Roman Empire brings social strategy games to mobile, but in a very ugly way
On Facebook, social strategy games based on the classic online game Travian have turned into a booming business for developers like Kabam. Roman Empire is iFree Studio’s attempt to bring the formula mobile, where the format faces certain challenges. Mobile handsets generally can’t offer quite as much screen real estate as the average PC screen, and strategy games frequently revolve around carefully arranging detailed building icons on a series of maps. Roman Empire has removed this aspect of these games entirely, in favor of an interface that is almost entirely text-only.
A text-only social strategy game works better than you might think. Parts of the game that typically involve swapping between two or three different maps can be managed more quickly in Roman Empire, which has the player manage all of their holdings, resources, and armies from a hub area. Different locations in the hub map to different functions. Roman Empire is still basically about amassing resources generated by farms, lumber mills, and mines – you just don’t spend time positioning these holdings on a mini-map. Instead you create the holding by purchasing it, then you generate more by upgrading the initial holding. It’s quite reminiscent of playing a text RPG like Mafia Wars.
While there’s nothing new or different about Roman Empire‘s gameplay, squeezing a game like this onto a mobile interface is genuinely impressive. The global chat channels that Travian clones usually offer, as well as other social features, are all available in Roman Empire. The game is broken into factions, dictated by which power you choose to follow (Caesar, the Senate, or the Spartans) and a very long string of tutorial quests does a good job of getting you started in the game. Roman Empire was even relatively easy on battery life, at least on the HTC Incredible used to test the game.
There is one problem with Roman Empire‘s text-based approach, though, and that is the abysmal quality of the in-game text. The entire game reads like it has been localized very poorly from either another language, or possibly another game. Sometimes game mechanics are referred to by highly inconsistent terms, which can get as bad as different parts of the text referring to particular holdings by different names. This would be bad enough in a game with more visual cues, but in Roman Empire the text of the game is really the only way to orient yourself.
The localization issue is the main thing that keeps Roman Empire from being a solid strategy option for Android owners. Otherwise, Roman Empire has figured out how to make a classic online social genre work on mobile. Some players may well still enjoy Roman Empire despite the poor quality text, but social strategy games tend to be titles that users become deeply involved with. Any gamer interested in this sort of title would probably be much happier simply sticking to a Facebook iteration of the genre, or finding a Flash-based one compatible with their handset.