Expeditions: Rome is a turn-based tactical game, with a good dose of RPG, which, if we were to compare it to a well-known game, would be very close to XCOM in its approach. But with an original and underused theme, Expeditions: Rome places us, as its title indicates, in the great era of Rome, a few decades before our era, in the twilight of the Republic.
A rather strange beginning…
The game starts in a very minor mode. After the character creation, we learn a sinister story of a plot, the murder of your character’s father and a threat to your person. So you are sent away from the great capital of the Republic, lest you become a political pawn for your father’s murderer, or worse. You are placed under the tutelage of a Legate who protects your young hero from the threats he/she faces, despite his/her desire for revenge. The start is terribly sluggish and very strange, with this introduction that is not in line with what follows. It’s just about taking command of a Roman legion. Strange…
Similarly, the developers have made the choice to allow the player to play as a woman as well as a man, depending on the player’s wishes. While the desire for inclusion is commendable, in this case it offends the fidelity of the representation of this period, during which no, women could not freely lead a legion without it not eliciting any specific comment.
In short, an introduction does not serve the title very well, does not really seem to know what to do and can leave a very bad impression from the start. A small tutorial follows quickly with a fight on a ship that explains the different features of the game, before arriving on an island in the middle of the Mediterranean where we join our protector who quickly hires us in the army to fight a pirate insurrection against the omnipotence of Rome.
… Then it’s another universe
And that’s where this initial bad impression completely flies away, because the game really takes a great extent very quickly. Because of the choices you make for your character, because of his mentality, the dialogues between the characters that take place between two fights can vary from one to the other and some options are not always available depending on your affinities towards your interlocutors. Some of these options even change the game during the following fights and set a whole new path of progression in your campaign. It’s so weird that a game is so rich, story-wise, and has made such an uninspired intro… but so what.
Soon, we form a group of 5 fighters who go from battle to battle in a campaign that is scripted from start to finish and in tactical battles that are far more complex than just “take them all out.”
For example, while following our superior in an attack on an enemy town, and despite our objections to the risky path, we are heavily ambushed and our superior is wounded, left for dead. We are slightly behind and a general battle breaks out between the NPCs of the faction opposite, the men of the legate we were following and our group whose objective is to break through the enemy lines, recover your superior and escort him to the exit without him succumbing to his injuries. And it’s really the feeling of being in the middle of a fight in which everyone is gutting each other that gives the game a very original perspective in its fights.
Moreover, most of the levels are made in this way, with challenges to consider and a different approach for each one. The game, on this aspect, is terribly narrative on the one hand and borrows what is best in TRPG on the other hand. The solutions to reach the end of a mission are multiple and well thought out, you often have to rack your brains to minimize the damage.
In between battles, you will have to lead a legion and the military camp that goes with it. Resource management, politics, dialogue. Managing a legion quickly places you as an important element in the life of Rome and will not, as you can imagine, only make people happy (remember the intro).
Not only do you explore Rome and its multiple facets, attending for example Senate debates, but you also criss-cross the Roman world, passing from Egypt to Gaul, each enemy having its own tactical particularities to take into account; Expeditions: Rome is a gold mine of evolution and learning in its gameplay.
The work on the characters, their dialogues and their respective behavior is terribly neat. You meet all the great characters of the time: Cicero, Cleopatra, etc. and you have to weigh your words carefully to avoid disasters. So yeah, sure, it’s pushy and meeting all these illustrious characters is not too correct, historically speakingб and your actions have a lot of influence on Rome itself. Will you impose your opinions? Will you be a staunch defender of the Republic? Will you participate in the emergence of the Empire? It’s all about choices.
The game is very long and also takes on a grand strategy dimension with the management of your legion. Mass battles are played automatically, though, but after pacifying a region, you enter tactical mode and have to win a battle for it to fall under your rule. In addition to massive battles and tactical battles, there is a third kind of gameplay that exists: siege battles. These are particularly long and have multiple objectives that you must achieve in order to advance and bring down the city or camp you are besieging.
All the management of a camp takes time. You have to let companions rest from time to time, or even assign them tasks that will prevent them from accompanying you to the battle. You have to provide for everyone’s needs, their equipment, consumables, etc.
There are four classes in the game, which you can quickly choose from (after one or two missions, from memory), each with three skill trees that can vary a character’s gameplay dramatically. Your companions also have skill trees, though not all of them are from one of the four playable classes for your central character, like the former gladiator, for example, who has totally personal (and useful) skills.
All in all, Expeditions: Rome is an extremely rich game, varied in its gameplay, with a particularly neat narrative, complex in many aspects that will challenge the most demanding among you. One thing is sure, not only is the game terribly good, but it will make you want to know more about the license, so let’s go !