The Imperial campaign comes in two flavors – full campaign and mini campaign. A full campaign requires that the player hold Rome and 50 provinces. This is true for all factions, even non-Roman ones. The mini-campaigns, also available to the alternate civilizations, require the player to defeat or outlast one or two enemies, and to hold 15 provinces.
While 50 provinces may not sound like a lot compared to the totals acquired in Medieval, it is an epic achievement in Rome. AI civilizations are tougher, more aggressive and better managers than in previous games. While the AI does make some glaring mistakes at times, it is very smart about picking its battles, ganging up on weak neighbors and in general being far more of a nuisance than it was in the earlier titles. It took me the better part of a week, with many red-eye nights, to achieve a full campaign victory.
The alternate civilizations – Britons, Carthaginians, Egyptians, Gauls, Germans, Greeks, Parthians, and Seleucids, are unlocked in one of two ways. Should the player win the grand campaign, all civilizations are unlocked. Also, if he’s not finished it but has personally
defeated one of these, it becomes available for a new imperial campaign. Other civilizations, like Macedon, Pontus, Thrace, Scythia, Numidia and Spain are not playable, which is a shame in some cases such as Macedon, who have a nice complement of units.
Typically, the same goals wired into the mini-campaigns are also what the AI tries to achieve. Thus, the Seleucids and Egyptians will almost certainly have a showdown, typically going in favor of the Pharaoh’s men. Similarly, Macedon and the Greek Cities tend to duke it out before the Brutii sweep in and wipe them off the map.
From diplomatic negotiations, it seems as if the AI is also keyed in to try and control certain provinces. The Egyptians always tried to scam Cyprus and Tarsus away during peace negotiations, for example. This lends a great deal of believability, especially since peace negotiations are never easy and, if anything, too often rebuffed by the AI. This does have the effect of making wars grand – often lasting 30, 40 years, not unlike in history. The Egyptians were my particular foe late in the game, being full of resources and churning out armies packed with those damnable chariot archers that prove so difficult to kill despite their defense rating of 1.
The player is encouraged to follow the suggestions of the Senate with rewards like units and money, as well as Senate offices. Senate offices are a great way to boost the stats of the family generals, who are all-important in this game. Cities and armies function best when they have a competent general running them, though we noticed that there are disturbingly many negative traits being assigned to our characters. This is quite unlike our experience at the San Francisco event, where most of the traits were positive. We’re not sure if this is a balance issue or if it’s simply a changed style of play (as the Brutii I spent a lot more time in my cities defending against onslaughts, rather than facing Gauls in the field as the Julii).
Speaking of sitting in cities, sieges are a totally different beast now. Walls have a huge effect on the outcome of a battle. If you or your opponent don’t prepare well enough for the siege, it’s impossible to carry it off. A lone battering ram may be good enough for a wooden palisade or even wall, but once stone comes into play, it’s time to build siege towers (forget ladders, they’re useless) and even bringing your own artillery along to batter the walls. We just wish that there was a way to position scorpions and ballistae on towers to give some return fire, but alas, not all can be perfect.