The game was published in 2019, and like all Paradox titles, it needed some polishing before being playable. I also didn’t feel like jumping in with the title until I watched the new Barbarians show from Netflix, which got me in the appropriate mood to ravage the Roman Empire with the barbarian hordes.
The general consensus is that the game is a few steps behind when compared to other games from the same publisher, such as EU4, HoI4 or CK3. Obviously, if you compare it to the first iteration of each of those titles it is actually light years ahead.
Conquering the known world
The goal of the game is to obviously create an empire that blobs all over the world map. There are a few mechanics to slow this down, but your greatest enemy is going to be time. The game covers the years 304 BCE to 27 BCE.
One could say that the action is pretty much centred around two phases. First becoming the regional power by conquering all your neighbours…and then dealing with your nearby states that have likewise ballooned into empires.
You could argue that there’s a third phase, which is conquering the rest, but once you’ve dealt with one or two nearby big empires you’re probably big enough to take on the rest of the world and survive.
The smallest unit of time in the game is a day, and so the years march by as you build up your provinces, armies and fleets, manage your territories, take care of your nobles and leaders, manage internal politics and conquer or subjugate other states. Trade and economy play a big role too, as does religion, technology and government management.
…so what about them barbarians?
The game at the moment is obviously centred around Rome. The content comes in the form of missions and other flavour, such as events, military traditions and so forth. There are two content packs for Greek nations at the moment, but for the most part, you’re either playing Rome, a few select big states, or settling for generic missions.
This is why parts of the game feel a bit unfinished. Everything works fine, and there are some interesting mechanics at play, but not all of it has been fleshed out properly. For example, the said barbarians can migrate but mostly the game settles for random stacks of small barbarian hordes, as opposed to whole nations. Acceptable given that the time period doesn’t really cover the historical migrations.
As such it’s pretty much the player who can control these hordes and actually do something with them. The AI will bicker and fight amongst itself, only to be eaten up by bigger states sooner or later.
So, after a few games as the germanic barbarians, I switched over to Rome seeking for more content…and fun.
Appease and execute
The political game has detail and depth but most of it remains underused or just plain useless. Your nation has powerful families, whom you need to keep happy. Families are made up of characters, and the positions they hold build up power for their bloodline. The characters can be part of factions, which in turn can control the senate.
It’s important to keep the generals, governors, admirals and minor characters happy, as otherwise, your nation is going to head towards a civil war. Any character under certain loyalty threshold will get angry, and enough angry characters holding enough power (another threshold) will join the rebellion.
In the end, you end up bribing, giving holdings, holding games, or doing whatever to simply raise the loyalty back up. Research enough techs, implement laws and policies or activate omens to further increase the loyalty. In other words, you really have to neglect or otherwise really screw up for the civil war to happen…such as when I didn’t check the notifications and half of the Roman Republic deserted me, the civil war draining all manpower, and Carthage and the Boii piling on me…which led to a restart.
There are options for scheming, assassinations, befriending, rivalling, and so forth, but I left those mainly unused. It’s not really worth the headache and clicking games…maybe once it reaches CK3 level of detail and intrigue the situation changes…
Making claims and conquering states
When it comes to nations things are even simpler. At the start you have to create federations, find allies, appease other nations, make sure that you don’t get attacked from all sides.
But once you’re big enough all you need to spend your points on are claims. No point allying other nations, creating client states or demanding tribute when you can just conquer.
Without claims, you quickly rake up aggressive expansion, which is one of those things more Paradox players are familiar with. As long as you make sure you have claims, and you use the right omens, laws and such, it’s not really that much of a limiting factor.
Build and trade to support your army and state
The economy is based on money. You get money from taxes and trade, you spend money on the army, the navy, the forts and the wages of your characters.
That’s pretty much how simple it is.
A large part of the game is trading. A very large and a very boring part. Each of your provinces produces certain resources, and these can be traded away. Likewise, depending on how many cities, what investment you have done and how many marketplaces and pops you have in your province, you can import resources.
Each resource will obviously produce some money via trade, but more importantly, they all give different bonuses. Such as happiness for your peons, fighting power for your armies or cheaper ships. Having extra resources at your capital provinces gives nationwide bonuses on top of this.
At the moment there is no way to automate this. Imagine my joy when I go to war and two dozen provinces cut their trade routes. Such fun setting them all up again…most of the time I won’t bother unless I’m running a deficit or need loyalty bonuses.
This part of the game is pretty much about balancing your war machine with your income. Expand and expand.
Other expenses include building buildings as we all research. The latter will grow exponentially more expensive as your population base grows, and will be your one income sink in the end game.
Though the game is currently undergoing a lot of changes, one of them being a total overhaul of the interface, the current version suffers from some problems. There’s, for example, no way to quickly show on the map where all your cities are.
The general issue is that there are tons of information and tons of ways to use that information but no easy way to get your hand on it. It’s all fine when you just hold a handful of provinces, but when you hold half of Europe there is no way to actually handle all of it…unless you want to spend hours going through the needs and want of each individual territory…of which there are hundreds. Where do the peasants want what? Lot’s of work to be done here.
The armies are a bit easier to handle. You can set your armies and naive to independent operations, to hunt for pirates or enemy fleets, to fight barbarians or rebels, or just hang around doing reconnaissance. A few more options would be useful, as well as being able to assign some priority targets, but as it is it reduces the micromanagement a lot…even if the decisions made by the AI aren’t always the smartest.
On to war!
Warfare is arguably the most important part. How else are you going to conquer the world? And it’s still pretty much all about doomstacks,
Sure, the game does offer a whole lot of modifiers for your armies, from tech to unit types, to placement of units to morale, experience and tactics…but whenever you encounter an army that can beat you in an equal fight, you just bring in more troops. Repeat until the enemy is beat to a pulp and is out of manpower.
In the early game, manpower is an issue for you as well, but once you get that empire going you’ll have more soldiers than you know what to do with.
Is the game worth your money? Certainly, especially if you get it on sale. You won’t find another game that covers the same period in such an interesting fashion. As is usual, Paradox will keep improving the game for years to come.
What’s there is already playable and extremely enjoyable. Re-create the Roman Empire, destroy it, or just do whatever you want…and then wait for more DLCs to up the game experience even further.