Fellow Romanophiles and couch-centurions, rejoice! THQ Nordic and Logic Artists are raising the banners and gathering the legionnaires for their new hybrid CRPG/management sim Expeditions: Rome. Though, to be clear: the emphasis here is on the CRPG element. There is a heavy dose of management but first and foremost this is a roleplaying game with heavy emphasis on story, questing, and all the other elements you would expect. Before players can get into any of the good stuff, they’ll need to create their character, choosing from a small selection of customization options. Cosmetics and class choice aside, there is one important choice that will determine how you will be interacting with the world. You will have one of three options to choose for your character’s psyche; Pathos; Logos; and Ethos. Whichever you choose will determine the way they can deal with people throughout the game. People who chose Pathos are more likely to resort to rousing speeches or emotional manipulation when dealing with problems, while Ethos characters will rely on their physicality and authority to get things done. How this mechanic is implanted into the game is via dialogue choices. Most dialogue will have multiple choices either way, but when there are decisions to be made that can have an important impact on what happens next, you may see a special dialogue option unique to the psyche choices. Assuming you have the proper one, you can make often make life easier on yourself. As I chose psyche for my first playthrough, I would have situations where my character coerces individuals into giving up critical information without having to pay them or cough up the location of certain individuals. While you can only select one psyche initially, later on you are given the option of learning a second. Talking will only get you so far but nonetheless, it is an important tool at your disposal.
If you have ever seen Ancient Rome depicted in any form of media, then you will know it is often romanticized as a period of frequent wars, cutthroat political intrigue, and excess. Expeditions: Rome is no different and I wouldn’t have it any other way. There is a war raging on over in Asia Minor as Greek ruler Mithridates rebels against Roman rule, but your story begins over in Rome when your father suddenly passes away. As your father was wealthy and influential, his eldest daughter’s hand was taken in marriage by power-hungry Vitellius Scaevola in a bid to take over their estate and wealth. Fearing Vitellius and his brother had something to do with your father’s death, your mother sneaks you out of the villa at night and across the sea to Greece under the care of an old family friend and out of the reach of the brothers Scaevola. The idea is to join Imperator Lucius Licinius Lucullus and under his tutelage become adept enough to defend Rome: whether from overseas or within Rome itself. I should note that while you may recognize some real-life historical figures and theaters of war, this game is only loosely based on actual Roman history. One thing that struck me was the attention paid to the details, like the dedication to using the proper Latin names and terminology, which can be a bit daunting at first if you aren’t familiar with it. They could have taken the simpler route and called lorica musculata “breastplates” but they didn’t, and I appreciate the extra work towards a more immersive experience. I wasn’t sure how much this game would lean towards RPG or strategy, so I wasn’t sure if the story would be decent or simply barebones. Happily, I discovered that this was not the case. Not to give away too much plot, I found myself thoroughly engrossed by the rise to power of the protagonist, as he works towards gaining power and respect among his peers while being embroiled in a devious political rivalry back in Rome that hounds him every step of the war. Rounding out the package is a wonderful cast of voice actors adeptly delivering the lines of your closest companions. The characters themselves can be on the stereotypical side but they are well-written and interesting, each with their own set of character traits and backstories. Bestia; the savage gladiator who spent years in the arena fighting beasts. Syneros; your oldest companion and advisor, is well versed in philosophy and has a surprising history that I won’t spoil here. Caeso; the loyal veteran princeps and close family friend. These characters (along with a few others) are your closest friends and they only get more familiar and fleshed out as the story goes on.
Before I get into the combat, let’s talk about your crew. Aside from your main character, you will eventually recruit a handful of close companions. These are your most loyal allies who (along with your created character) are integral to the story. If they die in battle, it’s game over. Next up are your praetorians. Once you become the legatus of your own legion, you will gain access to a war camp and all kinds of extra stuff we’ll go over later. Here you can recruit up to a maximum of four centurions to oversee your legion in large-scale battles. While your companions take part in the smaller scale tactical battles with you, you can also recruit up to eight other praetorians to fill up your elite guard. These characters function just like your main companions: you can level them up, customize their equipment and skills as they level up, and you can assign them to perform camp tasks or send them on special missions. If these guys fall in battle, they die permanently and need to be replaced. You can turn the permadeath option when you start the game, but I like leaving it on; it lends a greater sense of urgency and reward to encounters. Your praetorians all have a selection of personality traits that determine how they react to your choices. If you plan on playing as a benevolent and generous leader, then you might not want to keep too many praetorians with the greedy or warmongering trait around, because if their fealty rating is low enough forget about insubordination on the battlefield: they will straight up leave. Morale plays a big part in battles as well. I can’t tell you how many times I used fear tactics to cause chaos with the enemies, making them cower and abandon their positions, or even occasionally taking a swipe and their allies. Thinking on your feet and trying out a plethora of tactics is necessary if you want to come out ahead because these battles are rarely straightforward.
There are two types of combat you will be engaging in. The biggest part of it will be turn-based engagements that use a hex-based type of movement grid. It’s a bit different than traditional turn-based though since it allows you to move your team in any order you want and your turn doesn’t end until you’ve used up all your action, ability, and movement points. This system affords you plenty of freedom and tactical options since you can jump between characters as much as you want without forcing them into standby just because they took an action. The four classes each have a distinct feel, and thanks to the fact that each class has three unique skill branches to invest in, you have a lot to play around with in regards to party customization and tactics. Expeditions: Rome rewards you for fighting like a true Roman, and to give you an idea of what I mean, I’ll describe an actual combat situation I found myself in. Some angry tribesman had stolen my standard, so I tasked my praetorians to get it back. There were enemies scattered all over the mountainous map, with the standard in the middle of the area upon a high hill where it was surrounded by 5 or 6 enemy shieldbearers and the only way to get up there was one of four inclines so narrow my men would be single file most of the way up. I headed down into the valley and took out the three people waiting there with a lightning-fast blitz and then situated myself near the base of the hill’s closest path. I left two men behind at a narrow path to block off the barbarians encroaching from the left side while sending three men up the path, leaving another behind for support. As my shield-bearing princeps headed up the tight path with my triarius (spear user) behind him ready to use his extended reach to strike over his ally, the hilltop enemies moved in immediately, blocking me off from my goal. With only six men versus at least twice that, I was already outnumbered, with more enemy reinforcements being called in and a handful of them already moving in on my right to encircle and overwhelm me. Instead of settling in for a long assault that my guys probably wouldn’t have survived (remember the permadeath?) I changed tactics on the fly. Using an ability called ruse, I forced the hilltop defenders to scatter and break formation, used another praetorian’s ability to enhance nearby allies’ movement range, then in one quick moment sent my princeps through the scattered enemy, grab the standard and run back down to the rest of the group. He took a few attacks of opportunity but his shield and heavy armor soaked up most of the damage. The last thing for me to do was carefully disengage and retreat carefully. Quick thinking and clever use of tactics turned the tide. These kinds of situations are exactly the reason why the battles of Expeditions: Rome are so engrossing to me, it is rarely as simple as killing all foes.
Once you come into possession of your first legion and you need to start subjugating the enemies of Rome, things really open up and the management side of the game comes into play. The four resources you’ll be handling are denarii (money), rations, medicine for keeping your injured troops healed, and slaves. As you navigate the overhead world map, you will engage your legion in large-scale battles to take over enemy camps and bring the region under Roman rule. These battles are fairly quick and simple, with each side battling in a war of attrition over the course of four phases. Stratagems are randomly generated at the start of each phase. These stratagems are more or less modifiers that can help (and occasionally hinder) your war effort. These include benefits like more legionari surviving their wounds, higher player aggression, or direct damage to enemy soldiers. Of the four centurions you hired to oversee the legion, one must be chosen to lead. A centurion can specialize in logistics, infantry, cavalry, and artillery. These specializations determine how successful stratagems of the same type will be. Once you take over an enemy camp, you can now proceed to take over the rest of the region and secure important resources for upgrading your camp. You can’t rest on your laurels, however, since enemies will attempt to attack reclaim their lost camps. You always get advance notice when this happens, along with the chance to run some kind of interference to possibly slow them down. That way, you will always have a chance to garrison your troops there and repel the attack.
Expeditions: Rome is a great tactical roleplaying game that will keep you plenty busy waging war with its sprawling 60-hour campaign across three theaters of war filled with cutthroat politics and bitter rivalries. Will you rise through the ranks and bring glory to Rome or will you die forgotten in some lonely part of the world? It’s up to you, Legatus. Vae Victus!
*Note: A copy of the game was provided for the purpose of the review.
Final Score: 9/10
+Excellent voice cast helps to further an already great plot
+ Interesting variety of gameplay
+Meaty 60 hour story mode over three campaigns
+Highly engaging battles that reward tactical prowess
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