What you need to know
- What is it? Turn-based RPG set in Ancient Rome
- Reviewed on: PC - Ryzen 5 3600, Radeon RX 5700 XT, 16GB RAM
- Developer: Logic Artists
- Publisher: THQ Nordic
- Release date: January 20, 2022
- Available on: PC
Expeditions: Rome swooped in near the end of January 2022, just before a long list of AAA blockbusters released during the next month, hoping to carve out its own fan base. Unfortunately, the review embargo ended on the same date that Microsoft announced the acquisition of Activision Blizzard which is bound to be the main headline of the day.
While that news is a giant surprise to the entire gaming industry, I have to say it is a great shame it will eclipse the potential talk about Expeditions: Rome, which is beautiful in its own way, despite some flaws I encountered during the journey.
Rome is the third entry in the series of turn-based RPGs set in historically significant periods, following in the footsteps but also building up on Expeditions: Conquistador and Expeditions: Viking.
The setting of each game emphasises meeting and interacting with historical figures of importance, although you are not one of them. With a custom-made character, you are inserted into an exciting era of humanity's past, which results in a unique challenge for the developers - they are trying to maintain historical accuracy as much as possible but they also need to leave enough room for you to create your own story.
This is perhaps the biggest triumph Logic Artists achieved with Expeditions: Rome because you do get to enjoy everything I mentioned in the paragraph I mentioned, no matter how paradoxical it may sound. Yes, you get to meet the great characters of the Roman empire, with the likes of Gaius Julius Ceasar, Cicero and many more. Yes, you also get to interact with them and maybe even decide their fate.
So how does it count as "historically accurate" then? Well, these parts don't because they are a result of your blank slate character being inserted into the historic events. However, the game is absolutely peppered with historically accurate bits and pieces like the events that transpired at the time and the correct years during which certain consuls were elected. Sometimes, the details go even further, to correctly place historical figures in the exact geographical location they were in at the time, even if it's not their usual dwelling.
In the end, Logic Artists managed to create a setting that did not stand a chance to be historically accurate because you are playing a fictional character but still made it feel so authentic that you get the impression you stumbled upon a time machine and now you are genuinely walking the streets of Rome or leading a legion into war.
Legionari on their way to check up on their Greek neighbours
Balancing the amount of freedom players get in an RPG against the constraints of historical facts in order to create a cohesive environment sounds like an immensely challenging task but Logic Artists definitely nailed it down in this case.
On the topic of characters that appear throughout your journey, each Act will bring new and exciting ones, except the final one which makes sense because this is the culmination of the actions of you and your nemesis.
Each of the aforementioned historical figures are interesting in their own way and it's obvious the devs didn't simply rely on these characters' significance from the history books to carry the players' fascination alone. Unfortunately, it's impossible to go into more individual detail without spoiling anything but rest assured, there is a lot to look forward to - not just the "oh hey! It's that person from the history books" impression.
Similarly, the companions you meet along the way are highly engaging. When you assemble your Praetorian guard, you get an entire team of interesting personas to make friendships, rivalries and romance with.
Cicero, always the lawyer
Most importantly, they are not two-dimensional characters. For example, Syneros is a wise teacher that seems to always direct you in the right way but he also happens to be sexist. This creates an interesting dynamic in the future, should you decide to recruit women in your closest circle. Do you follow the suggestions of your wise teacher or do you decide to forego something that was the social norm at the time but is obviously not the right thing in hindsight? Such intricate connections keep happening between characters in the world of Expeditions: Rome, truly giving it the appearance of a small society you become a part of, rather than just another virtual world.
Every story's potential ultimately depends on the quality of the villain and boy, does this game deliver. From the moment I got properly introduced to the story I couldn't wait for the opportunity to tear this conniving little excrement apart. I detest every pixel that makes up the bones of his virtual body. You don't meet villains that inspire so much loathing every day and you certainly don't meet them if the writing wasn't up to par. If the vast ensemble of interesting characters so far didn't convince someone, the despicable nature of the main villain in Expeditions: Rome is a credit to the writers and a cherry on top that completes this fascinating story.
They also embraced the memes. I'm sold
For the most part, gameplay in Expeditions: Rome is good but it does have some shortcomings that start showing towards the later parts of the campaign.
Like many other turn-based RPGs, this game offers a variety of skills to help you through the journey but Expeditions: Rome leans into them further. There are no auto-attacks here because each weapon you pick up or craft has its own set of skills. You can pick up two weapons that are exactly the same in name and appearance but one will have a skill that requires the usage of a shield while the other might require a dagger. Essentially, weapons will add one more layer of depth to combat even when they don't seem that way on the surface.
While players who enjoyed previous Expeditions titles will be familiar with the aforementioned weapon skill system, they are probably expecting to adjust attributes upon levelling up as well. This is no longer the case and you can only pick one skill per level up, be it passive or active.
Forging a well-oiled war machine by combining the characters you will ultimately depend on how good you are at weaving their abilities together so one can enable the other.
With the right build, you can thrive even against overwhelming odds
One of the main complaints I have with gameplay here is when the game tries to force difficulty by having you fight incomplete or flawed game systems rather than the enemy.
For example, you can't open the inventory during combat as the game probably doesn't want you switching between weapons to counter the current enemies on the field. That is understandable but the problem is that skill tab is tied to the inventory one so if one of your characters levelled up and you didn't spend the skill points beforehand, you can't do so until the combat is over. Not even while you're in the preparation phase, which is still at a point in time before the actual combat.
Furthermore, you can't manage the inventory and skills of characters that are assigned to do a job in your legion's base, which weaves into one of the biggest problems with this system.
Sieges, the missions that are the finale of each Act, are made of prolonged encounters that switch back and forth between two or three teams made of your followers. As such, you can get stuck in these extremely long engagements with your characters gimped through skill points that were not used or outdated gear because some of them were on assignments in your base and you couldn't manage them before starting the siege.
Had I not equipped my praetorians before the siege, I would suffer quite the handicap. On the flip side, after the siege, I lost all the items they were carrying because these four aren't among my inner circle
The only way to properly level and gear them up is to walk to the fort, remove everyone from their assigned positions, manage them and then engage the siege, which is a rather clunky and unnecessary design.
Managing the army is not necessarily boring but it does seem to lack depth. All you need to do is beef your legion up to the maximum number of troops and you will basically win every engagement, with the strategems' usefulness being questionable, at best. You will need to go through army engagements numerous times during the campaigns and they get old rather quickly but the game doesn't stop pressuring you to do more.
Thankfully, you can choose to auto-resolve these situations but RNG might decide to inflict more casualties than needed, which could hamper your regular adventures. The aspect of managing the legion also creates a bit of tedium because it's extremely repetitive and each Act, barring the final one, has you conquering new lands over and over.
One more peeve I found with Expeditions: Rome was a certain mission where the game just decided my party has to be defeated. That was literally the objective and I hoped it would eventually change because it was obvious the enemy couldn't overcome my team but it was not meant to be. I had to throw the fight or the game wouldn't progress further. Other players might find a way to interpret the situation in new ways but it just didn't sit well with me.
Nothing spells "certain doom" like full health bars and a field of dead enemies
Graphics in isometric games are usually not the main thing that appeals to the fans but they are not often found lacking either. Expeditions: Rome also seems to be sitting in that comfortable middle ground but it's worth noting that the developers took great care in creating environments that relay the feeling of your geographical location extremely well.
When you're in Asia Minor, you are surrounded by Greek architecture and the main beauty lies in the recreation of set pieces that we only saw in history books and through artwork so far. Coupled with the aforementioned storytelling that immerses you into the last century BC, the looks of the game tell a beautiful story, rather than just serving as meaningless eye candy.
My PC slightly exceeds the recommended specs for Expeditions: Rome but I did notice performance drops during sieges. Due to the scale of these battles and the amount of effects on screen, this is not particularly surprising. Since this is a turn-based game, it's not as affected by performance drops but it would still be nicer if was smooth at all times.
Expeditions: Rome is a game with high points in storytelling and gameplay alike but the latter aspect has some glaring issues that drag it back quite a bit. Without too much eye candy, the game strives to show you the world and help you immerse into it, instead of expecting you to look at it as if you were window shopping.
Logic Artists managed to take an extremely challenging task of inserting fantasy into history without letting it break apart at the seams and they succeeded. That alone is enough to make this a unique entry in the list of games of 2022 but the characters of Expeditions: Rome will not leave you indifferent. Even though it may be rough around the edges, Expeditions: Rome is a gem that deserves to shine in the light, rather than being a hidden one.