After playing quite a bit of Caesar 3, I became a total addict of the
next city-building game from Impressions Games, Pharaoh. The
only two games that caused a serious break in my playing time on
this one were Metal Gear Solid and Diablo 2, so you can imagine
how badly I wanted to try out the newest gem from Impressions,
Zeus. I read a lot about this new game. Not only would it consist of
the same successful gameplay, but it would also feature Greek
mythology in it, which I am very fond of. So, as the release date of
October 16th came near, I checked the common sites for that
longing phrase: "Zeus: Master of Olympus - released!!!" The wait is
over, I can finally pop in my copy and start a brand new addiction.
I fired it up, pressed start and immediately chose adventure and
left the tutorials for what they were, because I considered myself
an experienced player. I thought I would able to make out the little
differences myself, but I was wrong. This game has the same
concept, but lots of things have changed. The interface looks the
same, but it works differently compared to Pharaoh and Caesar 3.
Because I was so used to the shortcut-keys in the two previous games, I
was a bit disappointed that my instinctive key-pressing didn't have
any impact. There are no overseers anymore, which gave you the
detailed information you needed, you now have to select the
appropriate tab and click the magnifying glass to get detailed
information. As I continued playing, I found out that this way works
just as well and might be a better way to make this game even more
appealing to novice players.
What is this game about? Like in Caesar 3 and Pharaoh, you must
build a thriving city on a piece of land, using buildings and
housing to raise culture, prosperity, respect of the kingdom and
population. The key to a good city is balance. The better the
housing, the more people fit on your turf, but in order to make
better housing, you must provide them with food, water, goods and
services. Those goods need to be imported or be manufactured by
your city's industry, which needs labor and labor needs housing.
Build too much housing at once and the result is unemployment,
which causes riots. Waiting too long, to let the housing evolve,
results in labor shortages, which leads to debt and the downfall of
your city. In the meantime, you have to collect taxes. Also, watch out for
buildings catching on fire or collapsing. As well, you have to keep
your citizens and the gods happy, and providing food and goods to
your own people and other cities that rely on you. To make sure
you succeed in doing this, you must cleverly design your city, so
that everyone has everything they desire and that you have little
surpluses you can sell for a profit to cover your expenses of
expanding your city.
In Caesar 3 and Pharaoh, each housing-block, working class or
elite, started out as tents/huts. In Zeus, you can build two kinds of
housing; elite housing and common housing. It makes more sense
to me though, but I liked watching the huts evolve to manors and
estates. Placing such a block was quite difficult because the
people, who live in luxury housing, don't work, so when one of
those houses became a luxury house, its residents sat down
enjoying their fortune and the labor pool decreased in size. That
was something you needed to take into account, because your city
could deteriorate quickly when you were too hasty to make money,
as the scribes pay loads of money. Each common housing plot
is 2 by 2 and each elite housing plot is 4 by 4 instead of 1 by 1,
which could evolve to 4 by 4 if it had space to evolve into bigger
Each resident of working age is added to the labor pool and no
matter where you put your industry, if you have a surplus of
laborers in your city, it has the employees it needs, so there is no
need to put a hut somewhere in your industry-block. This gives you
the opportunity to even better design cities without these ugly little
huts. The way culture is presented reminds me more of Caesar 3.
You need to put colleges for philosophers in the city, as well as
gymnasiums and a stadium, drama-schools and theaters to satisfy
the culture needs of your citizens.
Another thing that has changed is food and trade. Food is
considered food, period. You can farm onions, wheat, make
cheese and other edible goodies, but the game considers it food.
In Caesar 3 and Pharaoh, you needed to supply your housing with
different types in order to make them evolve, but now that is no
longer necessary. Food is spread by grand or common agoras,
which have 6 or 3 traders of specific goods. You have to build a
specific agora on a common or grand agora to supply the housing
it has to cover. Trade has been revamped as well. Instead of
merchants getting and leaving their goods at a storage yard, they
now go to their specific trading-post, which is bigger than a normal
storage yard. From there, the goods are spread along your city's
storage yards. In a similar manner, piers have replaced docks, so
the endless cart-pushing and trading ships piling up at your docks
are nothing but a painful memory.
Religion is different too. You don't need to build temples or shrines
anymore, but you need to make a sanctuary for an angry god in
order to make him happy again. In one of the adventures that you play, a
god has unleashed a monster in your city that crushes everything
in its path, so it is not advised to build around it. In order for the
monster to be slain, you need the help of a hero. The heroes are
very picky and don't just come to any city. You need to make a
hero's hall first to give him a home. This is not enough though,
your city must meet the requirements the hero has set for you
before he will come to the rescue.
Each city is divided in episodes. You need to meet requirements to
get to the next episode and when you do, your city stays the same
and you get to keep your profit (or debt). If you go to another
city, you maintain your financial status as well. You don't need to
make forts anymore. The soldiers live at home
and can be called upon in times of need. Elite housing needs
armor and horses for the residents to become horsemen, which
makes your army stronger. You interact with other cities as well.
You can help them, extort them, give gifts, raid them, conquer
them, or make colonies so your influence in the world grows.
When you do it wisely, you can be powerful, but fail to be
cautioned and you can have angry allies plundering your city.
Impressions Games can be trusted to make the game look superb
and with Zeus, they did just that. They again used a creative style to
draw the housing, monuments, buildings and landscapes, and it
all looks great. The walkers are very detailed and the monsters,
heroes and gods look awesome too. The music and walkers'
voices are excellent, just like in Zeus' predecessors. The ambient
music is far from disturbing and adds to the gameplay. I never
turned off the music in Pharaoh either, even those flute-songs can't
annoy me after so much playing time. The voices show that the
programmers had lots of fun and the actors did an excellent job. The
best comment I've heard was by a boy who carried baskets to the
agora. "So", the vendor began, "Hurry up with those goods", and
the boy replied, "Whatever! The vendor is such a doric!". Of course
it should have said 'dork', but did you ever hear of doric columns?
A very cool detail!
I liked Caesar 3 and I absolutely love Pharaoh. I'm not quite sure
Zeus is on the same level as Pharaoh, but it's damn good. Zeus is a
game that is quite easy to learn, but incredibly difficult to master.
Perhaps it's just me who needs to do a little adjusting, but I think
newcomers to the city-building games are going to be in for a
rough time. Even hardcore fans of Impressions' city-builders will
find the game difficult. One thing that kept me playing the same
scenarios in Pharaoh over and over again was the scoring system,
which is not in Zeus. I really miss the 'accept none' button in the
storage yards and there is an R item in the Q-section of the help
(Ok, so I nit-picked on that one). Seriously though, Zeus is a
fantastic game and fans of Impressions Games will not
be disappointed at all.