Simply put, Caesar III is one of the best city building and strategy games of all time disregarding for a second it's Roman setting. It's approaching its 20th birthday, and little that succeeded it has reached its lofty heights. Supported by GoG, it now works on modern operating systems and is absolutely worth a look.
One of Activision's most renowned series from the 1990s, Caesar III is perhaps the crowning achievement from strategy masters Impression Games. How does it compare to modern takes on the genre, nearly 20 years later?
A Caesar III Refresher
Beginning as a simple governor under the rule of Caesar himself, your objective is to build a new settlement that will both protect and expand the Roman Empire.
For each new creation that falls under your responsibility, you're given a detailed briefing about what's required and the goals you're expected to reach. Success will see you rising through the ranks and becoming Caesar's favourite, eventually even being hand-picked by the man himself to be the next Emperor of Rome.
Manage a Beautiful Ancient City
Most of the missions will start in the same way - an empty sector of land that needs to be cleared of natural obstacles (trees or aggressive animals) and occasionally rampant barbarians. Cities will nearly always start off the same way, as several elements are essential to every build - housing, farms and granaries, engineer's quarters, a clinic, a market and a prefecture.
Sometimes, city builders struggle with this idea of having certain buildings that are essential. It can make each mission feel repetitive and eventually make the game boring. Thankfully, Caesar III deals with it beautifully, by allowing near complete freedom over city layout and creating maps that will have a profound impact on the design and planning. Rivers will need to be bridged, forests cleared and unscalable hills and cliffs built around.
Impression Games were also inventive in designing the mission parameters. Simply building a city that has the minimum essential buildings won't get you very far.
There's an immersive way to see how successful your governing is, accessed through the Senate building. It allows you to store money and shows your ratings in the areas of favour, prosperity, peace and culture. Unemployed citizens will crowd around the Senate demanding the chance to work. These are important pieces of information that developers all too often add to a cluttered and unimaginative interfaces.
Those four metrics are key to your success in Caesar III. Favour is a representation of Caesar's current opinion of you. Letting this drop too low lowers your life expectancy!
Your peace rating increases as you make your city safe from outside attacks and free of riots from within.
Prosperity is a reflection of the living standards and profitability enjoyed (or not!) by your population.
Finally, your culture rating is governed by the access that your inhabitants have to religious, academic and entertainment buildings.
New ranks in Caesar's regime brings access to new building types across a variety of categories. Any building placed must be accessible to the population, however careful planning needs to be carried out to ensure that they aren't made unhappy by having to live next to an eyesore or health risk.
There are two paths that can be taken with each city - they can be focused either on military capability or economic growth. Sometimes, a mixture of both will be necessary to protect from raiding barbarians - the mission briefing will let you know. The combat aspect of Caesar III is perhaps the one area where it feels a little lacklustre, as attacks are very simplistic and offer no variation at all.
A Case for Quality Artwork
All too often, games from the distant past that are revived struggle because they were designed for low resolution, low power machines. As such, their artwork is often the best attempt at realism that they were capable of at the time - and this is something that does not age well.
Caesar III struggles with that a little in the movie sequences that carry the game's story. Aside from that, however, the art style just about holds up, especially as a city grows and becomes more complex. A bustling, building-packed city still looks reasonably good, and certainly avoids the pitfall of becoming so ugly that it actually affects gameplay negatively. It's not going to be to everyone's liking, but it's certainly better than other games that were released even a few years after, like RollerCoaster Tycoon 2.
Gameplay wise, Caesar III may still be one of the best strategy games ever made for PC and is certainly one of the most detailed and accurateHistorical Roman Empire games going, even after all this time since it was originally released. Few titles are its equal in terms of longevity and creative satisfaction. If you can cope with the severely dated graphics, this game is a must for gamers with a fascination of the Roman Empire.