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Expeditions: Rome Interview

by Farflame, 2022-01-19

Farflame managed to ask Logic Artists' Jonas Waever some questions, just before the release of Expeditions: Rome.

RPGWatch: We know that the game is not fully historical accurate. It's based on real events but it will unfold differently. Could you give us a summary of what you think is historically pretty authentic in the game, what is based on history but used more loosely and what is more creative or fantasy-like?

Jonas Waever: Our approach to using history in the Expeditions series has always been the same: we try to stay true to the material reality of the setting and to represent historical people in a way that is accurate to our own impression of who they were. Additionally, the inciting incidents of our stories are always kept true to history. However, as soon as the player character enters the scene, all bets are off: it's the player's story from that point on, not the story of whomever shaped history in the real world. In other words, you'll find that outfits and armour, weapons, architecture, infrastructure, and other technologies are all authentic to the place and time where the game is set. However, the actual events that unfold in the game are not true to history, although we definitely do our best to stick to things that seem like they might conceivably have happened. This creative freedom is in our opinion one of the main attractions of the game: you get to shape history yourself, with your own choices and decisions.

RPGWatch: You researched Roman history and art so I assume that you explored the work of S.J. Frontinus about Roman tactics. It’s a fascinating insight into Roman military. Can you tell us if that somehow inspired you in some quests or strategies for legion battles, or in some dialogues - for example if you talk about strategy with other commanders? The game is about being a Roman commander so such dialogue could be really immersive.

Jonas: I'll go ahead and out myself here already: I'm not much of a historical warfare nerd. My interest in history is more in the areas of culture, politics, sociology, people, and day to day life. Regrettably I haven't read Frontinus, the only primary source I sought out with regards to Roman
warfare was Commentarii de Bello Gallico by the big cheese himself, Julius Caesar - which of course one must take with an enormous cartload of salt. 
Some of the events that take place in Expeditions: Rome are taken directly from actual military engagements during the Third Mithridatic War or the Gallic War, so I'm sure history buffs won't be disappointed, as long as you don't expect to spend a lot of time deep-diving into Roman military tactics in our dialogue.

RPGWatch: Is Rome only one big city map in the game or are there more smaller maps around Rome? Something like Erling's farm near your homestead in Expeditions: Viking.

Jonas: Rome consists of several different levels that are connected by a 2D map where you select where you want to go next. In that sense it works differently from our campaigns where levels are connected by a traversable 3D worldmap. You have your own family villa there, you get to visit the
Senate, and there is a big market near the Forum Romanum, among other places.

RPGWatch: In historical games the variety of enemies is usually less because you fight (often similar) human fighters. Are there some special fights in Rome, like that fake "fight vs demons" in Viking? Or is there a quest where you fight in a gladiator arena? 

Jonas: We've been very conscious of this challenge in Rome, and a big focus for our combat designer was to ensure as much variety in enemy types as we could possibly squeeze out of humans. Each culture you encounter in the game has their own versions of the four base classes, but additionally each culture also has a few special enemy types that have unique abilities and behaviours. For example, in Greece you will frequently encounter assassins that are capable of camouflaging to execute stealthy hit-and-run attacks, while in Nasamones in North Africa you'll often encounter Berserkers that will get back on their feet to get one last powerful attack in on you before dying. This is probably the most we stretch your suspension of disbelief in our enemy design, but it's all in the service of ensuring that the gameplay stays varied over the course of such a long story. As for the more fantastical elements, we've dialed that down a bit compared to Viking. Expeditions: Rome is certainly the most grounded installment in the series so far.

RPGWatch: There is a world map and different types of missions. Is this strategic layer somehow dynamic? For example, if you conquer some place on the world map, can enemies take it back later?

Jonas: Indeed, the enemy will launch counter-attacks and attempt to recapture regions you have taken from them, and if you ever lose your final outpost, that will trigger a game over. Additionally, if you don't reduce the strength of an enemy army enough during a battle, the remainder of their troops will retreat to join an allied army nearby in need of reinforcements. So there are some dynamic elements like that in play. 

RPGWatch: The game has legion battles as a minigame. I wonder what happens if you lose a battle with significant casualties? Would you need to repeat some missions to get your soldiers and resources back? Or is there no such thing as repeatable missions?

Jonas: There are repeatable missions you can deploy your legion to handle on the worldmap, which will grant you different types of resources depending on the mission. When you suffer considerable losses in battle, you will need to spend denarii to recruit new legionaries to replace those you lost. If
your manpower ever drops beneath 1200, you can no longer attack an enemy region, so you must replenish your manpower before you can continue.

RPGWatch: One of the highlights of Expeditions: Rome are sieges. It looks like complex battle scenarios. Does it work like a set of linear missions? For example, you need to defend your artillery vs counter-attack, then repel enemy reinforcements, then lead an attack on gate X etc.? Or is it more like each mission (phase) can have different results and influences on the next mission? Or is it perhaps more RPG-like - you freely move around the siege map and help different Roman units to achieve their goals in the siege?

Jonas: It's like both of your first two examples! Each siege has a unique structure based on the strategic situation of that battle. Some encounters are simply sequential, i.e. you must complete one to move on to the next one. Other encounters can be failed without losing the siege, but failure or partial success will have negative effects on the following encounter. Some encounters even run in parallel, with the game switching your control between two different combat groups to play both sides of a two-pronged assault at the same time. Add to that a few unique mechanics
that only show up in sieges, such as being able to call in catapult strikes, and it should be clear how the sieges stand out as satisfying capstones to a long campaign of conquest and diplomacy.

RPGWatch We know that the game does not have attributes like Strength, Dexterity etc. It’s mainly about class skills and items (item skills). Can you tell us what happens when your hero levels up and how armour works? 

Jonas: Levelling up grants you more health, 1 skill point, more damage with Unarmed attacks, and on certain levels a new unarmed attack as well. Everything else comes from your equipment. 
Armour is indeed a stat, and is quite simply deducted from the damage of every attack against the character. Critical damage bypasses armour though, and two-handed weapons have the ability to "shred" armour on the target, permanently reducing their Armour until the end of combat. In addition to the Armour stat, outfits also provide damage resistance, which is a simple percentage chance that an attack with a certain type of damage will be reduced to a "Glancing Blow". Glancing Blows deal only 25% of the damage the attack would normally have dealt, and apply no further effects to the target. Any RPG fan should be familiar with the damage types: Bludgeoning, Slashing, and Piercing.
Finally, there is also Fire resistance and Poison resistance which determine how likely you are to avoid being poisoned or set on fire. 

RPGWatch: Can you give us an example of a unique strong weapon that has its own "story" in the game? Something like a magical artefact but without real magic, of course.

Jonas: The dagger of Tutankhamon is probably the most notable example of that. Famously, its blade was made with the iron from a meteorite. When you find it, it will not be in any condition to use in a fight, so you will have to find a way to reforge it before you can equip it. We have many "legendary items" in the game like that, and all of them have their own "charms" which are unique properties that make them hugely stand out from every other item. For example, in the demo, if you kill the triarchus Geminus in the very first scene, you will get his personal spear when you talk to Bestia once you get to Lucullus' outpost - its charm adds the status effect "Harried" to every attack you make with it, which decreases the target's damage on subsequent turns. While this is a fairly conservative example, some charms are complete game-changers in terms of how they let you use the item they're applied to. If you like a particular charm but you're not a fan of the weapon itself, you can dismantle the weapon and use its unique crafting component to apply the charm to a different item, as long as that item doesn't have a charm on it already.

RPGWatch: Were the brilliant portraits in the game created by one or more artists? I would like to praise their work here because I dare to say that Expeditions: Rome has THE BEST PORTRAITS amongst RPG/adventure/VN games on the market! And I don’t mean just the quality - I love the fact that they are big, and you can see your chest and detailed clothes. It adds SO MUCH to immersion in CRPGs where you see the world from above. I think that more devs should learn from you because some isometric CRPGs have also good portraits, but they are quite small - and that is mistake IMHO. Can you tell us why you decided to make them so big and detailed - because I assume that initially it doesn’t look like that? Portraits in Viking were also smaller.

Jonas: Our portraits were drawn by the art studio Volta based on designs by one of our 2D artists Yigitcan Önal, and under the supervision of our art director August Hansen. They were that large right from the start because we wanted to use them during worldmap events where they take up almost half of your screen. Indeed, during normal dialogue, they were originally confined to little boxes on either side of the dialogue window. The final dialogue window design was made by our amazing UI designer Anca Albu once we saw how beautiful and detailed they were, because we just couldn't live with all that extra character going to waste. It's as you say: having the whole upper body visible means we could give them props and poses that add so much to their personality. I particularly love Ptolemy's portrait, which just radiates petty arrogance.

RPGWatch: One theme of the story is the burden of command. You will face dilemmas about what to do with your enemies, who you can trust etc. But will you also face some "dilemmas" regarding your service for Rome. Because you can be moral and have idealistic views of Rome, but Roman
politicians and soldiers might not be as honest. What was your approach or goal regarding this complex theme.

Jonas: You will definitely be faced with such dilemmas, especially once you visit Rome itself. Our goal as always was to show as much nuance and complexity as we could fit into the story, using as wide a variety as possible of characters with different agendas and attitudes. As anyone who has studied ancient Rome at least a little will know, the source material here is a treasure trove of inspiration. It's immediately clear how complex and conflicted the political situation was near the end of the Republican era, so all we had to do was try to accurately represent it in the game and give the player plenty of opportunities to engage with that material and plenty of options for how their character should respond to these things. The best thing about the RPG genre is that you can trust the player to want to talk to people and get to know them, so this genre is perfectly suited to tell the kind of story that the real history of the Republic of Rome presents.

RPGWatch: Will we meet more Scythians in the game, aside from Deianeira?

Jonas: Deianeira is our only Scythian character. The furthest east you'll go in the game is Asia Minor, and the only reason you meet Deianeira is that she's been captured and taken to Thracia where you encounter her. 
This is part of what makes her such an interesting character: she is the only person in the game who believes in a monotheistic religion.

RPGWatch: I hope that Expeditions: Rome will do well and there will be a new Expeditions game. So the last question is both a suggestion and a question. I present you with a few ideas for a next game and I wonder what you think interesting enough?

  • Expeditions: Iroquez or Algonquin
    European exploration of the Hudson river area in North America in the 17th century. Pretty balanced between dialogues (meeting with Indian tribes or other explorers)/survival/battles. And if Rome has a theme of burden of command, this game could have an interesting theme of a clash between exploration for science/trade and military exploit of
    natives because your kingdom is in war so your king would like to exploit your expedition for military purposes.
  • Expeditions: Samurai
    The adventure of a European sailor/soldier in 17th century Japan. You want to offer your services, ship, and guns but your ship is damaged in the storm, so you also seek help initially. Over time you will delve deeper into the intrigues and wars between samurais. You would upgrade your ship as your main base.
  • Expeditions: Mongols
    Mongol hordes won the battle of Legnica and come to plunder middle Europe. You are a Polish, German, or Czech knight who comes too late to the battle and now tries to organize the defense. You will meet other nobles, get reinforcements, defend castles, hire nomadic Cumans and spy Mongols in order to slowly weaken them. This would be a unique campaign in the sense that you start with minimal forces against formidable army so you can’t win in battle - you need your wits, diplomacy, strategies, charisma to rally troops anywhere, even among former enemies.
  • Expeditions: Magalhaes
    You want to go around the world on ship as the famous Magalhaes but your former companion betrays you and joins forces with other nation to set on the same expedition. Now you compete who will be first. You will explore many exotic places, some in Africa, some around
    India, islands in Oceania etc.

Jonas: Those are all cool ideas! When considering where to set a new Expeditions game, I think the most important thing to keep in mind is that the player should be an invader of some kind, or at the very least a foreign interloper in a strange land. But of course, a franchise should never be a strait-jacket so perhaps Expeditions: Mongols could be a breath of fresh air to the series! Ultimately, I don't know what the future holds for Expeditions, but as long as Rome is successful, I'd love to explore where the series might go in the future.

Box Art

Information about

Expeditions: Rome

Developer: Logic Artists

SP/MP: Single-player
Setting: Historical
Genre: Strategy-RPG
Combat: Turn-based
Play-time: 20-40 hours
Voice-acting: Full

Regions & platforms
· Homepage
· Platform: PC
· Released: 2022-01-20
· Publisher: THQ Nordic

More information