Imperator: Rome‘s release was a troubled one. From the its over-reliance on ‘mana’ to the many under-developed systems, Paradox Development Studio’s (PDS) newest title caught some heavy flak. Since May, the development team has been working to integrate community feedback into their game.
With the Pompey (1.1) and Cicero (1.2) updates, PDS has been removing, re-working and adding many elements to Imperator. Patch 1.3, dubbed the Livy update, and the Punic Wars free-DLC follow this trend. These come with a mixture of new and familiar Paradox mechanics that improve the overall game experience.
Of these, I found that dynamic mission system and military changes did really help with immersion and added a greater component of strategic planning to gameplay. With it there are also a series of positive changes that help to make certain chaotic elements, tied to Imperator‘s initial release, more ‘concise’. This said, I did find my fair share of points of friction with Livy.
The Livy patch and Punic Wars DLC are both available for free to owners of Imperator. The game can be purchased on Steam, Microsoft Store, Paradox Plaza or GOG for 39.99€ (or your regional equivalent).
The Dynamic Mission System in 1.3
Let me start by premising that you cannot really separate the 1.3 patch from the Punic Wars DLC. The latter is an extension of the former.
That is, the Livy update adds first a generic set of mission for all nations in-game. Even when playing as a minor tribe, with relatively little history on them, you are given a chain of tasks that help you expand and consolidate your lands. Although it is true that most sets of objectives for these minor factions depend on standardized templates, they set a series of goals which generally -- but not always -- feel historical. For example, they’ll ask you to conquer your immediate region or develop your capital province (logical objectives for any nation). The Punic Wars content pack then proceeds to add 10 unique missions to the system for two of the major players of the era: Rome and Carthage. These, grounded in the extensive historical archives for the two powers, give players various routes to achieve Mediterranean hegemony and prosperity.
It could be suggested that this system has been rehashed from prior Paradox titles. And yes, it is fair to say that it shares some elements with EU IV mission trees and HOI IV‘s national focuses. However, it also brings some important innovation to a PDS game when compared to similar mechanism of other sister titles. 1.3’s mission trees are procedurally generated (rather than being locked on rails as in other Paradox games). These, although created from a series of generalized templates, are created on the base of player progress and their surroundings. It is a very promising system, yet its infancy and some kinks do hold it back.
Missions do help solve some issues which have arisen since the game’s release in April. In particular, I found that these really helped curbing some of the resource grind and lengthy wait times that limited my progress (especially with minor powers). For example, when previously playing a settled tribe, reforming into a monarchy or republic was an exhausting process (in terms of both time and resources) with little political repercussion. Through the new ‘Tribal Reform’ mission chain -- available once you’ve reached 60 centralization -- players can modify their government with greater ease. Through a mixture of short-term buffs and clearer requirements players can achieve this goal with less struggle. As well, this mission chain can cause major political turmoil. Various events will cause supporters of rival forms of governments to lose loyalty and potentially cause civil war. A considerable risk to such a reward.
I found that conquest missions, both the generic and content pack ones, also give greater strategic direction to my progress. Previously, I’d aimlessly blob -- eating up any nation in my way. Sometimes this involved launching random invasions across the sea to gain a foothold that allows me to annex my way through a new region. This is fun for a bit, but then it starts feeling lackluster. With the Livy patch, your expansion is more targeted. By giving you conquest objectives, and incentives to fulfill these, your actions feel more logically motivated. Completing tasks as well can jump-start your economy or speed up integration, giving the game a more pleasant pace.
As mentioned, there are some issues with this system. Certain missions have very counter-intuitive or unfulfillable requirements. As some Reddit users noted, certain development objectives require you to import trade goods which simply are impossible to get with some countries (the nations producing these are simply out of your diplomatic range). Because of this, you are unable to progress through the mission tree. Others noticed how certain Roman missions required a Gallic-culture-dominated Northern Italy to be able to activate a task. If you already conquered/converted the region to your culture before reaching the task in question, you are unable to complete the mission. Some sort of bypass conditions, like in HOI IV, are needed.
Furthermore, for minor powers there are no proper alternative routes to conquest missions (unlike for Rome and Carthage). When playing as Massilia, and trying the peaceful route to my missions, little really changed. The diplomatic approach only gives you a series of opinion bonuses with neighbors which might, but not too often, help you form an alliance through the standard diplomatic screen. These then I used to conquer the nearby nations with which I had no alliance. This is not that different from what I would have done if I had gone down the war path. I still would have ‘improved opinion’ with some of my neighbors to then offer them an alliance to finally call them in to help me annex others near me.
War, Food and Attrition
With the Livy patch, all units now carry food and consume it, at a monthly rate, when in enemy territory. Armies pool together each individual unit’s supply and this determines the army’s total food capacity. A larger army has more food capacity but an even greater consumption rate (as it sums up individual unit consumption). Once your army finishes its victuals, your soldiers start to attrition and cannot be replenished until food gets to them.
By limiting food gain of armies to friendly territories or to provinces for which you captured the local capital, 1.3 adds a welcome strategic dimension to warfare. With Livy, invasions feel more realistic and require greater planning. You (or the AI) are no longer able to roam an enemy country, especially one enjoying “strategic depth”, with impunity. You have to make sure that food gets to your troops. This means that you have to either reliably capture an enemy provincial capital or are able to fallback to a friendly province to resupply. Your military campaigns then have to follow a more defined and logical plan of action.
This new mechanic puts a premium on smart fort placement. Considering it takes time to siege down fortresses, having one on very defensive territory can bend a besieger to hunger. Thus, by having a planned defensive perimeter, an enemy can be potentially sent packing without a fight. If expecting a long siege, nations can recruit a supply train. This new support unit, although useless in combat, massively increases food capacity of its army (a whopping +50 vs. the 2.40 of most units). Although relatively expensive to maintain and somewhat slow to resupply completely, they give armies incredible battlefield autonomy.
Of these changes, I did find that supply trains tend to favor excessively wealthier nations. If playing as a major power, recruiting several support units will be a trivial expense for you. By having several of these in an army, your armed forces will have a virtually infinite range of operation.
And this seems to have no actual drawback. Armies don’t suffer a movement penalty (the supply trains have the same speed of infantry). Nor can the supply trains somehow be picked off individually (since you would have to engage first the accompanying troops). And even forts in treacherous terrain (like mountain or desert) cannot really withhold for long enough for you to finish food. No minor nation is then really able to out-attrition one of these large, wealthier threats. Perhaps limiting the ratio of supply trains to soldier (for each 10 units an army can have 1 train) might help.
Making Imperator: Rome More ‘Concise’
The Livy patch has introduced some welcome changes to some of the more confused elements of past versions. Two of the most important ones are the addition of ‘Great Families’ and ‘Statesmanship’.
With ‘Great Families’, 1.3 lowers the number of eminent dynasties which demand a say in the politics of a country. Compared to 1.0 -- where all families regardless of their size or prestige required an office -- this change better simulates the realities of the time. It is these families, relying on networks of kin and their status as an established elite, who could influence the assignation of office. The members of these lineages, with the wealth and influence gained through office and family name, were also the more likely source of threat to the internal stability of a country.
This change also removes the legions of characters that pester you with demands for office. Any person, who doesn’t belong to a great family, is bumped down to the status of minor character. Though they can still hold office and can develop a power base (i.e. a rating which determines their strength if they were to revolt), they no longer have demanding political pretenses. This means that you don’t have to constantly shuffle your government to better share offices between the ridiculous number of scorned families to avoid civil war.
‘Statesmanship’ is a new percentage skill that expresses essentially how effective a character is in exercising a position in office. It increases as a character fulfills a government function and decays with his political inactivity. Take for example a 20 year old youth with a 9 in martial skill and 5% statesmanship. If assigned to a military post, he will exercise his function as if having a 1 martial rating. Only by spending considerable time in office will he reach his maximum potential. The player, depending on their officials’ statesmanship, also gets a series of minor events which carry buffs and debuffs. As you can imagine, incompetent officials will likely cause political blunders.
This new Livy patch mechanic adds an interesting layer to political decision-making. Should you take on a young talent to cultivate his higher potential vs. a grizzled veteran who has already reached his cap (giving you a great bonus in the short run)? Or should you sacrifice an office to an incompetent member of a prominent family, who constantly makes a fool of your country’s government, to avoid scorning his kin?
Graphics & Audio
For those who haven’t played Imperator, the game is absolutely gorgeous. Now I ask you to remember that this is a grand-strategy game. So don’t expect the same cinematic feeling you would experience in a Battlefield or a Total War. In these, you’ll spend most of your time staring at a map and at many different interfaces. Armies and navies are represented by a single soldier/boat while battles are symbolized through these individual unit models duking it out in one of the many provinces on the map. This said, few Paradox/grand-strategy games do this as impressively as Imperator does. Belonging to what can be dubbed as the ‘new gen’ of PDS titles (with Stellaris and HOI IV), the game has a stunning map and beautiful animations. From incredible lighting/water/natural disaster effects to a very unique repertoire of fighting animations, it sets a high standard for similar games.
Other than the game’s great soundtrack (as characteristic as that of other Paradox title), another noteworthy feature is the game’s development of ‘functional graphics’. These consist in a series of clear graphical cues that convey important information to the player. For example, through the clear landscape textures of the geographical map-mode, a player is immediately able to recognize the terrain in a province. This is helpful to identify an ideal battleground as well as the best provinces to develop (i.e. farmlands and plains). Similarly, through a city’s sprawl on the map, the player can approximately recognize the population size of an urban province. This aspect is further developed in the Livy patch. In 1.3, a province will be set ablaze if a city on it has been sacked. A neat addition that tells the player that a province has likely suffered a drastic population reduction.
A final mention goes to the new soldier models for the Numidians and ship ones for the Carthaginians. These are a nice graphical detail that add more historical character to the game. Hopefully they’ll show similar love to unit models for other nations/culture in future free updates. It would also be good to see greater differences between the city models of countries belonging to different culture groups.