Caesar, Pharaoh, Zeus, Emperor. In addition to relating to major historical or mythological figures, these are also the titles of several city-building games from the ’90s and early 2000s. It is very important that I mention these games because, even though the developers didn’t state as such, Nebuchadnezzar was undoubtedly inspired by those which are among the best games in this genre.
Something else you need to know is that the very first city-builder I ever played was Caesar III. I was mesmerized by the complexity of it, the challenge of ruling a nation, the struggles of war, and the jubilation of victory. I played the other games in the list above, too, and I loved them all (except for Caesar IV, we don’t talk about that one). As such, I went into my review with certain expectations and perhaps some bias. I tried to keep an open mind and judge Nebuchadnezzar on its own merits, but I couldn’t help but make comparisons between the new and old, and anyone who played those old games would understand why.
I hope that I give you a true representation of this game and that my childhood heroes didn’t stray me too far from the path of journalistic excellence.
STORY – A LESSON IN HISTORY
And so the comparisons begin. The old games took you through the campaign as an ambitious governor and told you the story of each new chapter. Those stories weren’t on par with Hemingway or Dickens, but they gave you a background on the area and why you’re there. Nebuchadnezzar takes a more historical approach by providing a brief history lesson at the start of each new mission to give you some factual information on the region and the people who once lived there. I rather enjoyed this approach and learned some interesting new things like the pottery wheel being invented in the Uruk period, and that by 2350 BC, 75% of the population in Mesopotamia lived in large, developed cities. This might not matter much to most, but for those who enjoy historical facts, it is a nice bonus.
GAMEPLAY – A GOOD FOUNDATION
This is an old-school isometric city-builder where everything running in straight lines. Place down homes to invite new settlers to inhabit your soon-to-be Utopia and populate your workforce. Use those workers to tend to your agricultural and industrial buildings and so produce goods which can be distributed among your populace. Once a home receives the necessary goods, it will evolve into something grander, which will provide space for additional inhabitants and also open a new list of needs. If a house’s supply runs out at any time, it will devolve again and evict the extra tenants, leaving a hole in your workforce and giving you a giant headache.
Managing your goods is quite the challenge as everything needs to be transported within the proximity of a market that can collect the goods and distribute them. To do this, you need to build caravanserais and set up a transport route between the warehouse where your newly produced goods are initially stored and one close to your neighborhood. Only if it’s within the working radius of the market will a buyer pick up the goods, after which you need to set up a route for your sellers to distribute the goods among your people. This last bit was an improvement over the old games as those just allowed your sellers to roam the city freely and would very often neglect certain homes. Setting up the distribution routes is slightly tedious but at least ensures no one in your city goes without food.
So far, this doesn’t sound like much of a challenge, and truthfully, it shouldn’t be. Unfortunately, the working radius of buildings is rather small, so you will be building an obscene number of warehouses and setting up countless transport routes to make sure your goods get where they need to be. The problem comes in when you decide to expand or renovate your city, something every keen city builder tends to do, as this throws off your transport routes and sometimes breaks them entirely. Making sure all goods are distributed properly was the single most time-consuming task this game had to offer, and because of the tedium it encapsulates, it wasn’t all that enjoyable.
Another improvement this game offered was the ability to manage the workforce of certain buildings. A farm, for example, has five worker slots and could be assigned a combination of haulers and farmers. Each farmer could only work a certain number of fields, so if you had more fields to plow, then you’d add another farmer. You could also choose which fields your farms planted; instead of building one farm for each type of crop, you could have a combination of crops at a single location.
A feature that was first introduced in Pharaoh tasked you with building massive monuments to earn prestige and appease the gods. Nebuchadnezzar continues that tradition but takes it a step further by letting you design your own monuments. There are minimum size requirements for each monument, but how you fill the space and how you decorate your monument can be customized.
Now, let’s get to the many things that left a void in my playing experience.
Nebuchadnezzar gives you a resource overview where you can see how effectively your goods are being produced and what percentage of the produced goods are being consumed. This would be a very useful tool if it wasn’t inaccurate.
The road-building tool, which you’ll be using quite a lot, doesn’t wrap around buildings but tries to go through them, so you have to build each line separately.
The maps are too small, so you have to plan your city layout to a tee before you even lay the first foundation.
You can’t stockpile resources. If you get a request from a neighbor, which you often do, you can’t order your people to stop using a resource for a time to allow you to fulfill the request.
The worst of all is the missing gameplay elements that were present in all the games on which Nebuchadnezzar is based. These include civil upkeep (police, fire stations, engineers), healthcare, entertainment, taxes (trade is your only income), complex religion (there’s only one generic temple that functions like any distribution building), and military. This game puts you in charge of Babylon, one of the mightiest civilizations in history, and you don’t even get to train a few soldiers to conquer your enemy. What a giant missed opportunity that was.
AUDIO AND VISUAL DESIGN – I SEEM TO BE MISSING SOMETHING
The visuals have a whiff of nostalgia which I find rather charming, although I’m not sure everyone will agree on that. The game’s visual design is probably the main reason I, and pretty much everyone else who’s reviewed this game, compare it to the others I’ve mentioned. The UI is an improvement over the games from the past, though.
Unfortunately, I once again have a fair number of complaints.
The settings menu allows a “Detailed Zoom” option which lets you zoom in closer than normal. Only half of that statement is true, though, because although it lets you zoom, there’s nothing detailed about it. Additionally, the animations are stiff and outdated. Someone walking on a road would suddenly face another direction when it reached a corner instead of turning gradually, and farmers magically teleport from one field to another rather than casually walking across.
There’s not a lot to say about the audio because the developers seem to have forgotten to add any. Sure, there’s music that isn’t half bad, but apart from one or two notification pings, there are no sound effects at all, NONE. Moving across your city, you won’t hear the chatter of your townsfolk around the marketplace or the wheels of carts rolling across the rough stone streets. You won’t hear the sounds of animals happily grazing the fields or the ocean waves crashing against the shore. Your city has as much life as a squirrel that ran across the highway and got trampled by traffic three weeks ago.
My biggest gripe, however, is the complete exclusion of any voice acting. Previous games would narrate your mission when arriving at a new region, and every single person in your city had something to say when you clicked on them. Not only were these prompts entertaining, but your people could also share their feelings, concerns, and joys with you. You have been robbed of any interaction with the people you are set to govern, and that is a crying shame.
Nebuchadnezzar was reviewed on PC.