“The die has been cast”, this is the meaning of the title of Ageod’s turn-based strategy game, Alea Jacta Est, and these are also the words Julius Caesar spoke as he begun his civil war against Pompey. This is no coincidence, as the game focuses exclusively on the civil wars that plagued the Roman Empire but, now that the die has been cast, does the game have the substance to back it up?
Its very obvious from the premise of this game that Alea Jacta Est is an extremely niche game, clearly focused at one specific group of people; Roman history aficionados and strategy game lovers. Clearly, the game can’t – and isn’t – competing against AAA strategy games such as the Total War series, or Paradox’s “Grand Strategy” games, for something a bit lower profile. It is clearly intended to provide more of an interactive reconstruction of the campaign rather than providing a strategy game set in the time period.
In Rome: Total War, the game was set in the ancient Roman era, however the player wasn’t obliged to fight a particular enemy or even play as Rome. In Alea Jacta Est, you don’t have much of a choice: you either play as the characters you are meant to and attack the enmies in the correct historical order, or you don’t play. This strict approach to the game makes it very hard to attract any regular gamer, but the barrier to entry is raised even higher once you launch the game. This is the first screen that greets you:
Now, I don’t usually judge a game from its graphics or presentation, but first impressions are important and, Alea Jacta Est clearly fails that. The map, despite being an accurate historical representation, looks dull and boring, nothing is even remotely animated the whole world just feels empty. In games like the previously mentioned Rome:Total War, the map of the world looks great, the character models are animated, sound effects are played when objects interact, a narrator explains some concepts which may be new… it’s much better at easing the player into the game, and that game came out in 2004!
Yes, it’s true that Total War had a bigger budget to work with, but they could have at least tried to make the map you will be staring at for hours appear a little more appealing! This is at the same visual level as the early Paradox games, I’m talking about Europa Universalis 2 and the original Crusader Kings.
At least the gameplay is a better than the presentation, but that isn’t saying much. First of all, the tutorial is overwhelming, throwing immense amounts of cryptic information at you and giving you no assistance whatsoever. In most tutorials, the button you are meant to press is highlighted on the screen, or maybe options you aren’t meant to learn about are blacked out, or the tutorial won’t advance if you haven’t completed the objective. Alea Jacta Est has none of those things. The tutorial gives you the whole game and a set of written instructions which is apparently enough, according to Ageod, to complete the tutorial and give you the tools necessary to play the game. It doesn’t.
I had to restart the tutorial to Alea Jacta Est several times because the “button on the lower left corner” I was meant to press wasn’t the right one and the actions I made by mistake I wasn’t able to undo, which made for a very frustrating hour or so of gameplay. I’ll be honest, I quit the game the first time without having finished the tutorial.
Once I calmed down and came back to Alea Jacta Est‘s with an open mind, I forced myself to understand the game as much as possible and eventually finished the tutorial and dug into the game. Thankfully, the rest of what Alea Jacta Est has to offer is better than the tutorial, and somehow feels easier to get into and more forgiving. Once you get used to the game, you can forgive the presentation and focus on actually playing it.
Moving your soldiers from one region to another takes days, which is accurate considering the time period, and determining the winner of a battle takes into consideration army size, terrain, experience, morale and position. Despite all these factors, you will be able to win most of Alea Jacta Est‘s battles just by having a bigger army, which kind of negates what would actually have been a very interesting feature. The battles are also not animated, its just two flags next to each other, some sound effects of steel hitting steel, and a notification, making you imagine the whole battle in your head.
If you manage to get over the extremely dated presentation and the horrible tutorial, Alea Jacta Est has enough depth to keep you interested for a few hours at a time – more if you are really into ancient Roman history – however the game hides its best features really well, making it nearly impossible for an average gamer to get remotely interested. Clearly Ageod is aiming for a niche audience here, but I somehow doubt that there are many people who fit that very particular demographic to enjoy it.
Alea Jacta Est can be bough on Ageod’s Official Website for 25$