4X strategy games are something of a niche, and for good reason. The four-pronged approach to gameplay (explore, expand, exploit, exterminate) can be a tad overwhelming to first-time players, even far more than with similar titles, such as the ever-popular Sid Meier’s Civilization series.
Aggressors: Ancient Rome is a lesser-known entry to the 4X genre, having been made by indie developer Kubat Software. But don’t let that “indie” label fool you as Aggressors: Ancient Rome packs a lot of punch in its gameplay, once you give it some time.
Set entirely in ancient times, Aggressors revolves around the conquests of the empires located solely around the Mediterranean. These include the titular Romans, Greeks, Egyptians, Celtics, and the smaller ones around them.
From the onset, there is no story, so you’ll be playing skirmish-style games throughout. You’ll be crafting your own narrative in each session you play, the mileage of which may vary depending on how big of a story person you are.
You’ll pick among a vast selection of big and small factions. While there are no major differences to each faction in terms of personality or playstyle, you’ll be sifting through where each faction is located, their population size, military strength, political prowess, and so on.
Although, having faction-exclusive bonuses or units (not just in name) would certainly be a welcome addition. That said, we can forgive how overwhelming that must be for a small developer to possibly add all those different options into the game’s database, and make them work differently from each other.
In any case, once you’ve chosen your faction, you’re ready to go. Depending on the starting size and power of your chosen faction, you’ll begin with a capital city, as well as a few smaller cities surrounding the area. You’ll also have access to resources such as wood, stone, copper and gold, depending on your starting location.
Staple 4X stuff, really, but what makes Aggressors stand out from its contemporaries is not just the abundance of factions you can choose from, but the way in which they all interact.
Despite not having any distinct personality between each faction, besides the aggressiveness of the AI, you’ll have to deal with them on a constant basis every turn. We’re not just talking about moving your combat units around, fighting other factions’ units and razing their cities to the ground, but also forming alliances with them.
These alliances aren’t just about ending a war with a faction across the sea, but also going to war with those that said faction is currently at war with. You can also form confederations with multiple other factions to give yourself a diplomatic and commercial edge, while at the same time putting a stop to potential nuisances from other factions.
There is a great sense of depth in Aggressors: Ancient Rome, and it doesn’t just stop with dealing with exterior forces. You also need to look out for your own subjects as well.
Expanded too fast? You’ll be stretched thin trying to manage one too many cities. Made too many friends? Your supporters will eventually turn their backs and revolt against you for not having your own backbone.
Focusing on centralising your power in a small area? Your subjects will adore you for giving them your undivided attention, but potential aggressors (hence the title, right?) will come knocking on your door hard.
Dealing with internal and external forces is part and parcel of being an effective ruler of an empire, something that isn’t conveyed as succinctly in other 4X titles. Aggressors really shows you how stressful it can be to manage an empire, and to great effect, at that.
But the nuance of gameplay still doesn’t stop there. Even when you’re in combat, there is a multitude of factors that will affect the outcome. These range from the proximity of your units to one another or to one of your cities, to the types of upgrades your units possess, to even the type of terrain you’re standing on.
There is no one right way to play a 4X game, and Aggressors is actually one of the best ways in conveying that philosophy. Of course, this means the learning curve is one of the steepest among its peers. Hence, the devs took painstaking measures in easing you in with a Basic and Advanced tutorial, before you can fully immerse yourself in a proper game of Aggressors.
A good game needs good gameplay, and Kubat Software has gotten that right, to a T. However, a good game also needs to convey information well, where Aggressors falters unfortunately.
The UI is a hodgepodge of buttons, sub-menus and trackers. Menus are as densely packed as the maps. While it is amazing that there is a multitude of options to customise your game or view your various progressions, there surely must be a better way to convey all this.
Make the menus collapsible, or at least make the font or icon size adjustable, anything to help ease the stress on the senses.
More often than not, we had to squint our eyes and dart across the screen to see where our empire’s political relations are on the UI. Thankfully, the use of various hotkeys eases that issue, but only by a little as it doesn’t do much to aid the moshpit that is the UI.
The team at Kubat really did a number on the gameplay, and as such have sacrificed on the visuals and audio as well. Aggressors is a 2018 title, but looks as if it came out of 2012. Not even an NVIDIA GTX 10 series GPU or higher can do much to boost the visual fidelity of the game.
The audio is the real dealbreaker here, though, with the music highly repetitive and flat, and the voice acting nothing to write home about. These aspects really take away the immersion from an otherwise engaging gameplay loop.
Aggressors: Ancient Rome is, without a doubt, a solid 4X game. Despite its muddled visuals and audio, as well as a clunky UI, Aggressors offers an entirely rewarding and deeply satisfying gameplay experience that will most definitely last you a while.
That S$26 pricing on Steam makes it even more of a tantalising alternative to its full-price mainstream brethren.
GEEK REVIEW SCORE
Aggressors: Ancient Rome is an example of a no frills, just thrills 4X strategy. Of course, much can be desired about the way things are presented, but it shouldn’t mar an otherwise immensely deep and rewarding 4X game.
Gameplay - 9/10
Story - 5/10
Presentation - 6/10
Value - 9/10
User Review( votes)
Marion has a serious RPG addiction. Sometimes it bleeds into real life; he forgets to sleep because he thinks he has a Witcher’s body clock. Forgive him in advance if he suddenly blurts out terms such as “Mind Flayer” and “Magic Missile”, because never once does he stop thinking about his next Dungeons & Dragons game.