Imperium Universalis : The Rome we Wanted
So many PC games have sought to encapsulate the mammoth history, culture, and growth. A few have hit the nail on the head, notably Total War : Rome, while others have failed miserably, Total War : Rome 2. How do you successfully make a game that spans the moments from when Rome went from a city-state all the way to when it was landing on the British Isles and peering into the mists?
I think I might have found a game that does a damned good job of it. And it’s just a mod. A very, very well done mod.
Recently I finished Mary Beard’s amazing non-fiction book on early Rome, SPQR, so I had a hankering for some serious Roman gaming. Unfortunately nothing seemed to really fir the bill. Then my friend HerpicleOmnicron5 introduced me to Imperium Universalis.
The base is Europa Universalis IV with a much more detailed map. Gone is world from pole to pole and east to west. Instead we see the Mediterranean in all its glory and detail. Provinces are lavishly spread about with the distances of the day feeling truly massive.
The game feels big. Big in a way that TW:Rome 2 didn’t, at least not after the tutorial. In fact IU feels so big right now that it’s looking challenging just to finish the Pyrrhic war and survive long enough to battle Carthage.
Now this isn’t a fully scripted game, you can’t grab a province like Albium Ingaunum in northwestern Italy and expect to find a fully developed campaign. But really, who would want to? You’ve got a lot of the same EUIV mechanics along with some new ones like the Republican Traditions and the Senate.
In this first play through I found the Pyrrhic war to be especially challenging. Not only did I lack the ground forces for a decisive battle I also lacked the naval resources to lock down the coast. Sieges move slowly, ships are the dominant way to travel, and the mass of city states makes diplomacy especially challenging.
The cities offer a great deal of slots for ample growth. I have a hunch there’s a certain optimum path but so far I’ve avoided the wiki’s and am seeking to learn the nuances myself. Too often the EU games are ruined by a good Reddit/Wiki guide.
For right now I’m offered a wide range of choices. Some are fairly obvious, why would you ever build an out of date building? But the priorities is where the decisions come in. Roads first or taxation? Or do you focus on Army buildings before defense?
The big question will be how it works as time goes on. For right now it feels OK, but what about in 50 AD, or 400 AD? Or maybe the game just aims for set piece scenarios? As fun as it is to play from moment Romulus formed Rome all the way to 437 AD, maybe it’s better to focus just on a famous moment?
Scenario wise you can choose from Alexanders exploits, the Punic Wars, all the way to Caesar’s war against Sulla & Co. One area I was disappointed to find missing was Caesars conquest of Gaul. Hopefully we’ll see it in a future update.
Combat is fairly simple like in EUIV. You create your armies, hopefully with a general, and then go in for the campaign. I rather miss the cinematic battles of Total War but I’m totally OK with moving ahead like this. It feels rather weird to see combat move so quickly. Sometimes in EUIV it feels like a fight drags out for a long time. In this mod it’s more like a day or two and the fight is over.
Battles tend to end in one side being completely and totally wiped out. You get the whole “Varus! Give me back my legions!” moment. Which is cool until it’s your legions on the dying end of things. You really tend to think on combat and whether that’s the right moment to go all in.
Events pop up as in EUIV to remind you that it’s a living breathing world. The earthquake didn’t have any material effects to Rome but it was interesting to see it, and other, unique events pop up. Not to say it’s all roses and as usual you’re offered two bad choices to pick your own evil. Gotta love that design mechanic.
All in all it’s a really cool mod that shows how far the EUIV engine can be stretched and still have a functional game. One thing I really love is that the game world feels alive. Commerce thrives in the Agean and the Bosporus, armies move about in Makedonia, and of course Rome grows. It feels real, it feels right, and it feels like I’ll be playing it for awhile.
Go check it out on Steam and get it now.
Worth noting that this mod requires all DLC along with the latest version of EUIV.