2018 is proving to be an unconventional year for 4X games. Instead of the barrage of Master of Orion 1/2 clones and the occasional fantasy offering, we’ve gotten a quick-play 4X called Space Tyrant and a post-apocalyptic title, Warhammer 40k Gladius: Relics of War. Both have been well received by our community. Next up is developer Kubat Software and publisher Slitherine LTD with Aggressors: Ancient Rome.
This is no Civilization or Total War clone. It’s a proper turn-based 4X with a limited scope and historical focus. The default map is most of Europe, Western Mesopotamia, and North Africa – essentially the borders of the Roman Empire at its height, excluding Britain.
There are 20 different factions to choose from: three empires and 17 barbarian tribes. Each one comes with its own unique land units (unfortunately, naval units for all factions are identical). Each faction has various bonuses according to terrain and their own historical flavor.
Aggressors has a robust tutorial which I enjoyed playing. It did a thorough job of showing me how to use the various aspects of the game. I highly recommend it. There are a lot of small, fiddly bits that can cascade into real problems if you don’t understand them.
There are tooltips aplenty and an “Aggressors Library” that is similar to a Civil-o-pedia if you get lost or want a more in-depth explanation of something like “Coinage” for instance. All in all, I think Kubat has put a lot of effort into making its game accessible for new players.
The UI is busy but not unusable. There are, however, a couple quality of life issues. First, it uses Left-Click select, Left Click move for units. This is incredibly frustrating at times. I struggled with numerous misclicks in the games I played. The RTS-style Left-Click select, Right-Click move has been standard for most 4X games for about 20 years now. Second, the game the Esc key doesn’t unselect something. It just pulls up the game menu. When I press Esc, I expect my cursor to clear if I have something selected. Then, if the cursor has nothing selected and I press Esc, the game menu could come up. It’s a small convenience that makes a big difference over extended play.
One of the things I like about this game is that it gives you a number of short-term and long-term goals. These help guide a player in making good decisions while he/she is learning the game. The rewards for completing them are a nice boost as well.
Another thing I enjoy is how damaged units appear on the screen. Soldiers are bruised and bloody. Their tattered standards flap listlessly in the wind. Damaged ships have scorch marks and dilapidated planks. These graphical features make it easy to see which of your units need to be moved back from the front lines to heal and which of your enemy units should be targeted for attack first.
The AI appears capable. I’ve witnessed AI-controlled factions fighting amongst themselves. I’ve been pressured by the AI on numerous occasions. Naval units are constantly roaming the seas and preying on unsuspecting vessels. I’ve gotten diplomatic offers and threats on occasion, but not often, which is fine. I’d rather the AI be somewhat aloof diplomatically (particularly in the early game) rather than constantly spamming my like in the Warlock series of games. Also, old conquered nations will rebel from time to time, so the mid game stays interesting even if you’re winning.
I haven’t experienced the late game yet. The map is large and there are so many factions to try, I’ve just been exploring what Aggressors has to offer. In the time that I’ve given Aggressors, I haven’t run into any bugs. It did crash on me a couple of times, but that was because my computer didn’t recognize my beta version as a published game and ran it through my integrated video card rather than my NVIDIA graphics card. The developers emailed me personally to help me fix the problem, so they get a thumbs up for customer service!
The game is well optimized, at least for me. Even after a hundred turns or so, there was no slow down at all, even with a multitude of AI tribes running around everywhere. If it weren’t for the maddening Left-Click Select, Left-Click Move I could have gotten even further in the game.
In the end, I think Aggressors: Ancient Rome has a decent shot at reaching a large audience. There have been relatively few 4X games launched this year (the fewest since eXplorminate launched in 2014), so the marketplace is not all that crowded at the moment. I think those who enjoy this historical period will find something to like in this game, especially if you’ve ever wanted to play one of the barbarian tribes of Europe. Aggressors: Ancient Rome is slated to launch August 30th. Stay tuned to eXplorminate for updates!