Ancient Rome is the perfect setting for a video game. Games like Rome: Total War and Praetorians are just two examples of several great titles with this magnificent period as a setting. The newest game wishing to join this lustrous club is the turn-based strategy Numantia, the second game from new studio RECOtechnology. With a top-notch setting and a great genre, Numantia seems set for success! But will it live up to my unfairly specific expectations?
But first, as any good historian loves, some context! Numantia itself was a settlement of Celtiberians, a population of Celts, situated on the Iberian Peninsula. In the 2nd century BCE, the Roman Republic (not the Empire quite yet) put down a rebellion in the city and some of its surrounding villages. Numantia was eventually captured by Rome after a decade of brutal fighting. Not many primary sources remain from the area, but RECOtechnology have done a fine job replicating the war. In fact, this is one of the game’s major strengths. The attention to historical detail in Numantia is superb; the variety of available units reflects the Roman Republic’s conquered peoples quite well. The game’s writing is thematic and historically accurate, too. In fact, the game’s presentation in general is adept at getting you in the mood to Ave Republia.
The single-player has two campaigns to play through, with both the Roman and Celtiberians having a story of their very own. Each one focuses on ordinary soldiers, with their own stories to tell. The down-to-earth nature of these narratives allows the writers to be more personal, and focus less on the wider historical situation. Major cutscenes – motion comics and sketch-style paintings – are narrated by a gravelly-voiced dude, further adding to the ‘regular Joe’ nature of the very comfy writing.
The gameplay plays like a combination of Fire Emblem and Total War. Single-player gameplay is split in two. The planning stages provide an overarching view of the larger situation, and some good ol’-fashioned base management. The game presents its story choices here as well, with differing consequences for your long-term campaign. These choices, however, are presented in a right-or-wrong binary, where choices will detriment or benefit you directly. This is a detriment to the game’s pacing, but at least it’s not tied to some kind of dumb morality system. *coughbioshockcough*
… the game’s presentation in general is adept at getting you in the mood to Ave Republia.
We’ve got swords, yes we do! We’ve got swords, sticking into you!
You know I had to do it to ’em
The combat stages are, as mentioned before, turn-based. Before a battle begins, you select the forces you’ll be using from your base. You go into battle with these troops, each with their own special ability. The combat itself relies on a rock-paper-scissors dynamic, with different units doing better against another. Morale plays a major part of combat as well; get it down too low and units will flee from battle. Flanking units will let you deal larger amounts of damage – there’s even an achievement for it! It’s an ambitious system, but it’s here that the game’s problems come to the forefront. Now, this game didn’t have all that much of a budget so I’ll cut it some slack. After all, it’s clear that RECOtechnology have put a great deal of effort into Numantia.
The UI is, at best confusing. Things are scattered on the screen, with little rhyme or reason. Unit abilities aren’t explained in the tutorial, so you have to open an in-game menu each time. In combat, turn order is taken by unit initiative but the UI doesn’t explain this. As far as I could tell, unit order wasn’t explained properly and this created pacing issues in combat. These are unfortunately issues that made me take longer to get used to the game’s mechanics, but I did enjoy them once they became clear. That journey of mechanic discovery could be pushed along, however, with some more intuitive tutorial elements. The controls on the PC port, too, feel clunky. Having to switch between arrow keys and the mouse for navigation of the home base and campaign segments is a real pain. In combat, the camera is slow to move and keybindings to zoom in and out are hard to remember at first. Numantia is a turn-based-strategy game best played with a controller, which is not a sentence I thought I’d ever write.
He’s Devoti’d to his job
Hit a unit’s weak point for massive damage
Numantia is a fine game for what it is: A low-budget TBS title with some real charm that could have used more time with its UI design and pacing. If you’re starved for Ancient Rome games and appreciate historical detail, this is the game for you. If you’re a veteran of the strategy genre, it could be worth a look. If you’re neither, however, the steep learning curve could prove frustrating. Numantia, nevertheless, is an ambitious game that only makes me follow developer RENOtechnology more closely.
Reviewed on PC.