Pyro Studios is no stranger to strategy titles having done tactical level games like Commandos and various real-time strategy titles like Praetorians. Admittedly, it was hard to write this review without being influenced by Creative Assembly’s Total War series, especially the latest Rome: Total War title, which Imperial Glory models itself upon. Like Rome, Imperial Glory is split between a turn-based nation level strategy piece and a real-time battle portion. The combination of the two proves to be engrossing.
When I initially approached Imperial Glory, I rather envisioned it as a game about the late 19th century conflicts like the Boer War. This title, however, focuses on the earlier Napoleonic periods. And while many of the European nations had significant holdings outside of Mediterranean Europe at the time, they are not depicted here. This, in fact, makes it more akin to Rome than ever.
The real meat and potatoes of Imperial Glory can be found in the campaign mode. Selecting from Britain, France, Prussia, Russia or Austria, you can either win by score or by taking over all the territories. Lesser nations do exist, including the many independent Germanic states and older imperial powers like Portugal, Spain or the Ottomans, but these are not playable.
Each nation is endowed with different bonuses. Russia, for example, has a vast amount of manpower that can be used to raise a large army. But they are hampered with backwards technology and research. On the other hand, you have Britain. At first glance, it leads or at least equals any other nation in nearly every category. However, with its four territories, there’s little hope to generate a significant army. Technologically intensive navies and elite army units are probably the way to go. Thus, your style of play will affect what nation you choose.
Regardless of difficulty settings, most campaigns will revolve around the encroachment of French, Prussian and Austrian spheres of influence on the handful of independent states in the middle of Europe. The absorption of these small provinces will spark the fire for larger conflicts between allied aggressors and defenders. Imperial Glory has a well developed diplomatic model for this. Alliances can be formed between multiple nations and satellite allies can ally with further nations creating a domino effect. As Britain, I developed an alliance with Portugal. Portugal, in turn, got itself into an alliance with Spain, which meant that Britain was bound to respond to Spain’s aggressors. This is advantageous to smaller nations because an aggressive neighbor won’t risk a war with your more powerful allies.
Another option I found myself using was the right of passage. A right of passage enables you to shuttle troops in and out of foreign territory. It became particularly useful if you’re trying to box someone in by moving troops through neutral territory. For pacifist play, Imperial Glory also allows peaceful annexation of nations if you work on improving relations with a country. By building consulates, newspaper offices or cultural centers, you can increase goodwill in a target nation and eventually absorb them into your empire.
The empire building section is entirely turn-based. This portion of the game can be divided into construction, research and trade routes. Trade routes can be established over land or sea by partnering up with other nations. Each territory generates some amount of resources and can accommodate buildings specific to its geography. Buildings are divided into different eras. These eras and the availability of certain buildings are driven entirely by a linear research tree.
For the most part, building is relatively straightforward. If you’ve played a game like Civilization, you’re pretty much on solid footing. Some parts of the user interface could stand to be streamlined though. For example, lists of your territories tend to be too graphical making it hard to scroll through a long list of holdings. Switching between trade routes, military and building screens are exclusive, so you can’t see everything at once.
The battle portions of Imperial Glory are played out in real-time. Unique to Imperial Glory, you can also control naval battles in real-time. This is something that even Total War games cannot provide. In general, the battles can look gorgeous, especially the march of blue or redcoat troops across desert frontiers. Battles on territories in the campaign are not simple affairs of killing everyone on the other side. Instead, each territory is a fixed map that contains specific objectives and strong points that you must take. These are related to the region you are fighting in. If you’re engaged in a populated province, be prepared to take the city on the map.
There are two serious issues with the battle component. First, the lack of a pause function or a feature to slow time down makes it difficult to construct a coherent strategy. In the campaign maps, you’ll start relatively far away so you can use the time to plot some initial strategy. Once engaged, though, you’ll rarely have time to whip out a plan B if things aren’t going in your favor. The battle then becomes more of a real-time strategy clickfest. Secondly, Imperial Glory does not have a strong morale model for its troops, which somewhat magnifies the first error because troops who are outgunned will not for the life of them run away so you can regroup them. I once encountered groups of melee militia with artillery on the high ground, volleying rifleman in the front and cavalry ready to charge from behind. Just the sight of this set up should have scared most militia off yet they chose to fight to the death. These shortcomings make it difficult to enjoy Imperial Glory’s set battles and random battle generators.
The naval battle engine is a bit interesting. In engagements between two ships, it can be a fun if lightweight naval simulation. Once you have more ships, however, the interface becomes too difficult. Like those old 1970s kung fu movies, you may find yourself with a horde of ships but only the ability to charge one or two into the fray at a time. The computer, naturally, has no difficulty with that.
Imperial Glory feels like a giant step forward for Pyro Studios. Its scope and complexity is far greater than any of the previous strategy titles I’ve seen from them. In this, there are some interesting features to be found. Troops raised in foreign annexed countries, for example, will desert if their native country is freed. The wonders system offers bonuses as long as you’re willing to reach prerequisite achievements that are not always logically aligned with your nation’s goal. One wonder requires establishing a trade route to Alexandria oversea and will spur some of the crazy European colonial drives that occurred during history.
However, with this initial step, the developers have made some novice-like mistakes and Imperial Glory suffers from some rough edges. If you’re willing to see past them, Imperial Glory proves to be an engaging title that develops the same ‘just one more turn’ syndrome that Total War and Civilization players often get.