Review – Expeditions: Rome
Ancient Rome’s legacy will never die. I’m not talking about in culture, politics, or architecture either. I mean Rome’s legacy in video games, especially those of the strategic kind. Its place in history as a landmark of wartime strategy means that, for strategy game developers looking for a setting, Rome is an easy answer. Not a bad one either, even though sometimes I wish more developers took a larger view of history. Still, I can’t deny that its easy basis has formed the foundation for many many fantastic games. Total War: Rome and Aggressors: Ancient Rome being two big ones that come to mind. When I first saw Expeditions: Rome, I was, at first, wary of yet another Roman title. Yet, after playing a bunch of it, I have to admit we do have another winner here.
First thing to make clear about Expeditions: Rome is that it’s not a strategy game. It does have strong tactical elements for sure, both in the meta and micro gameplay systems. But it’s at heart a CRPG, with everything that entails. A core party of characters to learn about and fight alongside. A core main story that takes center stage over involved gameplay elements. And a focus on characters in battle versus armies led by faceless generals. Although again, that’s not to say those things aren’t here. They just aren’t the focus, and those playing this hoping for that gameplay experience need look elsewhere. Not like there aren’t plenty of options, whereas historical RPGs are in short supply.
The biggest issue a game like this has is one of focus. You need to balance the strategy elements with the RPG ones. Especially when the game in question is meant to be at core a CRPG. You need to do that right, which is not easy, while not letting the strategy elements overwhelm it. Strategy games in general are not exactly considered bastions of storytelling, which can make things difficult when mixing them with a genre known for exactly that. However, Expeditions: Rome has nothing to fear, as it pulls off this balance perfectly. It has the core CRPG mechanics, well done ones even. And it manages to quite masterfully integrate some fairly hardcore strategy gameplay at the same time.
The story hook is simple and very Roman. You’re the youngest child of a powerful Roman Senator, who died under mysterious circumstances. Believing the worst, your mother sends you far away from Rome, away to the frontlines of one of Rome’s many military campaigns. Not exactly the safest place, to be fair, in my opinion (something the game points fun at), but the game would have been a whole lot less interesting otherwise. With few allies, and even fewer resources, your character must claw their way up the Roman ranks through the heat of war. Only once you reach the top can you return to Rome, confront your father’s killer, and change the course of history. Fairly basic, very Roman, and very entertaining.
The game’s combat and gameplay flow remind me a lot of Divinity: Original Sin. You’ll travel across the world with your party, and once combat begins, it starts immediately. It’s turn-based, but without battle maps or anything like that. Everything is on the world, which is what I prefer it for games like this. Sadly, while the basic combat is reminiscent of Original Sin and such games, the level of complexity is far lesser. There’s little to no environmental interaction, the game is grid-based, and simpler character customization means less battle variety. Still, it’s by no means bad, it’s just not as good as the game that wrote the book on tactical CRPGs. Hardly a failure, just some room to grow in future games.
Where the game’s tactical flair really comes through is in the macro gameplay. As you climb up the ranks of the Roman Legions, your responsibilities grow. You’ll go from just a warrior, to building up and customizing the Legion camp and forces. You’ll even oversee massive battles between your forces and the enemy. It’s not just about numbers either, as battles are their own minigames where you’ll make decisions on formations and such. The forces you’ve raised, the generals you put in charge, and your own decisions in battle decide the outcome of these truly epic clashes. It’s this that puts this game on another scale compared to most other strategy RPGs. It may not be as personal as something like Fire Emblem: Three Houses, but what it does it does very well.
Finally, it all comes down to plain old character customization and progression. There are three classes, each one with three specializations each. These are all combat-focused and based around the usual tank, damage, healer, and support roles. It’s not the best customization I’ve ever seen in an RPG, but it gets the job done. Much more interesting is the social angle. There’s three types of social character classes: Ethos, Logos, and Pathos. These decide how your character acts and behaves in diplomacy and conversation. Ethos revolves around using your authority and standing, Logos revolves around facts and statistics, whereas Pathos is driven by emotion. Overall I found this choice way more intriguing than combat class choices, especially since how well-written the game is.
Expeditions: Rome is a great game that does exactly what it sets out to do. It’s a CRPG set during Ancient Rome focusing on authenticity and balancing RPG mechanics with hardcore strategy mechanics. A balance it strikes well, with a well written story and a polished Roman Legion customization and battle system. You really are raising an army, and then waging war on your enemies. And the fact that you have an end goal through it all provides focus and drive for the campaign. You’re always moving forward, waging war on the enemies of now, in order to return to Rome bathed in the glory of victory. You will bring glory to Rome and you will have your revenge on those who wronged you. And it’s totally up to you how that all plays out.
Expeditions: Rome is a very good looking game with a great attention to detail.
The RPG and strategy mechanics are fairly deep, a lot of fun, and fleshed out.
The voice-acting is extremely impressive, authentic, and the soundtrack well done.
Fun Factor: 8.0
Expeditions: Rome is a fun historical game with plenty of authenticity, a great story, and fun tactical gameplay mechanics.
Final Verdict: 8.0
Expeditions: Rome is available now on PC.
Reviewed on PC.
A copy of Expeditions: Rome was provided by the publisher.