With the launch of Ryse: Son of Rome last week on the Xbox One, it only seems fitting to sit back and celebrate all of the Roman soldiers that paved the way for Marius Titus and his merry band of misfits. Throughout the years, games set in Ancient Rome have graced nearly every platform, going all the way back to the NES and through pretty much every decade that the PC has existed as a gaming device. Whether you give these games a thumbs up or down in the pantheon of gaming history, you can’t deny that these games have made their mark on the industry. You also can’t deny that a lot of them have “Rome” in the title.
Some of my favorite strategy games of all time mix multiple genres together, and Centurion: Defender of Rome is no exception. With elements of real time strategy, turned based elements and even adventure game-like choices, there was no shortage of variety with Centurion. The ultimate goal of becoming Caesar was also fairly unique at the time, and helped spur players to accomplish a seemingly unreachable goal.
Based on the beloved comic series, Asterix was a very straight-forward, but enjoyable 2D platformer for multiple platforms, including the NES, SNES and Game Boy. In typical Asterix fashion you’ll resist the Roman invasion all across Europe with your pal Obelix and your fellow Gauls, as you fight the evil Caesar and maintain your independence. The franchise never came to America as it was exclusive to the PAL region, which is a shame.
Total War: Rome II brought the Total War series into a new generation of visuals, with an insane amount of detail never before seen in the series. Not only did it look incredible, but most of the deep strategy was also faithfully preserved, which is a testament to the skill of the development team. Although it is beloved by modern strategy fans everywhere, most agree that it doesn’t surpass its predecessor—particularly in regards to the massive amount of bugs that plagued the game at launch.
After a boom of Roman real time strategy games in the 90s, the sub-genre started to thin out a bit. Thankfully Praetorians came along in 2003 and shook things up once again. Giving you the chance to play as Julius Caesar, you’re basically tasked with taking down various barbarian hordes one by one, with a light emphasis on resource management. I say “light” as the game was mostly action based, similar to the Warcraft series, and less about macro-management of large towns and cities.
Roman games are typically sorted into the strategic and hack and slash variety, with Road to Freedom taking the latter path. Centered around a lone gladiatorial slave seeking his freedom, you’re basically spending all of your time in the pit—training, fighting and training some more. It was an extremely simple game to pick up, but the story was deceptively open-ended, especially given the fact that you could remain a gladiator after you’ve earned your freedom, and the added bonus of additional endings and paths.
As a spinoff to Rome: Total War, Spartan definitely had some big shoes to fill. Its story was ahistorical nonsense, with a warrior guided by Ares defending Sparta against a Roman invasion, and it was decidedly more action packed in nature compared to its strategic older brother. But that didn’t really matter, as the hack and slash gameplay introduced intriguing new possibilities to the franchise, and it ended up being a very serviceable action game in its own right.
Shadow of Rome is a bit of an odd release, coming seemingly out of nowhere in 2005 from Capcom, of all places. It’s a wacky game all in all, featuring a plotline that centers around the assassination of Julius Caesar, in addition to racing elements, combat and stealth. It was definitely an uneven game that didn’t really have a real identity, but for many action fans, it’s considered a unique gem from Capcom’s history.
In the days of SimCity, there were few worthwhile city-building competitors in the market, but I always had a soft spot for the Caesar series. Rather than rely on modern conveniences and trappings, the Caesar games were an interesting set of strategy games, mostly due to the enhanced emphasis on the dichotomy between plebeians and patricians. With a traditional isometric view, it’s your job to make sure your citizens stay clean, fed and happy. As the pinnacle of the series Caesar III has the most robust number of options available with the least amount of technical issues.
Simply put, Rome: Total War is one of the greatest strategy releases of all time, with a massive emphasis on both macro and micro gameplay. Featuring a massive campaign that would have been sufficient enough for the package, Rome also shipped with comprehensive free play tools, in addition to a robust set of multiplayer features. With a modding fanbase that has persisted to this day, Rome: Total War is an easy recommendation, and an absolute classic—in terms of both Roman themed videogames and the entire strategy genre.
As one of my favorite action games of all time, the 3D follow-up to 1987’s Rygar takes the clear top spot on this list. Since Rygar takes place in a fictional realm, it’s not technically Rome, but we’ll let this one slide as it’s clearly influenced by Greek and Roman mythology. Using a legendary weapon called the “Diskarmor,” you’ll slice, dice and swing your way across a multitude of locations, fighting recognizable foes in the process.
Although it’s a pretty straight-forward action title there’s a bit of depth to the proceedings, as Rygar allows you to change up your Diskarmor into three different functions —Hades (long range), Heaven (medium range) and Sea (short range) attacks. Actual Roman ruins were used as reference when creating the game, which helped give life to some of the most authentic locations in gaming at the time. As a cherry on top, in a move as old school as it gets, there were a ton of hidden secrets to find. If you can stomach old school action with a fixed camera angle, it’s definitely worth digging up.
Chris Carter is a writer who has been playing videogames since he was old enough to pick up a controller in the late 80s. He’s currently the Reviews Director for Destructoid.com, and also writes for Touch Arcade and Joystiq, among other publications.