Imperator Augustus is a free additional campaign for Rome II which moves the timeline forward about 200 years. In 272 BC, when the grand campaign begins, Rome is a small city-state. In 42 BC, when Imperator Augustus begins, Rome has just been divided between the triumvirate of Octavian, Mark Antony and Lepidus. Its constituent parts are still the largest states in the Mediterranean. The change in setting solves some of the issues with Rome II I’ve already complained about and bolsters its strengths. It’s a fantastic campaign which I enthusiastically recommend over the standard grand campaign. Where the grand campaign is directionless even as Rome, Imperator Augustus offers you clearer structure, a more interesting and recognizable cast, and, critically, villains you can immediately identify. As well as improving Rome II’s strategic layer, Imperator Augustus makes battles better. Armies are larger and battles are more climactic. Rome II has always had the capacity to simulate vast battles, but Imperator Augustus takes full advantage of this fact from the start. Imperator Augustus is a clear improvement over the grand campaign of Rome II, and an excellent scenario worthy of your time and attention.
Unsurprisingly, the best way to play Rome II is still to pick a Roman faction. In the grand campaign, that meant playing as Rome itself, and in that campaign the map was clearly designed to give players of Rome a gradual difficulty curve. You could destroy the other Italian states as a kind of tutorial, and then fight either Carthage or the Gauls as a final exam. After that the campaign is fairly easy to win: you pick off smaller factions one by one without provoking too many enemies at a time and gradually digest the whole Mediterranean world. As a tutorial it’s fine, but it’s neither climactic nor satisfying beyond the first hundred turns.
By contrast there are four Roman factions in Imperator Augustus. Octavian’s Rome controls Italy and Gaul, Mark Antony’s Rome controls the eastern empire, Lepidus’ Rome controls North Africa and the Spanish coast. The smallest faction, Pompey’s Rome, is confined to the islands of Sicily, Sardinia and Corsica. The Romans begin with a mutual nonaggression pact with one another, but with a severe opinion malus. In other words, the others are unlikely to declare war on you immediately, but war is inevitable.
As a Roman you’re in a dangerous position from turn one. Octavian and Antony have the easiest start and the lion’s share of Roman territory is divided between them. If you attack the weaker Lepidus, however, you’re leaving yourself open to an attack from the other large member of the triumvirate. Armies take a long time to move across Rome II’s map, so when you commit to war you’re leaving some cities exposed. Lepidus has an even more extreme version of this problem: he has a long stretch of territory between Egypt and Spain, but since it’s not clustered together he’s vulnerable to attack from other Romans or Africans and Spanish states. My first time playing as Lepidus very nearly ended in disaster when I focused too much on taking over all of Spain and Antony declared war on me. Since Egypt is his ally in Imperator Augustus, I lost most of Africa before I could fight back. In short, where the grand campaign has a deliberately gradual difficulty curve, Imperator Augustus dumps you into the action and asks you to make difficult decisions about where how you should distribute your limited resources.
Obviously, Pompey has the most trouble with this: he owns a few islands off the Italian coast and he borders Octavian and Lepidus. It would be an impossible start, except that he’s also got a massive navy that can block Lepidus’ potential invasion from Africa or Octavian’s from Italy to Sicily. Of course, both Lepidus and Octavian can make ships more quickly than you, so to survive you’ve got to be bold. For me, that meant declaring war on Lepidus almost as soon as the game began. I gathered up my armies and navy, left everything but Sicily entirely unguarded, and carved out a little kingdom around modern Tunisia.
Rome II is not a great simulator of history (nor does it claim to be). If you watch the game’s trailers, you rightly get the impression that you’re signing up for a HBO drama about Rome rather than a videogame attempting to simulate the ancient world. What it does well, sometimes, is replicate the kind of stories you get if you read history written by the Romans. In other words, there are daring military adventures, exceptionally brave individuals and plenty of near escapes. My campaign as Pompey was daft, obviously, but a Roman might’ve written it.
I went from a hunted fugitive on the fringe of civilization to restorer of the Roman republic. After years of campaigning I captured every province Octavian controlled on continental Europe. Then I pursued his last army to Britain: fittingly, I’d driven him to an unknown island on the edge of the world. Octavian, whose father defeated my father, didn’t actual die in battle with me. He lived long enough to board one of his last ships, but with no port to return to he and all his sailors died for lack of supplies in the Atlantic.
The best thing about Imperator Augustus is that Creative Assembly have outsourced the story to the Romans. Most factions have a leader we recognise, since the collapse of the Roman republic is so famous. It’s extremely easy to come up with a satisfying character arc for your leader when you, the player, already know their history. Likewise, while all of Rome II is obviously focused on war, those wars have more meaning when we’re fighting someone we know rather than Spanish Tribe A or B.
It’s worth adding, too, that individual battles are more meaningful in Imperator Augustus. In the grand campaign, a loss is rarely significant since even total defeat just means you’ve got to train a new army. No one is going to take Rome. In Imperator Augustus, the armies you’re facing are an order of magnitude bigger than what your enemies can field in the grand campaign. As such, they’re actually capable of winning sieges and taking and holding territory. Battles have stakes in Imperator Augustus.
Imperator Augustus is exciting. That may not seem a tremendous achievement, but given that it makes very few changes to how Rome II works, and given that Rome II was dismal, it’s marvelous. I enthusiastically recommend Imperator Augustus, not just as an alternative to Rome II’s grand campaign, but as the best way to feel like you’re in ‘history’ as the Romans wrote it.
(Sorry about the Total War: Warhammer screenshots, I recently reinstalled my OS and forgot to transfer the Rome II ones.)