This entry was really the reason why I wanted to review the series, as it was my first introduction to the whole concept of creating your own city and helping it grow. I have a lot of respect for it due to making me interested in its genre, but it has been ages since I played it and I have never beaten it. That is; until now. However, with Caesar 2 going to extreme heights, and even later titles such as Banished, Cities Skyline, and Pharaoh existing, is this third iteration worth revisiting?
Let your governerial training begin!
While your goal is still to make a civilisation to be proud of, instead of getting a plot of land to build a huge urban society on, this instalment has its campaign broken up into missions to conquer with each giving you a new location and objectives to accomplish. These tasks range in variety, such as requiring you to fill up a granary with wheat or having a certain amount of population. Regrettably, I am not at all fond of this structure as you will each time lose your creation to move on to another from scratch, making it disheartening to see your work disappear. This is especially true for those assignments that can take hours of your time, only to never see your town again unless you load a save.
Although, this is arguably a solid way for conducting a tutorial, easing in newcomers gently. It can still be uneven in pacing and focus, but its biggest problem is how bare it explains the status screens, causing critical micromanagement to be unintentionally ignored. For veterans, much is kept intact from the previous game, with your metropolis still being ranked in empire (now called favour), prosperity, peace, and culture. Returning facilities are also here, like hospitals, prefectures, schools, and entertainment establishments, all continuing to add to the homes’ value to evolve them and thus providing you with higher income from taxes.
Water is yet again an important source of power and requires reservoirs and aqueducts for reaching houses, but they seem not as significant as before due to their greater reach and effect. There are some enhancements to these, such as the trenches being finally able to have forks in the road. Yet when the wells can be substantial support, the priority here lies on the other installations, such as the new take on the primary industries. Be it farms or mining constructions, they are now set in the same zone as your town, meaning no outside map to deal with. This could have been a decent idea for having everything concentrated in one place with more complicated planning, but this becomes underwhelming due to these being mandatory to assemble nearby the appropriate resources.
The small spaces on certain missions make them quickly cramped and contain fewer possibilities for creativity, which is a shame when the concept of your inhabitants needing certain materials is a clever inclusion. Additionally, having to first clear off trees instead of just placing buildings on top is annoying. Even animals and people must be away for you to create anything, which escalates the tedium. Though the option to undo your last move is a nice touch, despite that I miss being able to zoom which especially hurts when dealing with grander locations.
Yet, the problems with the new implementations do not stop there. “Walkers” or simply people strolling around for a visual immersion, are now a part of the main gameplay. Prefectures need to actively put out fires, markets must be visited by villagers, and so on. This is quite the contrast from earlier titles where you simply balanced the number of plebs at your disposal for various stats. Now it is all automated and you cannot change it manually, only offer preferences in what should have the most amount, taking away any feeling of strategy or control. What is worse is that your AI citizens are slow and half the time wanders in the wrong direction. Thank the Lord they only walk on roads.
Speaking of; the worst offenders are the deities. These are such a painful part of the journey, being jealous twats who can affect the outcome of any part of your society. You will have to please Mars, Venus, Mercury, Ceres, and Neptune by praising them and providing good positive results for what they watch over, such as a strong army for the god of war. However, these are bland hindrances that can cause disasters, which are easily avoided by conducting parties in their honours now and then, making their inclusion solely a bad one. Adding more salt to the wound is how random and underdeveloped they are mechanically, to the point of causing chaos for no apparent reason. Bless the person who provided the option to turn their involvement off.
Dealing with the towns’ needs and finishing the missions’ goals are more than enough, but forcing balance in all aspects basically limits your creativity, causing every new creation to feel similar. Luckily, some assignments will be more imaginative, such as setting you in a dry landscape where the danger of fire is high or certain materials are harder to come by, demanding you to alter your playstyle. Also, while all buildings will be important to raise one of the four ratings and of course your population, you will also have to take into consideration if people have enough education, hospitals and such, with their demands being clearly presented.
Further praises I do have, are related to the stats showcasing what you lack and making your plan more efficient with what you should create and warnings popping up for dire situations. Helping here as well, are the returning overlays for showcasing crimes, value, and more. Sadly, these are not perfect as getting an idea of how far an installation such as the new engineer covers, is not as detailed as the water source for example. It is all functional, but there is a reason why mods for Caesar 3 were made too.
The clean interface is also back, with the minimap, constructions you can make, forum for stats, and possible trades relegated to the right side of the screen. It is still important to export and import wares, but this is just about opening roads by paying for them and then deciding what to sell or buy. As for the military aspect, it takes place only in your small inhabitant area and you can merely defend your metropolis with your soldiers. The combat is incredibly shallow and is at best a war of nutrition. At least it is optional.
It is here where I see the biggest problem with this instalment: it wants to be approachable by automatically doing elements for the player, having a mission campaign to teach, and putting more elements like extensive industries in your singular town for better focus. Yet simultaneously also wishes to be complex with Gods and walkers that can have off behaviours. Because of this, it becomes uneven with grand landscapes requiring tons of repetitive management and smaller ones being too cramped for creativity. The assignment structure also dampens the whole experience, with failures resulting in restarting the entire stage or requiring you to have multiple saves on standby to avoid this.
Having to leave every metropolis that you constructed is disheartening and even with alternative paths to take, the redundancy of starting a new society will make the journey dull. It is also a title that relies heavily on making circles of homes with one valuable establishment in the middle, making it obvious why I could get far in it as a young brat who did not speak a word of English. For a playthrough that can take over 30 hours with inconsistent inclusions and actually neglects to explain that you can section each zone by creating gates, this is an odd revolution to the series with only some commendable additions.
Gameplay Score: 3.5/10
Grand Roman empire!
What has gotten an obvious upgrade in this entry is the presentation. You are met with varied locations to govern like deserts, mountains, or luscious ones for farming, making each site intriguing and endearing. The houses are also lovely to look at, recreating roman architecture well and using appropriate materials like travertine. It is sad though that while the forum is being visualised by using mosaics inside a temple, it is all bleak and unappealing due to having a giant and bare tablet taking up most of the screen. Why not have more artistic inclusions?
The lack of any intriguing creative nods to old historical parts can also hurt the graphics, but the rest is excellent thanks to beautiful details. Buildings have small animations like theatres holding a show or machinery signifying that they are in effect, with the people walking around wearing clothes that elaborate on their distinct professions. Even the trees are different depending on where you are, such as Londinium consisting of traditional pines. The plenty of CG cutscenes hold up gorgeously thanks to their incredible work and camera angles too, all being great for giving introductions to specific chapters or to emphasise events occurring.
Another splendid addition is the voice acting which has a lot of personality for creating a charming atmosphere. The music is calm and ambient too, but still has clear tones to be memorable and not turn stale, making it easy to be invested in constructing your society. It contains instruments that are appropriate and the focus is on flutes and trumpets that represent instruments like cornu. Despite including some that are not authentic to this setting, it is hard to be critical of the compositions when they nevertheless sound faithful. The cues of temples with prayers, bathhouses with echoed laughter, and miners working are also wonderful additions to make this town come alive.
Presentation Score: 8.5/10
Be proud of reaching your own goals
Once the second mission in the campaign has been completed, you will be able to choose between two types of playstyle onwards for each mission: peaceful or include military stats. The differences are frankly minimal, though it is a nice concept even if a second playthrough is a hard sell. However, the building kit is excellent, as it lets you choose one of the multiple diverse landscapes to continuously build on, each containing unique pros and cons.
Honestly, this feels like the main content despite being marked as a lesser inclusion. It is unfortunately easy to see why as despite that it is more entertaining than the core journey, there are no goals to achieve here. You just build until you are bored and the challenge never reaches any heights, causing it to become monotonous. It is definitely a fun distraction that is adequate to revisit, though still contains the problems with the Gods, automated plebs, and the rest of the irritations.
Extra Score: 5/10
If you are absolutely terrible at civilisation games, Caesar 3 is a passable choice with a beautiful presentation. However, I would still argue that the second instalment actually had a balanced challenge and great micromanagement, especially compared to the aggravating missions here. This entry is hard to recommend even on its own, due to being an inconsistent mix to appeal to both newcomers and veterans. It still has some fascinating innovations, but there is a reason why Pharao took the setups here and retooled them to make them worthwhile. My nostalgia was a seductive liar, yet again.