soldiers per recruitment in your army.
You have 3 kinds of talents, City, Military and Family. The Family talent tree is unique to one of the five families.
It is essential to play the tutorials to learn how to construct a fledgling and working village in the game, before you try and build a city. To this end there is are a couple of tutorials: a building tutorial that covers the basics of the game and a battle tutorial to help you learn how to recruit, train and control the various units that make up the seamless RTS element.
Once you have a working settlement with a good production you need to keep an eye on your consumed resources compared to the production, running out of a valuable resource like bricks for instance could doom your town before you've even started to build it. You also need to make sure you have a handle on the needs of your people, Plebs for instance require only a small amount of food, entertainment and a little religion whilst Equites and Patricians require varying amounts of all three.
If there is a lack of health and food, your people will start to think about setting fires, moving out of the city or starting a riot and you can quickly lose control of the situation. You are given several tools to help you, for one you can see everything regarding your city state with a click of a button. Once this dialog is open there's a colour coded state for every building based on the tab, clicking health for example will show you from green-yellow-red, each building that has good health.
You can easily see the effect your remedy has on the problem by checking this screen. You are notified quickly by the GUI based on the current event; this could be a riot, an earthquake or even an invasion by a foreign army to your shores. This level of information is vital to managing a prosperous city.
As you progress, building bigger and better cities, you will also notice that you gain various city states - these can be beneficial or detrimental depending on what you've been doing. A town full of Plebs can transform into a Worker Town where buildings only cost %50 for example.
Building in the game is simple as well; you right click to bring up the radial build menu, choose the building from one of several categories and rotate the mouse wheel to the desired position. If the building can be placed you'll be fine, if not, the game will tell you what you need to satisfy to build there or if you can't.
If you don't want to play the campaign you can free build on the selected map, many of these maps give you various interesting options, such as a starting town and so forth or a small barbarian presence you can quell.
There's a simple RTS mode in the game that allows you to amass, train and use armies quickly and efficiently. You are capable of capturing trade markers that allow you to control them and provide a trade route over land. You can build ports and shipyards, colonise new islands and defend your cities and outposts via the land and sea using a variety of units. This mode doesn't feel a tack-on any longer, it actually seems as though the developers have taken the time to make it simple and still tactically fulfilling to play.
There are war ships, traders, siege engines and more to discover as you get deeper into the game building your glorious empire. You can subjugate enemy islands and settlements, either taking their towns over or razing them and making their population into slaves.
The graphics engine used for GA: Rome is a superbly detailed one. You can bring the camera in close and see the excellent textures at full detail, including even authentic looking Roman graffiti on the walls of many of the buildings. The game brings to life some stunning landscapes and the maps are huge, with many various islands and terrain features. The water looks gorgeous and the landscape is packed with rolling hills, mountains and forests. The day/night cycle with weather effects is the proverbial icing on the cake, looking superb in a thunder storm for example.
The detail on the characters is also excellent; they have been given a great sense of being and personality by the designers. The game is basically a joy to look at and history buffs should like the level of detailing in the construction of the buildings and the authentic look to the various key structures.
There are tonnes of ambient animations as each caste of Roman goes about their daily duties, they can get into fights, get married and do their jobs as time passes, day flowing into night. It's all nicely animated and there's a lot of detail here as well, both in terms of character movement and interaction.
The same can be said for the military aspect of the game, fights don't look as static as they were in Imperium Romanum, they are epic clashes between men, machines and raw power in some cases (War Elephants) that leave whole armies smashed in their wake. With a nice amount of variety in the battle animations, both on land and sea, it's great to watch these skirmishes and full scale clashes happen.
Grand Ages: Rome doesn't seem to have the modern trappings of a physics engine that we often use. Walls sort of crumble/vanish and ships sink after breaking predictably in half.
A rudimentary AI guides soldiers in battle, again, it's nothing special and they will tend to throw themselves against defence towers regardless of their losses, time and time again for example. It does what it says on the tin, nothing more.
A few sound bugs plague the game, certain crackles and hisses when there should be the ambient sounds of the city. The sound design though is spot on, there's a lot of detail in the aural element of the game and the whisper of water through an aqueduct as you bring the camera in close is just one example. You can hear the daily life of the city go on, gladiators clash in the arena and the people hawk their wares in various shops.
Once of the best musical scores to a game of this kind, it transforms from a stately pace to an epic and triumphant military theme depending on the situation. There are some nice set pieces to the score and it suits the theme of the game, bringing to mind the glories of Rome long gone.
The voice cast manage to perform their parts really well, there's nothing that sounds ominously jarring or badly performed in the game. The dialogue has an authentic Roman feel to it with many salves and so forth. There is a real sense of conviction about many of the spoken pieces in the game including the intro to the campaign when you choose a new character and embark on your empire building dreams.
GA: Rome has a fully fledged (if a little laggy at times) multiplayer that requires you to create an online account. You can create a Custom Game with a variety of game modes and play cooperatively with other players. There's a true-skill style matching system that matches skills in a Rated Match.
It's just a shame that amongst the various modes on offer, whilst you can join the same team and fight against barbarian raiders, build the cooperative city of your collective dreams there's no actual campaign coop.
The Glory of Rome
GA: Rome is a good and solid game, it will provide the armchair Roman general/historian with many hours of fun and challenge as some of the requirements to build a successful city are tricky indeed. It is definitely a much better game than Imperium Romanum or Imperium Romanum Gold.
Worthy of a buy.