Imperator Rome the latest grand strategy title from Paradox Interactive launched in April of 2019. There were high hopes and expectations and not a small amount of hype for this new game to come in as a great conqueror like Caesar himself, it instead performed more like Nero… on a fiddle… Look, I’m a history major talking about Rome, I’m contractually obligated to make these references or the Old Ones will devour me. When Imperator first launched it’s steam reviews were mostly negative, current all time reviews are at Mixed, and recent reviews are Mostly Positive. So whatever Paradox did at launch they seemed to have righted the ship for now.
So why was Imperator so disappointing on launch? Perhaps a bit unfairly towards Paradox, we know what they’re capable of. Imperator was in comparison, to 6 and 7 year old multiple, feature inclusive, dlc and free update content backed titles Europa Universalis IV and Crusader Kings II, bare and empty. Apparently more so than Hearts of Iron IV or Stellaris were upon their launch as they didn’t receive anywhere near the level of complaints as Imperator did. I say unfairly because, it’s somewhat delusional to expect a freshly released game to be as broad and deep and rich in its content as a game with 7 years of constant development invested into it. But that’s not to say the complaints weren’t somewhat unfounded.
Johan Anderson the creative designer behind Imperator remarked that they had taken the basic game of Europa Universalis Rome, a title released in 2008 as its basis and had updated and evolved borrowing elements from Crusader Kings and Europa Universalis IV to produce Imperator. However, and this is my own subjective criticism, while Imperator was a remarkable evolution of its original form where it fell flat were the elements that it borrowed from its older sibling titles. They appeared in largely a base form from those games which were systems that have been iterated and improved upon many times. I don’t fault Imperator for not being as deep as the other titles but I do knock it for not learning from the years of development that were put into them.
So how did Paradox recover? Well they reached out to the community for feedback and issued a road map going forward. Their one year plan included making what would have been the first paid dlc content free instead. By the second month they had an update that completely overhauled navies and pirate and civil wars. There next plan was an ambitious overhaul of a system of abstract resources, derisively referred to as mana, that it inherited from Europa Universalis. Their most recent update that introduced a mission system, and an overhaul to supply and attrition, also included the Punic War content pack (unit models for Rome and Carthage and country specific mission trees for them) for free.
Imperator hardly resembles its launch state, for the better, it’s a real testimony to Paradox’s commitment to its games and community and a lesson in how to recover from inauspicious beginnings, like when Rome had its entire field army wiped out by Hannibal at Cannae and simply recruited a new one to field against him Paradox simply refused to give up on its project and has come out the victor. If massively detailed systems rich grand strategy titles set in history are your jam it’s well worth a look.