Like its predecessor Universalis Europa III, Universalis: Rome is a strategy game of intricate economic and political administration in which, to succeed, the player must manage their empire with such methodical efficiency, they almost need the proficiency of an Augustus Caesar. However, although complex, for anyone unfamiliar with the Universalis series, Rome is probably the best addition to get acquainted.
In Paradox’s prequel EUIII, the player was confronted by such a high level of complexity it was overwhelming to the point of being alienating. The intricacy of the interfaces, with all their graphs, figures, tables, alerts etc, which bombarded the player as they tried to make it through about a week of the game’s five hundred year time scale made it a steep, almost intimidating, learning curve for the beginner.
However Paradox are clearly trying to open the series up to the mainstream in the Rome addition. They have scrapped many of the more obscure aspects of the format or else combined them to deliver a more condensed, somewhat less ambiguous configuration. These changes give the game a much more balanced feel which - while not watering down the original so much it puts of the hardcore fans who want nothing more than to spend months calculating the repercussions of a 0.5% tax adjustment – helps it appeal to a slightly broader audience.
The economy requires much less interference and is mostly automated except for the military budget. Merchants, spies, colonists and diplomats have been totally overhauled, making room for a less claustrophobic assortment of icons. Trade ties no longer have to be continually re- established as they can be organised via roads, and all diplomacy can be conducted through a single, easily interpretable interface. National ideas still exist but have been streamlined, while research is now conducted on the strength of the characters you appoint rather than the treasury. The dynasty sub -story is an interesting touch and gives a summary of your characters key life events, therefore adding a nice storyline to the narrative of your empire.
All in all Universalis: Rome is a well rounded sequel to EUIII, which has been tweaked in the right areas, and thankfully does not just re apply the EUIII format to an ancient setting. The game has attracted criticism from some quarters due to fact that it sets no concrete winning conditions or objectives, but this is wholly unjustified. Allowing the player complete freedom to choose the destiny of their empire and rewrite the pages of history is, if anything, one of its strengths.
Whether the player chooses to go up against the menacing spread of Rome as it gradually creeps its way across the continent by averting the total annihilation of Carthage, or curb the rise of young Octavian and allow Mark Antony to become Rome’s first Emperor, the player can let their imagination run wild and devote months to re- creating alternative historical outcomes. Few games allow such autonomy, and having to set objectives personally is certainly nothing to resent, after all, it is the ‘princeps who must undertake the enormous burdens and cares of the Imperium’.
However although the game has nothing wrong with it fundamentally, there are a few irritating, and slightly mystifying details which do let it down. For example; when an army is besieging you cannot extract any troops without lifting the siege entirely and it is also impossible to see the scale of your army from a glance on the world map. However these details are too minor to undermine the game as a whole, and overall do not impact too much on what is essentially a very well conceived sequel.
Like the prior addition EUIII, the difficulty of Universalis: Rome is high, and the emphasis remains on politics and economics – the military side of things still takes a back seat, which may not be to the liking of Rome: Total War fans. However the modified format is a definite plus, and should certainly give the game a bit more currency with novices than its predecessor did. In fact, Universalis: Rome may become an inroad into the entire Universalis series, with the more complex EUIII becoming its inadvertent sequel for many.