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Expeditions: Rome - the final Expeditions game from Logic Artists

Shrimp

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In this old forum post from the Expeditions: Vikings Steam discussion boards Jonas says they plan on leaning more towards systems-driven gameplay in their next game as a way of reducing the production cost.
I think legion battles might be one of these features. They appear somewhat frequently throughout the entire game but the gameplay part of it mainly consists of navigating a series of different interfaces, so it probably didn't cost too much to develop.
tcG7ayW.png
 

Infinitron

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Codex Year of the Donut Serpent in the Staglands Dead State Divinity: Original Sin Project: Eternity Torment: Tides of Numenera Wasteland 2 Shadorwun: Hong Kong Divinity: Original Sin 2 A Beautifully Desolate Campaign Pillars of Eternity 2: Deadfire Pathfinder: Kingmaker Pathfinder: Wrath I'm very into cock and ball torture I helped put crap in Monomyth
This game has good music.

GameBanshee review: https://www.gamebanshee.com/reviews/125994-expeditions-rome-review/all-pages.html

Introduction

Expeditions: Rome is the latest entry in the Expeditions series of historical RPGs that started with Expeditions: Conquistador back in 2013 and was then followed by Expeditions: Viking in 2017. It also looks to be the last Expeditions game developed by Logic Artists, the series creators, as the team has now been disbanded, with the rights to the IP going to THQ Nordic, who may decide to do something with it in the future.

For now, though, we can take Rome out for a spin and decide whether or not it can be considered a worthy conclusion to the original trilogy.

When in Rome

If you're not familiar with the Expeditions series, it's fairly unique in that it combines historical settings with stories of adventure tailored to fit into an RPG where you lead a squad of conquistadors, a Viking raiding party, and now a Roman army, through some hostile and usually unexplored land.

In general, I loved Conquistador and liked Viking. Coincidentally, this mirrors my general feelings towards those two settings. But when it comes to Rome the country, I'm really not the biggest fan of it, and as a result, right from the start, I knew that a game set in and around those parts would have to live or die based on its own merits without any influence from anything even remotely resembling rose-tinted glasses.

And let me tell you, while initially, the game's insistence on interspersing its dialogues with Latin words was really grating, after a while, it kind of grew on me. In the end, I found Rome's story quite intriguing, its characters fun to be around, and its setting not that bad, actually. And now that I've beaten the game, I consider it to be my favorite Expeditions title to date.

Plus, even though you'll be playing as a Roman general, your journey of conquest and exploration will take you to all sorts of cool places. You'll fight rebellious pirates with Caesar, the man not the salad, conquer Egypt for Cleopatra, and be perpetually confused by the crazy Gauls and their even crazier druids. And between these three military campaigns, you'll be able to visit Rome as a citizen or maybe even a conqueror.

Taking place around the 1st century BC, the game starts with a couple of scheming brothers making a play for the Roman senate. To achieve their goals, they need to get rid of your father who can ruin their whole operation. This sets in action a chain of events where you get sent away to spend some time with an old family friend currently leading a military campaign against some Greek pirates, who aren't really pirates and more like rebels with a huge army, but that's politics for you.

When things predictably go wrong, through a combination of luck and nepotism, you're put in charge of a legion of your own, with the idea that a decorated general would have considerably more pull back home.

The plot only thickens from there. In fact, during the home stretch, it becomes so thick, you'll be hard-pressed to figure out what's going on, why certain characters act the way they do, and why, with the main villain constantly within your grasp, you can't just end him and tell everyone the Gauls did it, and instead have to invade Rome to finally get your revenge. But hey, at least once everything is said and done, you get an option to marry Cleopatra and retire as the king of Egypt in anticipation of being reincarnated as a cat. And how many games let you do something like that.

Now, seeing how my knowledge of Roman society mostly comes from Life of Brian and those old Asterix cartoons, I can't tell you just how historically accurate the game is. I mean the setting itself, not the cat reincarnation part. You do meet a bunch of historical figures. And some of the events are clearly inspired by things that actually happened. Still, I don't think the developers were very meticulous with their research here, seeing how on several occasions you refer to a decisive victory as decimating your foes, and even I know that this is a beginner-level mistake when it comes to the way Romans did things.
Do as the Romans Do

In practical terms, once the intro is over, you'll be left with a party of story companions and a legion of soldiers under your command. You'll be placed on an expansive overworld map separated into a number of regions where you initially own nothing, but will eventually own everything.

Wherever your legion goes, it's going to erect a camp that will act as your main base of operations. It will be your duty to upgrade this camp by using the resources your legion claims after conquering regions, and in return, you'll get access to various facilities you'll use to upgrade your gear, research new stratagems for your legion, heal your wounded soldiers, and hire new officers.

You'll need the latter to lead your soldiers into battle represented by this kind-of-sort-of card game, with the abovementioned stratagems acting as the cards you'll have at your disposal. You will also be able to equip and level up your officers and later use them as companions for the special pacification missions, or just in general. This will result in a party roster of around 20 characters, with regular encounters limiting your party to 6 members.

Now, if the above sounds more like a strategy game than an RPG, don't worry, this whole legion business mostly exists to provide your adventure with a sense of scale and an opportunity to navigate yourself into random encounters and events that will usually make your life harder in some way, but occasionally allow you to unlock some new perk for your character or discover a new crafting recipe.

In fact, this is one of my bigger gripes with the game. Back in Conquistador, you had to carefully manage your resources, and overall, it felt like you were exploring a wild and untamed land where at any point you were a reckless detour away from starvation.

Viking moved away from this system in favor of a Baldur's Gate-style overworld map where you just clicked on locations to go there. And now Rome sits somewhere in the middle where you have theoretically dwindling supplies, but it's all been simplified to the point where you would have to actively try to lose if for some reason you want to run out of resources or get defeated in a legion battle.

The real meat of the game then is you and your party following your army and personally dealing with various high-priority problems that range from bloody power struggles to some recreational tomb raiding. Those parts play as a more traditional RPG where you interact with NPCs, complete quests, and make oftentimes far-reaching choices. Most quests, even the optional ones, will have multiple, sometimes not obvious, solutions and mutually-exclusive rewards, suggesting a certain degree of replayability. Just going by some recent patch notes mentioning things I didn't even know were possible, there's way more branching in this game than what my single playthrough suggested.

It also helps that the game's writing is pretty good. It's atmospheric without being too wordy, the big overall story is intriguing and makes sense up until the final acts, side-quests tend to be fairly robust. It's good, basically.

Your story companions are both useful in combat and aren't excessively annoying, which is a fairly rare thing these days. They all come with their own personal stories that gradually unfold as the game progresses. And while you can regularly check back with them while making camp, they tend not to overburden you with their life stories all at once, and instead save their big story developments for when you return to Rome.

In fact, the bulk of the game's dialogues and companion interactions come in the form of these ambient conversations, Mass Effect-style. Basically, you'll be running around your camp or some town and you'll overhear various civilians, legionaries, or your companions gossiping or discussing some recent developments. Those conversations tend to be fairly amusing and provide the game with a lived-in feeling.

Which is a good thing, because outside of those, the game's locations tend to really lack interactivity. It seems like three games in, Logic Artists still haven't been able to figure out how to craft good social hubs, or what makes looting fun.

You see, Conquistador was one big map and most of the stuff you picked up were resources you really needed to survive. Viking then, with its new area-based structure, turned the game into a looting simulator by packing an ungodly number of boxes into each of its areas. Rome tries to fix this by replacing countless boxes with around 1-3 lootable objects per area, but it doesn't address the fact that at the end of the day, you're just scanning the map for highlighted objects and then waiting for your guys to get there, which can take a while, especially when ladders are involved. It's a waste of time that could just as easily have been replaced with a loot screen you got upon exiting an area.

On rare occasions, some box will be guarded and trying to loot it will lead to a battle. But those are the exceptions to the usual rule. The same can be said about NPCs. Outside of those ambient dialogues, you usually can only talk to a couple of NPCs per area, which makes those areas feel quite barren. And it's a great shame because they tend to look quite nice from an architectural and aesthetic standpoint. It would've been fun to actually explore them instead of just waiting while your characters jog between points of interest.

With this being the case, it's then a mystery why the game insists on throwing you into the thick of inaction so often, especially when it has a perfectly good overworld map to work with. Right now, in order to manage your camp, you need to click on it, sit through a, thankfully brief, loading screen, assign your new orders, resupply, pick up your new stratagems, then leave the camp and sit through another loading screen. You really should've been able to do all of this through some menu.

And, one final thing to mention here, just like in the previous Expeditions game, while overall this is a very much historical affair with no magic or monsters, there are some minor supernatural elements here. But they always leave plenty of room for a scientific interpretation if that's your thing.

Divide and Conquer

So, while the previous sections describe a pretty good game that could still use some work, now we're getting to the main reason why I enjoyed Rome as much as I did. The game's combat.

At its core, it's still a squad and turn-based affair with roots firmly planted in both Conquistador and Viking where during your turn you can move your characters in whichever order you see fit, but with the benefit of experience, Rome iterates on those ideas to create something truly spectacular.

First of all, very few battles simply task you with eliminating your enemies. Most of the time, you'll have some specific objective to win an encounter, like defeating an enemy leader, saving some hostages, burning enemy supplies, surviving an ambush, or even stealing some artifact.

These objectives result in very dynamic battles where you have to actually do things and utilize strategic thinking, as opposed to just hiding behind a piece of cover and waiting for the enemy to come to you. Paired with a great level design where maps tend to have multiple approach paths, varying levels of elevation, and numerous interactable items like destructible barricades and javelin stockpiles (that the AI doesn't hesitate to use against you), this creates some very enjoyable encounters.

And then, every once in a while, you get to participate in a siege that's like this grand set-piece battle where you'll be commanding your entire party, frequently joined by AI allies, in a multi-stage endurance battle where conserving health and resources is an added concern. You'll have to split your team into several squads, each with its own set of objectives, and once those are done, you'll usually get a chance to regroup and keep pressing your advantage in a battle with dozens of participants aided by some catapult fire.

Now, you might be wondering how such massive battles don't turn into an absolute slog. Rome solves this issue by giving us an animation speed slider that makes everything move at a brisk pace, but without turning the whole thing into some clown fiesta where character models are just zooming all over the place. It also makes it so the AI moves in batches whenever possible, and even you don't have to wait for your characters to finish moving before issuing new commands.

In recent years, I've been using Blackguards as the gold standard when assessing how good a game's encounter design is, and I have to say that Rome is definitely on that level. And while not an expansive RPG with countless side-quests, Rome does have plenty of interesting quests, some limited exploration, and the whole legion system, which all come together to offer a well-rounded experience that will take you in the vicinity of 50-60 hours to complete.

As a Roman, you'll have access to four classes of soldiers - a man with a shield, a scout, an archer, and a support/pikeman hybrid. And while most of the enemies you'll be facing will follow the same pattern, the later chapters will have you cross swords with shamans, berserkers, and other barbarian classes that shake things up. Though unless I missed something, unlike Conquistador, you won't be able to recruit any of those for your squad.

Each class will have access to three unique skill trees. These aren't particularly extensive, but still offer enough build variety to have at least two members of each class in your party specializing in completely different things. And while initially, some classes seem significantly stronger than others, after some skill point investment, both archers and scouts find their own niche and become absolute beasts if you use them right.

Apart from character skills, weapons in this game don't have auto attacks and instead come with a selection of active skills. As a result, you can have weapons with identical stats but different skills available to them, leaving a lot of room for experimentation when it comes to your loadout.

Now, the unfortunate part here is that you can't just say you want a sword with skills A, B, and C, and just get it. These are rolled randomly whenever you loot a weapon, or when you craft it. So if you really want a particular selection of skills, you'll need to craft a lot of swords.

As someone who doesn't like crafting in games, I wasn't particularly thrilled by this prospect, but at least the crafting system in this game is intuitive and not too annoying. And once you have the gear you like, you can keep upgrading it instead of crafting new stuff every few missions.

On top of your class skills and weapon skills, you'll also be able to pack two tactical items per character, with an extra tactical slot for the stuff you pick up during a mission. These items range from javelins and throwing knives to inspiring banners and stat-raising booze. Tactical items tend to have limited charges that you can only restore by visiting your camp, but in return, they don't cost any action points and can turn the tide of many a battle.

And just in general, the game's combat, while seemingly straightforward, has plenty of complexity under the hood with multiple skills synergizing with each other, flanking, attacks of opportunity, shields completely deflecting arrows but not when they're on fire or shot from this particular unique bow, and so on.

None of it feels overwhelming, but once you figure it all out, results in some very satisfying moments where you go on a rampage completely obliterating the enemy squad in a single turn.

That is not to say that the game is easy. It has four difficulty presets with optional permadeath and ironman modes. I was playing on Hard, which is the second to last difficulty, and the game didn't feel too challenging, but wasn't a complete cakewalk, especially early on. Still, if you know what you're doing and are looking for a challenge, you should probably go for the hardest difficulty straight away.

Technical Information

Unlike the previous Expeditions games, Rome uses the Unreal Engine, which results in a greater visual fidelity paired with overall better performance. And the best part is, once the game is running at a satisfying level, it will do so regardless of whether you're in some desert oasis with two shacks and three NPCs, or in a massive city block with a lot of stuff going on all at once.

On top of that, while Viking launched in a fairly poor state and was plagued with various issues, apart from a couple of minor visual glitches and scripting errors, I've not encountered a single game-breaking bug or crash during my playthrough.

The game is fairly quick to save and load, and while it has multiple rotating quick and autosave slots, there's currently no way to adjust their amount, which can result in way too many save files after a while. It's a minor annoyance, but an annoyance nonetheless.

In general, the game has a few of those, like the fact you can't resize the UI, the camera's insistence on resetting to some default position after you were able to tilt it just right, or some fairly obscure mechanics like legion experience that tends to go up and down seemingly for no reason whatsoever.

The game is fully voice-acted. And while usually I don't really like this feature, here, a certain feline priestess aside, all the voices fit their characters really well. Plus, seeing how lately games with limited voice acting have been confusing bloated writing with good writing, having every word cost money may be a good thing.

Finally, while overall Rome looks much better than its predecessors, the one area where this isn't the case are the game's character portraits. It's honestly baffling how we could go from Conquistador, which had fantastic character art, to Rome, where the portraits are so bland and mechanical, it feels like an AI drew them. Beyond just that, those portraits are presented to you as these flat cardboard cutouts usually indicative of visual novels, which makes the whole thing look way cheaper than it actually is.

And beyond even that, the artists here seem to have given up halfway through, and as a result, some characters don't even have portraits, and instead glare at you as some ominous dark silhouette. And those portraits that do exist oftentimes don't exactly correspond with the game. Like there's this smith character who you can praise for his big bushy beard. Only the character's portrait doesn't have a beard and instead presents us with a guy sporting at best a 5 o'clock shadow.

Conclusion

Some minor gripes aside, if you liked both Conquistador and Viking, you should get Expeditions: Rome right this very moment. If you liked Conquistador but not Viking, you should probably still get it, as there's way more Conquistador DNA in Rome than there is in Viking. If you liked Viking but not Conquistador, you'll be pleased to hear that Rome continues to advance the big picture formula of the series, while proving that streamlining doesn't need to be a four-letter word.

And if you've not played any of them, you really should remedy that, because as far as I'm concerned, Expeditions is the single best original RPG series of recent years, and it's a great shame that we won't be getting any more of it, at least not from the same people.
 

HoboForEternity

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Steve gets a Kidney but I don't even get a tag.
I thought i liked viking hand tailored, more crpg approach more too, but as i play rome, it just grew on me. I am in act 3 now, but i enjoyed act 2 the most. It's the balance between the game finally giving you cool stuff and while not being too powerful, but the last tail of act 2 the game became a cakewalk.

I like the story and lurco is a great villain and i like the characters and atmosphere. My real complaint really is the pointless legion battle
 

Spectacle

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I think you get that 'reward' from a sidequest where you buy him some nice wine. I'm playing on Insane difficulty so I assume that the minigame battles are a bit harder numbers wise on that. I think my chance to win the battle without use of that tactic was 6% or something.
The whole card system is pretty random. I had the "Lucullus Gambit" card you're talking about but never used it since it was only selectable in two trivial battles I was going to win easly anyway.
 

Angelo85

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Played for 11 hours and unsure if I want to continue. The combat itself is fun, exploration and dialogue adequate. But the frequency of random CYOA and especially the legion battle stuff is totally crushing my desire to continue. It feels disconnected from the core gameplay and way too much of a time waster between the actual fun parts.
Sometimes less is more. I would have preferred a more focused experience.
 

Sunri

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Played for 11 hours and unsure if I want to continue. The combat itself is fun, exploration and dialogue adequate. But the frequency of random CYOA and especially the legion battle stuff is totally crushing my desire to continue. It feels disconnected from the core gameplay and way too much of a time waster between the actual fun parts.
Sometimes less is more. I would have preferred a more focused experience.

If you played 11h you already saw everything this game has to offer in therms of gameplay.
 

Cyberarmy

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Divinity: Original Sin 2
Played for 11 hours and unsure if I want to continue. The combat itself is fun, exploration and dialogue adequate. But the frequency of random CYOA and especially the legion battle stuff is totally crushing my desire to continue. It feels disconnected from the core gameplay and way too much of a time waster between the actual fun parts.
Sometimes less is more. I would have preferred a more focused experience.

If you played 11h you already saw everything this game has to offer in therms of gameplay.

Twice probably...
 

HoboForEternity

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Steve gets a Kidney but I don't even get a tag.
finally finished it. felt dragging a bit in act 3, and most encounters became really easy on hard but overall enjoyable experience.

my ending:
-lurco killed his brother
-killed lurco in the end because i dont want my friends to die
-everyone except Uncle Iroh Syneros survived (died by poison :( )
-ran off rome and became adventurer
-greek is peaceful
-nasamones prospered, but i killed ptolemy and cleo so some rebellion rises, just to be subdued by rome
-the druid became leade of gallia and served under rome
 

Saduj

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my ending

My ending was exactly the same.

Honestly, I don't see how you can't kill Cleo given how she's portrayed. It reminded me of Vikings where taking down both native kingdoms seemed like your only rational choice given how they treat you.
 

Theodora

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Only started it, and really surprised by just how good the art, music, and writing is so far; but as someone deeply invested in Roman history, I'm mostly just glad they made playing as a female PC exceptional / validated by a bunch of 'lore friendly' excuses, rather than some generic world where sexism and bias don't exist.

And beyond that just a lot of small signs they did their homework, even having them pronounce certain works as they are in Latin (e.g. Asia) -- and Roman Latin, not Ecclesiastical Latin, at that.
 

Theodora

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18 hours in before realising you can buy manpower

Haha, only 4 for me, but I cheated with Google. They do straight up tell you in the story that that's the main way of restoring manpower, but they could do more to highlight it / make it easier to find that button the first time.
 

Oropay

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8/10 - Sad to see Logic Artists go

I think you get that 'reward' from a sidequest where you buy him some nice wine. I'm playing on Insane difficulty so I assume that the minigame battles are a bit harder numbers wise on that. I think my chance to win the battle without use of that tactic was 6% or something.
Nice when emergent stuff like that pops up. If you don't completely destroy / scatter armies in the battles you fight early to mid act, they retreat and pile up in some of the final fortresses. Even if you have almost no chance to win the first fight against the big armies, you just wear the army down as much as possible and then replace your manpower and attack again, and I can't see how you won't destroy them on the second fight. I played on Insane and never lost a battle because I focused on destroying all the armies I could, although once I won by the skin of my legionaries teeth against a 7.8K (IIRC) strength army
 

Alexios

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Only played a bit of the demo and uninstalled it shortly after the first battle. Overall seems like the game was put together pretty haphazardly. It was retarded how everyone kisses your ass at the beginning and then suddenly the main guy calls you "kid" when he asks what your opinion is. I'll probably buy the game when it goes on sale for cheap but right now it doesn't seem worth $45 at all.

'roman latin pronunciation' with typical anglo speaking habits is not something to be applauded
The pronunciation doesn't even seem to be correct in some places.
 

Angelo85

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Played for 11 hours and unsure if I want to continue. The combat itself is fun, exploration and dialogue adequate. But the frequency of random CYOA and especially the legion battle stuff is totally crushing my desire to continue. It feels disconnected from the core gameplay and way too much of a time waster between the actual fun parts.
Sometimes less is more. I would have preferred a more focused experience.

Alright so I did actually power through and just now finished the game after roughly 50 hours. The combat encounters stayed fun and varied all the way through to the end and I think it's a worthwhile game to play. The final act/conclusion brought the story to a satisfying end. There was also a surprising amount of CnC for this type of game.
Still would have been a much better experience by far without the tacked-on legion battle shenanigans.

:5/5::2/5: 7/10 trolls from me.
 
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rather than some generic world where sexism and bias don't exist.
lol fucking what
that's exactly what they did except they lecture you on it anytime it comes up to hammer home how terrible women have it but btw you're totally speshul so it doesn't apply to you

the only time the game cares in the absolute least about any sort of historical accuracy is when they're using it to bludgeon you over the head with it
 

fantadomat

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:hmmm:


So i got a few free days and decided to clean up me gpu and check out the game.......and it feels like total decline. Both conquistadors and vikings were superior in every aspect. Levelling is pretty dumbed down,the inventory is a clusterfuck,there is no map,the zoom level is beyond retarded,combat is pretty shit,most of it is against endless enemy spawn also retarded armour mechanics. The fuck happened to the franchise lol
 

fantadomat

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Also it is buggy shit,after 20 minutes of boring combat my friendly unites just froze and now i can't move to my turn. It is pretty funny since the earlier two games too had such a problem but they made the ai turns timed thus if it freeze the turn will be skipped. Now you have to restart the combat....pure shit.
 

baud

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RPG Wokedex Strap Yourselves In Steve gets a Kidney but I don't even get a tag. Pathfinder: Wrath I helped put crap in Monomyth
https://foreignpolicy.com/2022/03/06/videogames-history-rome-expeditions/

A Shiny (and Wrong) Vision of Roman Imperialism
Expeditions: Rome tries to be accurate, but it’s all surface.
By Bret Devereaux, a historian specializing in the Roman economy and military.

Expeditions-Rome-videogame-review.png

A screenshot from the Expeditions: Rome videogame.

For the most part, people don’t get their knowledge of history from historians. Most get historical insight from popular culture—and, in turn, base assumptions about foreign policy and politics on that historical foundation. For many people under age 50, video games—from the ever-popular Assassin’s Creed series of conspiracy fantasies to the Total War series that stretches from medieval Japan to the Napoleonic wars—has been a big part of that.

From the very earliest character interactions, Expeditions: Rome goes to considerable lengths to impress a feeling of historical accuracy. The most obvious manifestation of this is the language; many terms (legatus, servus, etc.) are left untranslated and spoken according to classical Latin pronunciation (thus, ser-wus for servus and Ki-ker-oh for Cicero). The game is awash with important-sounding Roman political and military positions, and the player immediately begins running into major historical figures, such as Lucullus and, of course, Julius Caesar. A lot of attention clearly went into accurately rendering some of the most recognizable equipment, such as Roman mail armor, Corinthian helmets, and the gladius in a way that will certainly at least seem accurate to most players. This is a game that wants the player to feel its historical rootedness.

This charm offensive clearly worked to a significant degree with reviewers. Writer Robert Zak, in a piece for PC Gamer, writes, “Where Expeditions: Rome really shines is in its attention to historical detail.” Reviewer Leana Hafer, writing for IGN, calls it “one of the best historical playgrounds outside of Assassin’s Creed … it goes out of its way to get a lot of small details right,” though she admits it isn’t “slavishly loyal to the sources.” Unfortunately, while Expeditions: Rome is a well-made tactical and role-playing game, it puts its historical efforts into appearing and sounding historically accurate rather than actually being historically accurate, lending its mischaracterizations an unearned patina of historical authenticity. That matches a tendency for popular culture, especially video games, to use the appearance of historical accuracy as a marketing tool without much regard to actual history. The problem with that is that, unlike pure fantasies, the audience can come away thinking they’ve learned something while actually being deeply off course.

The way Expeditions: Rome treats historical equipment expresses the game’s treatment of history more generally. Much of the equipment was clearly modeled off of period artwork and surviving artifacts, so it looks historical, but each faction plays its greatest hits with little regard for the time period. Thus, the Greek opponents of the first chapter fight with heavy soldiers equipped like fourth century BC hoplites rather than the more common first century BC pike-and-shield-wielding phalangites or oval shield-carrying thureophoroi. The second act takes the error further, with Egyptian soldiers resembling the troops of the New Kingdom (1550-1077 BC), nearly a thousand years too late rather than the far more Greek-inflected armies of Egypt’s Ptolemaic era, a habit that also plagues popular strategy games like Rome: Total War, which also exoticize Ptolemaic armies. Roman and Gallic panoplies are more accurate, though the Roman equipment also features chronological fudging, with the chest plate’s pectoral showing up probably a century too late and the iconic lorica segmentata decades too early. Care was taken that the armor would look right—but not that it would be right.

Bizarrely, the game opts to leave most of its statues unpainted, even as it accurately paints most of the buildings. Historians are quite certain that Greek and Roman statues were painted, often in garish colors. For a game that clearly put so much effort into visual accuracy (if not chronological accuracy), this omission is both striking and worrying.

Expeditions: Rome attempts to be more careful with the touchy subjects of Roman imperialism and slavery, a welcome change from the willingness of other historically set games, such as Assassin’s Creed Valhalla, to aggressively whitewash or even erase these subjects, but it doesn’t fully succeed. Depending on the player’s choices, Roman imperialism can have negative consequences for the places you visit, but the effect can be muted. Soldiers extort and exploit locals, but the frequently stunning brutality of Roman conquest mostly occurs off-screen—when it occurs at all. That’s a contrast even with earlier games in the series; Expeditions: Conquistador generally let the player be a much nicer version of the Spanish invaders—forging alliances and making friends, even if you were berated by the king for doing so at the end—but it also forced the player to do their killing on screen—sometimes of unarmored, desperate people who were no match for the player’s soldiers. Two-side quests in the third act involve forging alliances with Gallic druids, befuddling given this is a religious practice the Romans brutally and systematically exterminated. The impact of Roman imperialism in much of the game is dependent on player choices, but since most players of these sorts of games prefer to play good characters, most players will experience a benign form of Roman imperialism, quite divorced from the brutality of the real thing.

Significant effort is made to put Roman slavery on screen; the player’s party consists of two freed persons and one enslaved man. The game’s insistence that the two freed persons, a Mauretanian man and a Scythian woman, both become legally Roman when freed is a welcome recognition of a real source of Roman diversity. Syneros, the player’s enslaved tutor and scribe, however, falls into the unfortunate trope of the loyal slave, happily serving the player character’s family and largely unbothered by his enslavement. Although enslaved people are shown as mistreated and exploited in several side quests, at the same time, some of the dialogue is quick to exonerate characters like Lucullus as good or kind masters.

Expeditions: Rome thus falls into the trap of treating Roman slavery as an institution whose character depended on the morality of the enslaver. In practice, the behavior of even so-called kind Roman enslavers was generally brutal. It is nevertheless a sad statement on the general quality of video game representations, that merely by featuring freed and enslaved people, Expeditions: Rome probably performs better than average.

By contrast, the game openly warns that it plays fast and loose with chronology, killing off a major historical figure very early on. Loading screens note that the second act contest between Cleopatra and Ptolemy XIII has been accelerated by the villain’s machinations, though not just how sped up the timeline is. Following the game’s dates, the second act begins sometime in the mid-60s BC; Cleopatra, born around 69 BC, should be a toddler and her brother Ptolemy XIII, born around 62 BC, isn’t alive yet. Perhaps unsurprisingly, the game also indulges in a heavily sexualized and exoticized portrait of Cleopatra, dressed in a network dress straight out of the Bronze Age rather than the Greek fashion she used, for instance, on all of her coinage.

The game also struggles to grasp the Roman Republic’s political systems, which are central to the game’s plot. A few brief examples: A character is appointed to a proconsular command years before being a consul, something that was at least profoundly irregular, though Pompey had done it in 77 BC; yet there is no hint of protest. In the final act, a trial is held for a sitting consul, a thing that was not legally possible since a consul or proconsul’s imperium shielded them from prosecution until they left office, a fact that is absolutely essential to understanding the crisis of 49 BC that led to Caesar crossing the Rubicon. The trial is held in the Senate, a body which could not, in the republic, conduct trials. Later, the Senate’s nomination of a dictator mistakes Roman procedure at almost every point.

The game’s Cicero claims that “Senators should represent the people,” which is not what senators did—that was the job of Rome’s popular assemblies—but also very much not what Cicero in particular thought they should do. In his De Re Publica, he praises the Roman system for power being concentrated among the wealthy few rather than among the common people. Senators did not have constituents to represent; they spoke for themselves out of their own authority. The Republic was not a democracy and made no pretense at being one.

Even the Latin, on which so much of the game’s impression of historical care relies, is checkered in execution. Common Roman soldiers are uniformly referred to as legionarii, but legionarius was almost never used this way in Latin; ancient writers more often used milites (“soldiers”). If legionarius was used at all, it was as an adjective to modify milites. (That is, legionarii milites or “legionary soldiers.”) The provinces are misnamed, with Asia termed Asia Minor and Africa called Africa Proconsularis, the latter decades and the former centuries before the terms were coined.

For all of that, the game is still fun and well made. As the third game in the Expeditions series, the tactics of gameplay are well honed, though the newly added strategic layer doesn’t add much depth to the game or express anything particularly accurate about Roman warfare. The player’s supporting characters and their stories are interesting, and the voice acting is well above par, especially for a smaller, independent game studio.

As a gaming experience, there is a lot to recommend in Expeditions: Rome, but as a window into the Roman world, the game fails to live up to its promises. Like many historically set games, the accuracy is mostly skin deep, a useful tool for marketing but not penetrating deeper into the story, where it could convey more useful historical truths.
 
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