Zeus: Master of Olympus
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|7.0/10 - 33 votes
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|Open World Games, Zeus Series Games
So-called 'god games' might have started way back in the '80s with the classic, Sim City, but that certainly doesn't mean that the genre is past its sell-by date. Just look at the current chart success ot The Sims, if you don't believe me.
Impressions has been up there for quite a while with historical management games such as Pharaoh and Caesar 3 and now they've weighed in with a third title, Zeus: Master Of Olympus. It's an intricate yet hugely playable micro-management-cum-building game that lets you simulate the start-up of a city in Ancient Greece, complete with random natural disasters and visitations from the old Greek gods, villains and heroes thrown in to keep you on your toes. Anyone familiar with the other Impressions titles will be right at home with Zeus but the game has a much broader appeal.
The building and resource management side has been streamlined to remove many of the tedious micro-management elements. In Zeus you don't have to balance dozens of irritating statistics to maintain an efficient city - your citizens will do most of the work for you as long as you put up the right buildings.
Zeus is purely a single-player game based on a series of ten different adventures. These give you various goals to achieve and many are divided into anywhere from five to eight episodes. Three of the adventures are open with set goals other than to become the most powerful city in the known world, either by conquest or building colonies. The main disappointment is that there are no random maps, which reduces long-term playability. However, there are also eight basic and eight advanced tutorials, which could take you hours to wade through.
First things first, though. Each building must be connected to a road so the first thing to do is build a road loop and add several huts. Soon the beautifully animated citizens will start to move in. They'll need water, so you add fountains and maintenance offices at regular intervals to keep them going.
Initially the people will teed themselves by foraging, but to advance you'll need to start farming. The type of food available depends on the adventure, but typically includes fish and wheat. Other options include carrot and onion farms as well as goat herding for cheese.
Farms have to be built on meadows that are relatively scarce, so some intelligent decision-making is required at the outset. Once the wheat is harvested, you'll need a granary in which to store it and possibly a storehouse to aid distribution. But to get it to the people themselves you need to build an agora or marketplace and add a food vendor. Now you can sit back and watch the wheat being harvested and carted off to the granary. The food vendor then comes along with a few workers and takes the food to the agora. It's quite fascinating watching them go about their business...
Shacks A Bunch
As soon as huts have a food supply, they automatically upgrade to shacks. Add some cultural diversions such as a philosophy college, podium and gymnasium and they'll upgrade to hovels or homesteads. To upgrade to tenements you have to provide them with fleece by herding sheep and to upgrade to apartments, you'll need to give them olive oil. Each housing upgrade holds many more people so there's no need to build houses all over the map - it's much more efficient to upgrade.
To get olive oil, you need to plant olive trees, build a grower's shed, a press and an oil vendor on the local agora. Aside from fish and cheese, food is produced on a yearly harvesting cycle, which means you need to harvest it quickly or lose it. At times, if you haven't put enough food away in storehouses, you can find your houses being downgraded so running a half-decent city certainly keeps you moving. Other aspects of city development include building a palace so you can raise soldiers and taxes, and building infirmaries to prevent plague. You've also got to add parks and amenities to improve the appeal of housing areas, otherwise some will refuse to upgrade.
Next comes the elite housing, from which you'll get your warrior class - hoplites and horsemen. These need to be built in high-appeal areas and then require wine, armour and horses. You can mine bronze to make armour, mine marble to make statues and temples, and silver to make money, but in many adventures you won't have access to everything. You'll need to trade -or take - what you need. To build up cash reserves, you convert basic resources like copper and marble into finished goods such as armour and statues for export.
In Zeus you can conquer other cities or start colonies to produce what you're short of. That said, there are no truly open play scenarios in which you can do what you like. There are restrictions in every adventure. This does at least lead to variety, but it can be frustrating. The gods play a big part in Zeus, as you'd probably expect, and you need to align yourself with whichever ones will benefit you most. That said, each god you align with - by building a temple - will also have its enemies and they'll try to damage your cities by sending monsters such as the Cerberus or Cyclops. To combat them, you need to attract heroes, again by building the appropriate objects but also by achieving certain population or resource goals. In some adventures you can build a stadium and even host your own Olympic games with rich rewards for winning medals.
Combat, it has to be said, is a bit of kludge. You attack or defend with either a rabble (unarmoured soldiers), hoplites or horsemen -or a combination - but tactics don't seem to come into it.
The side with the most troops will batter the other one into submission eventually. You can defend your cities with walls and fortifications, but you can't build siege engines.
Interaction with other Al-controlled cities is well developed and offers plenty of options. Other cities can be allies, rivals or vassals paying you tribute. You can raid rivals for plunder or try to conquer them completely and turn them into vassals. You can also trade, send gifts, request military or resource help and generally wheel and deal as much as you like.
Graphically, the game is excellent, with wonderful animations and a pleasant if two-dimensional terrain.
You can play in 800 x 600 or 1,024 x 768 resolutions and switch dynamically between the two. The game is also very stable and multitasks without problems.
For my money, completely open play on randomly generated maps would have been much more attractive than the structured adventure approach, but Zeus is still undoubtedly the finest building-cum-management sim on the market with hours and hours of intense play on offer. Addictive, yes, good to look at, yes, but a classic? Not quite.