Even if I am rather negative towards Caesar 3, it still holds a place in my heart. Though its sequel is the most controversial one, with a bunch of technical crashes and fans being disappointed by its general step to 3D. However, despite that Impressions Games was shut down in April 2004 by Vivendi Universal, many of its original members went on to form Tilted Mill Entertainment, the creators of this very fourth instalment! Perhaps there is something of value here after all or maybe I will actually see why we will never get a fifth entry.
This title follows in the footsteps of its predecessor by making you the governor of an area, with the ranks in favour, prosperity, peace, and culture still being important for progression. Additionally, the amount of population is now a more present aspect, forcing you to take this into consideration for balancing your realm’s needs. While the mission setup is back with varied objectives and landscapes to take on in a linear structure, it is much better implemented here. Now you will have three different campaigns to choose from, with Kingdom representing the tutorial, Republic providing you with the main one, and the unlockable Empire being the hard mode with completely new assignments.
All tasks will involve levels to reach in one or multiple of the five categories as mentioned above. This is done as before: by making a civilisation to be proud of. You must offer clinics for healthcare, workshops to grow different kinds of food and wares, factories for creating tradable items, entertaining facilities, educational properties, and more. Avoid improving your city will make the inhabitants start leaving one by one, which in turn affects your income drastically.
Overlays will luckily showcase which installations are positively or negatively affected by others, with the 3D graphics offering detailed indications. This is fantastic, as it could be hard before to know how far away a market should be to avoid sound pollution, yet still conveniently placed for people to visit. Planning the layout of your metropolis is still complicated, but never overbearing or unfair as you will always be able to see what you should fix. Furthermore, sources for water and roads are still important factors to make a construction function, but the interface makes this easy to understand and possible to be creative with your setup. Even decoratives like statues and gardens are both visually pleasing and help give areas stronger value, which is a neat touch.
The gods return too, but are this time an amusing addition. Instead of being randomly jealous and exploitable like in the predecessor, now they will curse or bless you clearly depending on your actions and are less present. Due to how they are now a subtle extra that properly works, they provide a nice spice to the journey without overstaying their welcome. Similarly can be said for the walkers, aka your citizens strolling around, as they have much better AI and do not get in the way of performing tasks to make your urban society grow. Also, having the ability to zoom and undo your last action, makes the playthrough generally comfortable.
Probably my favourite new inclusion to this instalment is the three classes of residential houses: insula, domus, and villa. Each will contain different kinds of people, with the first holding plebs that maintain factories, farms, and prefectures for example. Simultaneously, equestrians from the second type are needed for aqueducts, hospitals and other educational jobs. While those living in mansions do not work, they pay a significant amount of taxes if their demands are covered. This is what is wonderful about Caesar 4: all installations have distinct effects on each other and require balance to make your town grow, creating a sort of domino effect. Variety will also be important since just because you are placing tons of farms, none will be satisfied if all they get are meat.
With the ability to rotate buildings in eight directions too, arrangement and micromanagement of them offer tons of strategy and creative freedom. Alongside the overlays, the forum still elaborates well on what kind of workers you need, tax income, Rome’s thoughts on your efforts, your resources, how good your healthcare is, and much more. It is still lovely to have so many stats to regard, but I do wish I could input manually where plebs and equestrians are positioned instead of having this automated. You are able to set priorities, but letting the player tinker with the numbers themselves would have offered them better involvement.
One aspect that is still somewhat controversial is the mission structure. Despite that each assignment is diverse and short to make them engaging, it is still off to essentially start from scratch with each new location instead of continually building in one grand zone. Nevertheless, with different landscapes that offer unique layouts of important materials and altitudes, you are getting a great campaign. Alongside the autosaving to avoid restarting an entire level, everything feels fair in their designs too. Unfortunately, while this is a general upgrade from the last instalment, this sequel still carries over some noticeable problems.
Fighting battles with your military are basically wars of nutrition again, with most interactions relegating to pointing out where your army should attack. It is not without its merits, as making walls and organising your troops can still make a difference, but the active part is mainly automated and dull. The same can be said for conducting trades since this merely results in opening routes before deciding what to order and export, though at least managing your economy and resources can be tense.
Caesar 4 makes me appreciate the unique direction the series went in thanks to its updates and polish. It uses its 3D graphics magnificently to offer comfortable customization, restructures the mission setup to provide a solid pace, gives interesting landscapes to work with, and the focus of the domino concept to the facilities adds to the excitement of being a governor. While there is room for improvement due to the unnecessary automatisation, this is still an enjoyable RTS that lets you be creative and tested.
Gameplay Score: 7/10
The importance of characteristic menus
Stepping away from the pre-rendered visuals, the cities are finally in full 3D with commendable designs and lovely elements, like the tiny walkers wearing different clothes depending on their positions. The additions of weather effects and a day-to-night cycle are also excellent for providing a strong atmosphere, and each location has different types of geography with even the trees altering depending on where you are. Furthermore, the varied establishments are gorgeous too. Their architectures are worth studying due to their unique details like the steamy bathhouses, with appropriate materials being utilised to enhance the immersion of this epoch.
Regrettably, with a game where you spend so much time in the menus, the lack of personality there hurts a lot. The tablets are blue and transparent with simple letters that are nothing out of an ancient inscription, making them bland. Not all facilities convey animations either and are uneven in quality, with the empty theatres being the worst offender. The Forum is at least filled with people that will have minor movements and talk to you, but it definitely could have used more personality. Even the intro CG is stiff, though I can at least admire the textures for the models utilised in it.
However, the sound is impressive. It features a grand orchestra with myriads of instruments, giving the compositions fantastic strengths. Although it is a shame that nothing tries to be authentic to the roman era, the scores are still wonderful with varied notes while being soothing, making them perfect for a civilisation manager. The voice actors are also great and include talents like D.C. Douglas, Marc Biagi, and even Lani Minella, providing captivating performances as supportive politicians or complaining inhabitants. Despite that more could have been done, this title has an undeniable charm to it.
Presentation Score: 7/10
Leading your way
Unlocking the Empire campaign for harder missions will definitely give veterans a welcoming challenge, with enough diverse content to be engaging. However, my interest was in the Scenario mode, where you can take on a singular land and create a massive urban city for a long time or even redo assignments you have beaten. The poor interface can make it difficult to find a map to your preference, but the abundance of sites to take on will make sure you are not going to be bored easily. One incredible addition that this sequel offers, is the ability to let you make your own region with different topography, goals and more, giving the creative player a ton of replay value.
Extra Score: 8/10
Despite that I am happy to finally be able to play this entry, it is a tragedy it was not better received. It is a good RTS that set out to fix and improve upon the third instalment and mainly succeeded at that. With proper stats to aid in your planning, a significant graphical overhaul, plenty of areas to take on, and the buildings having clear effects on one another, it is an entertaining and rewarding title. It does have faults with making aspects like trades and military combat automated, and the visuals could use more personality. Nevertheless, if you have ever been on the fence about playing a Caesar game, this one should please anyone.