Expeditions: Rome is an odd game that combines a lot of ideas from genres like turn-based RPGs and 4X strategy games, but it unfortunately never does anything to cement its place as something special. It’s a game that does everything competently, and even well in some cases, but it simply feels like it’s missing that special spark.
The story of Expeditions: Rome wastes no time in getting started, as after some brief exposition you’re introduced to your character, who’s fleeing to Lesbos after the murder of his father. There you join the fight to quell the Greek rebellion, and become a Legatus in the Roman army. As a CRPG story, there is a fair focus in Expeditions: Rome, but I can’t say it’s going to be anything meaningful unless you have an intense interest in ancient Rome. The crux of the story has you revealing a conspiracy to take over all of Rome, all while trying to get revenge for the death of your father. This is, of course, set upon the backdrop of the war between Rome and Greece.
“The story of Expeditions: Rome wastes no time in getting started…”
You do have a handful of party members that accompany you along the way, each of which has their own distinct personality and personal quests to complete. Here’s the first example of Expeditions: Rome simply being okay. The story feels like your typical historical drama, and the voice acting is actually very well done, but there’s no emotional attachment. Your character is simply a silent cipher to experience the game world through.
As an example, Assassin’s Creed Odyssey also features a family-focused story in a similar setting, but that story succeeds because of the way it builds the familial relationship, and the agency it gives the main characters, Kassandra and Alexios.
At no point did I feel invested in what was happening, and of the five party members that joined you, only a couple felt fascinating or noteworthy. Expeditions: Rome also puts a big emphasis on choice, but again, my lack of investment in the overall story meant I didn’t much care about the choices made along the way either.
Story aside, the game is essentially broken up into two major sections, turn-based battles where you control a party and a world map conquest kind of strategy section. You explore a massive world map in your conquest, with the ability to jump in and explore certain towns and locations.
After a few hours, however, you’re introduced to the game’s major wrinkle, commanding your legion. In order to conquer an enemy-occupied location, you need to command your legion to attack it, and there’s a lot of management that goes into that process. You need to manage the number of troops in your legion, hire legionarii to command it, and take over a variety of resources on the world map. As you explore the world map little text-based interludes will occasionally pop up, and I quite enjoyed how these little segments can affect gameplay. For example, in one I stumbled on a village of only women, whose husbands were killed by the Greeks. I chose to outfit these women with weapons, which in turn meant they’d constantly harass the Greek legios in the area and lower their strength.
Expeditions: Rome has A LOT of systems at play, almost too many. Your Legion can only do one task at any time, and taking over an enemy-controlled area prompts a strange battle sequence with both armies represented by icons. The catch here, though, is that you have very little control over these battles. You select a commander to lead and a new Stratagem card at major intervals, and these decide how your army acts. These battles are decidedly boring affairs where you sit and watch numbers subtracted from both sides, forced to wait as your army fails or succeeds.
“Expeditions: Rome has A LOT of systems at play, almost too many.”
The game does, luckily, let you auto-resolve encounters, but it only reinforces how much of a slog this section is. When not engaged in battle, you’ll need to command your Legion to conquer farms, mines, etc, in order to gain resources, which are then used to upgrade your camp. Here lies another catch, however, as in order to claim any of these, you need to “Pacify” the region, which entails having your army conquer the nearest town, then completing a pacification mission.
It’s a system that makes things feel unnecessarily long, and can really drag down the overall experience. One of my other major problems lies in how the world map looks, visually. Points of interest and locations aren’t highlighted whatsoever until you mouse over them, which can make finding things incredibly frustrating. This is especially true when one of your towns comes under attack, and you have to try and remember where it is.
When you aren’t roaming around the world map, the bulk of the game is made up of turn-based battles. In these battles you take turns moving your entire party, then the enemy takes a turn. There are four different classes that characters fall into; tank-like sword and shield wielders, assassins, archers, and healers that use polearms. Characters have a selection of skills they can use based on the weapons they equip and the skills they learn.
Each turn, every character gets one action point, which can be used to attack or move further than normal. There are a variety of other little elements to combat; usable items like torches and bandages, burning and bleeding effects, switching weapons sets, etc. Combat is another area that feels mechanically solid. All the elements work fine, but there’s nothing exceptional about it. The battles simply aren’t as engaging as something like XCOM, which uses its mechanics to heighten the tension. At the same time, the difficulty can be all over the place, with one battle feeling easy, then the next throwing an absurd number of enemies at you.
The combat system is at its best when the game provides interesting spins, like throwing jugs of water to put out a growing fire. The basic battles, however, can grow stale after a while, especially when the story itself hasn’t invested you in the experience.
The overwhelming feeling I had in my time with Expeditions: Rome is that it’s perfectly average. If you have a strong draw to Roman history, there’s a lot to love, as the game goes full-force into its setting. The systems all work together competently, but never do anything to stand out from the pack of other CRPGs out there. Even so, I kept finding myself wanting to play more, wanting to conquer that extra little bit of land. If you’re hankering for a new CRPG with a lot of systems to learn, you can certainly do worse than Expeditions: Rome.