Reviewed: August 17, 2004
Released: January 7, 2004
Anyone remember a game that released near the end of 2002 called Celtic Kings: Rage of War? Well, Haemimont Games has been hard at work on their follow-up title and now Nemesis of the Roman Empire is ready for your strategic pleasure. But be warned, Nemesis doesnít play by conventional RTS rules, so desktop generals planning on attacking this title like they would any of its competitors might be in for a surprise.
At first glance Nemesis might seem to be more of an expansion pack to Celtic Kings. You have some new battlefields, armies, and new units to make up those armies, but just as much hasnít changed. The engine is relatively untouched and many of the units from Celtic Kings reprise their historic roles in this title.
ďNemesisĒ is a word used to define an enemy, a source of harm, or an opponent that cannot be overcome. When one thinks of the unstoppable Roman Empire itís hard to imagine them having a nemesis, but historians will certainly remember a general named Hannibal, with his armies of mercenaries who made Carthage the greatest world power and a prickly thorn in the side of the Roman Empire. The Punic Wars are about to begin.
My biggest problem with any RTS game is resource management. I simply donít have the patience to gather the ďresource deí jourĒ and build bases and clone soldiers. Thankfully, Nemesis takes a bite out of this painful process by at least removing the construction phase. Sure, there are buildings but they are pre-fab and generally impervious to attack, each serving a critical function in the overall strategic picture.
Buildings are linked directly to certain resources so capturing and holding these structures is now your new mode of resource gathering. Food and gold are your two main resources. Food keeps your troops alive while increasing the population of the city and can also be sold for gold that can be used to train and upgrade your men.
The use of food is an interesting twist for an RTS game and leads to several strategic issues where you must maintain supply lines to troops out in the field or holed up in a fort somewhere. The game makes it easy to establish supply lines from the source to the consumer with just a few mouse-clicks, but these lines are always subject to attack, and once broken, your troops will suffer.
Heroes, a new RTS concept that is quickly growing in popularity, are put to good use. You can assign troops to a hero giving them certain bonuses and allowing them to move in formation. Conversely, troops who arenít assigned to heroes are difficulty to control in large numbers and fall back on AI, which never seems to be as smart for you as it is for the computer.
There are also specialty units like cavalry and magic users who really help to distinguish each of the opposing factions. Some of the mounted units ride horses while others ride camels. Spellcasters enjoy the luxury of certain environmental elements like caves that allow them to ďteleportĒ around the map or ancient ruins where they can cast spells on a global scale.
Single players will enjoy a clever enemy AI that seldom cheats, or at least does it so well I never picked up on it. The computer seems most adept at scanning the battlefield, poking at you troops, testing for weaknesses, and then attacking in the most efficient way possible. You might be tempted to turn the AI against itself and bait them with intentionally poor defended zones, but the computer almost seemed to sense this. Then in some brilliant strategy on the AIís part (and a total lapse on mine) the computer would turn around and bait me into a trap and Iíd lose a few hundred troops.
The solo portion of Nemesis features two large campaigns that allow you to play out the Punic Wars from either side. When you are finished reenacting or rewriting history you can then enjoy a nice skirmish mode that puts you up against up to seven AI opponents or take your game online for some eight-player conquests. With a random map generator and a plethora of settings to tweak, there are infinite battle possibilities.
Not much has improved since Celtic Kings so you basically have a game that is showing its age. Even so, the graphics hold up nicely with a nice sense of scale between units and structures, excellent detail in the units, and some great battle animation. Things get a bit clunky for simple generic troop movements.
The battlefields are impressively large which makes the detailed map insert one of the better functions of the game. You can instantly jump to any battle using the world map or scroll around the main window or even zoom out for the complete big picture with a tap of the spacebar. The ďfog of warĒ is implemented nicely in the main view but the map screen can often override it and give you some unfair insight into enemy movements.
The game engine still impresses me with its ability to rendered amazing detail on dozens of units on the same screen then scale that detail to depict hundreds of units, often engaged in their own private skirmishes.
The 2D menus and informational displays are nicely laid out, easy to read, and simple to navigate. Despite being almost three years old, you have to admit the interface and the game engine are still keeping up with the competition, even if they arenít breaking new ground.
The rich orchestra score is stirring and suitably on scale with something as epic as the Roman Empire, but after about 10 hours of gameplay youíll quickly realize there isnít a lot of variety in the music and the tracks that are present are relatively short. Turn down the music and stick in your Troy or Lord of the Rings: Return of the King soundtrack.
Sound effects are minimal, mainly battle sounds which serve their purpose. There is a smattering of voice acting in the cutscenes, most of it fairly average if not downright bad, but most of the conversation during the actual game is through text messages.
You can plan on at least 20 hours to complete both of the single-player campaigns, and those who enjoyed the game enough to finish those will easily be compelled to play the skirmishes, either alone or online for another 10-20 hours.
The random map generator and near-infinite combinations for multiplayer gaming will make this one RTS game that will stay on your hard drive until you simply canít stand to play one more mission. Truly, a remarkable value for $30.
Iím not a traditional fan of RTS games but I really did enjoy my time with Nemesis of the Roman Empire. Itís entertaining and even a bit educational, at least from a historical perspective. And while the audio and visual elements are admittedly showing their age, the core game engine is solid and the computer AI is untouched by anything else in the current crop of competitors.
There are certainly better titles on the RTS horizon, but until those games materialize Nemesis is a worthy addition to any strategy gamerís collection and will keep you engrossed for countless hours of historic battles of epic proportions.