Genre: Real Time Strategy
Platform(s): PC
Allegiance: Eidos Interactive/Pyro Studios
Vintage: 2003
Rating: T
Intelligence Agency Report by: Kuzu Ryu Sen
Ave, Tribunus! The year is 58 BC, and the Roman Republic is rapidly expanding her territory thanks to two generals: Gaius Julius Caesar, and Gnaeus Pompeius Magnus. As a tribune of a legion under General Caesar’s command, you will be expected to complete all tasks delegated to you, and to lead your troops in battle in a manner befitting of a Roman citizen. Beware though, Gaul contains barbarian warriors the likes of which never seen before by Romans, and there is trouble as well in the East. Also, there is growing unrest back home in Rome, and the Senate is trying to oppress our General Caesar. If worst comes to worst, you may be assigned to fight our fellow countrymen. These are your orders Tribune! Senatibus Populibusque Romanum!

Weapons Expert Report by: Kuzu Ryu Sen 
Story/Premise
Gameplay
Impact
Visual
Audio
8.50
9.50
9.75
8.00
7.00
Overall 9.25
(not an average)
Version Reviewed: PC 

A few years ago, due to the release of StarCraftRed Alert, and Age of Empires, the real time strategy gaming population was used to a game that promoted economical aspects more than actual cunning in the heat of battle. That aura of complacency was obliterated by the release of Shogun: Total War, one of the first major games to feature a combat system where proper tactics would smash a larger, but poorly commanded army every single time. Since then, the world has seen the likes of Medieval: Total War, but except for the planned Rome: Total War, there was no game out there to placate the classical warfare enthusiast. Kudos to Pyro Studios for creating Praetorians, a masterful and realistic game based on the actual military campaigns of Julius Caesar. 

As in all games of this nature, the feature that makes or breaks the game is the gameplay. Praetorians does not disappoint whatsoever, featuring a wide selection of units, each with special abilities in combat. The disciplined Romans possess a plethora of formations, the fierce Barbarians utilize projectiles that stun their opponents, and the wily Egyptians use poisons with fast, mobile, and inexpensive troops to wear down the opposition. Praetorians also has an actual siege system not limited to small guard towers, as some of the missions contain forts that you must either defend or storm, complete with gates, ramparts, and towers. Of course, for this aspect, you are able to construct catapults, ballistae, ladders, rams, and even assault towers (the first two having practical use on an open battlefield as well). 

However, what truly makes the gameplay shine is the battle engine. While there is still an aspect of the rock-paper-scissors engine found in games like Age of EmpiresPraetorians manages to take it to a whole new level. Unit effectiveness now is measured in hit points and stamina, which decrease at a rate proportional to how many men are actually in that unit. As a result, units tend to fight and die together, or come out of a battle with damage, but no actual casualties, simulating reality, where the lone man left in a unit will generally be slaughtered rather quickly. Terrain is key in battle, and ambushes are much easier to set up. The other innovative thing about the battle engine is the concept of generals, who raise unit attributes within a certain radius. The generals themselves increase in power with each passing battle as well, so it pays to have a Rank 4 Centurion directing your legions, supplying them with a 20% bonus on defense. 

Of course, the game is not without its flaws. For one, the very intrinsic battle system, combined with an excellent AI means that Praetorians possesses one of the steepest learning curves I’ve ever seen. It is not unusual to require 2 or 3 tries to beat a tutorial mission, simply because you’ve underestimated the power of a well placed unit. In the actual missions, where you have a fixed supply of troops, scouting becomes utterly instrumental, as enemy forces lie in wait almost around every corner, and even the loss of one or two units will cripple your forces. Because of this heavy emphasis on scouting, the pace of the game is much slower than one would normally expect from a war simulation, and this will either delight or disgust players. Furthermore, the audio/visual aspects, while good in every department, are generally nothing more than that. 

Overall, Praetorians is an excellent game with a niche target audience. If you are a fan of classical history, a good realistic war simulation, or both, pick up this title today. The full gaming experience though can only be attained if you know at least some background information on the battles that you fight throughout the campaign. Believe me, there is much more emotion involved in leading Caesar’s legions to raze Vercingetorix’s homeland if you actually knew who Vercingetorix was.