Tuesday, 7 May 2019

Rome: Pathway to Power - LOST!

Written by TBD

Hector’s Journal #4: "The Emperor considers me a threat to his power. I'll show him a threat. I'll curry Cleopatra's favour and see if she can help me oust the Emperor. I'm sure I'd be at least as good an Emperor - I can eat grapes and raise taxes all day with the best of them... and I rarely argue with shrubbery..."

When last we looked in on Hector the slave owner, invader, pillager, briber and attempted assassin-hirer, he'd just been made a Consul and sent to Egypt to protect Cleopatra.

It seems Cleopatra's throne is being threatened by her brother, Ptolemy XXIV. Now, I looked up Ptolemy XXIV and couldn't find him, but Google pointed me to the Wikipedia page of Ptolemy VIII instead.

I'm sure if I look up all royal families in history I'll find something weirder than this, but when your niece, stepdaughter and wife are all the same person perhaps it's time to stop trying to pick up women at family reunions.

I also note that Cleopatras I-VII (VII being the famous one) all died well before 92AD (or even 79AD when Vesuvius erupted) so let's just say the date the game purports to be taking place has nothing to do with real history.

Anyway, enough history. Let's get back to the game. Cleopatra tells me that Ptolemy is sending an army to kill her. She says that if the soldiers get to her she'll commit suicide rather than be captured or killed. She asks me to protect her and offers me some of her troops to command.

I have three columns of Egyptian soldiers and one legion (does four dudes constitute a legion?) of Romans.

This level is similar to the Albion level, where I'm in a real-time strategy game. The difference is there's no fog of war here so I can see the entire map as well as the locations of all of my enemies from the start.

Note that me and my soldiers (yellow and red) are fighting the enemy (white) to the south while a small contingent snuck into the city and are on their way to Cleopatra in the top right.

Of course, using no tactics whatsoever, I lose on my first attempt.

If not for the snakes slithering around I'd suspect she was killed by a vampire!

Like before, I skip the introduction when the level restarts.

I think these introduction skipping comments may be my favourite parts of the game.

Like last time, I ignore all of my commands apart from “FOLLOW”, “REST” and “ATTACK”. I had planned to build a fort at one of the entrances to the city to force the enemy to go through my army, but the “BUILD” command is the only one from the Albion level that is missing from this level.

If I die in battle, Cleo commits suicide without waiting for the enemy soldiers to get to her because she has no faith in the rest of our army I suppose. Or perhaps the thought of Hector's death is just too much for her to bear.

I tried keeping my army in the city protecting the path to Cleo's quarters, but some of the enemies just run past my soldiers who are busy killing their friends and I lose again.

Eventually I decided I needed to actually come up with something resembling a military tactic. I left one of my units just outside Cleo's place, using my previously ignored “GUARD” command.

I then go out and attack one of the main enemy forces with my other three units, then quickly re-enter the city and keep my army at a crossroads any enemies will need to pass in order to get to Cleo's, killing any enemies who come close while constantly keeping an eye on the map for sneaky white dots.

After some waiting, I note that nobody's coming to get me and there's only a few scattered white dots on the map.

Both of our armies are scattered, but there's a lot more red dots than white dots, and I'm pretty sure the two white dots on the east side of the bridge are dead guys – a glitch of some sort.

As for why there are red dots all over the map, my army often scatters to the four winds - when I order them to “ATTACK” some of them want to attack something far away from me for some reason, and when I continue to give orders, if a soldier isn't close enough he won't hear me and continues on a solo mission of his own. I either leave him where he is or have to go to his location to issue a new “FOLLOW” command to get him to rejoin my main force.

After finding the lone last enemy white dot that isn't a glitchy dead guy, I order my followers to kill him where he sits.

This seems like overkill

Once again, my army tries to scatter even though they just killed the last enemy - you can see two Egyptian soldiers want to go west while a Roman is following his friends south.

Having successfully protected her, Cleopatra thanks me.

Cleopatra winks seductively, but I'm more concerned at the crippling arthritis in her fingers!

I return home, victorious, and prepare to be promoted by my Emperor once again.

Sounds like he needs to be deposed. Perhaps my heroic efforts to save him in Chapter 2 were ill-advised.

Everyone I talk to tells me how dangerously insane the Emperor is. I find the Emperor and follow him for a bit. It's not long before I see first hand that the people weren't exaggerating his insanity.

He's upset that the tree refused to bow to him on command.

Some people I talk to suggest that someone like me should be in charge. Well, if it's the people's will, I'm willing to accept the challenge, but how do I do it?

The herald soon announces that the Emperor will be performing as a gladiator in the arena. This should be easy. I go to the arena, and though I can't enter the contest myself, I can send my slave, Barbarus to kill the Emperor for me. Barbarus is a seasoned gladiator, so he should find this fight easy...

Well, that's not very fair.

The Emperor has three fights, and all slaves allow the Emperor to kill them in order to save their wives and children. Is there no slave without a family in this city?

After night falls, I go into the palace in order to try to murder the Emperor. I find him laying alone on the floor.

This should be easy...
If only that fourth button existed...

I wander around again, hoping to see something useful.

I go to a play at the theatre (Et tu Brute, a story of hope for the future.)

I go the the Senate, hoping to talk the Senators into deposing the Emperor. But I don't need to, they already want the guy dead.

I tried to do it, but there was no “SMOTHER” button!

This is seeming a little like the second chapter, except this time I want the Emperor dead instead of wanting to protect him. A nice little callback, or it could have been if it was followed through with.

I wonder if the soothsayer has any wise words for me

This is... not encouraging

I pay the priest to pray to the gods for me and try my luck at the arena again, hoping perhaps Zeus will give the Emperor a cardiac arrest or something. That didn't work.

I follow the Emperor all day and find another place that looks like I should be able to kill him.

Damn. I really though his last comment was an invitation.

Even though I don't expect to be able to afford one, I find an assassin and try to hire him.

100. That seems promising – he cost 200 last time and I thought if anything he'd charge more if the Emperor was the target. Perhaps regicide is the solution...

While checking in with people, I find something that amuses me because it hits on one of my pet peeves.

Somebody tell award winners that the word 'humbled' is correctly used when you are defeated, not when you win something!

Now, I need more money so I go to the dice game at the tavern, only to be told that a Consul can't be seen gambling amongst mere citizens.

The only gladiatorial games available are always won by the Emperor so I can't make money that way, and I can't gamble to increase my winnings. Looks like my money-making days are behind me so I restart the Chapter to where I still have just enough money to hire an assassin.

Before hiring the assassin, I spend a coin on the soothsayer, who instead of telling me I'm doomed, offers to be the first to bow before me, but warns me to watch out for my mirror image. At least I know that it is possible to win now that I have over 100 sesterces. When the soothsayer told me I was doomed it was after I'd spent some money buying slaves.

I find an assassin, and pay him. He starts to follow me and tells me to point the victim out to him and he'll kill them for me.

The Emperor is at the arena, so I take my assassin there and use him from my inventory.

Yes, let us choose Consul Hector!

The people carry me on their shoulders to the forum to proclaim me Emperor, and I feel pretty good about myself.

Alright! I'm about to win the game!!!

But my feeling of victory doesn't last as another group of citizens carrying a different Consul march into the forum.

Now, I point out that my military success should give me the job and Gaius points to his political experience.

Oh, crap.

I get the same ending cutscene I'd gotten earlier, of a dejected Hector retiring peacefully to the countryside.

So I tried again and this time used my assassin on Gaius, hoping to perhaps get some cash from his corpse or having another way to kill the Emperor.

But nothing happens. Gaius is dead, and I still haven't got enough money to hire a second assassin.

Now, I had a few more ideas. I followed the Emperor around all day but his schedule never gave me an opportunity to kill him.

Hanging around the Senate, the Senators continued to have a discussion about deposing the Emperor and promised to meet again in secret, but I never found them meeting again after following some of them for a while. It's possible I missed a secret meeting, but it didn't seem so.

At this point I was stuck. Was I dead-ended? Is there another way to get more money? My kingdom for another way to get money in this game...

No, game industry. That's NOT what I meant...

Having run out of ideas, I asked for help...

Laukku found a walkthrough and very helpfully gave me some hints. I quickly read through the hints, and the final hint was...
"You can kill the Emperor yourself, using the dagger you bought in level one, or you can employ an assassin to do it for you."
Oh. Using the dagger I bought in level one, eh... Let's cast our mind back to our first gameplay post, written by Reiko...
On the way to the docks, I ran into a dagger merchant selling daggers for three sesterces. I decided trying to get a ride away from the city was far more worthwhile than a dagger.
I had the same thought when I played through that section (actually, I didn't even see the dagger merchant as I was too keen to escape the oncoming lava.) To put the cost of the dagger in perspective...
  1. At that point in the game you have exactly 3 sesterces
  2. A dagger costs 3 sesterces
  3. A seat on a boat out of the city costs 3 sesterces
  4. There's an erupting volcano spewing lava into the city and it's fast approaching the dock
  5. Molten lava is historically not afraid of daggers
Why would anyone buy a dagger over a boat ride in the first chapter unless they knew it would be vital to complete the final act in the game?

And, lets consider at a few other facts...
  1. As a Roman General, surely I have numerous daggers, swords and other items of murder at my disposal. 
  2. Is there nobody in the city of Rome who sells daggers?
  3. I even have a slave who has a long sword. Am I unable to borrow my slave's sword for a quick assassination?
Is this one of the worst examples of dead-ends in the history of adventure gaming? I'm going with a big YES on this one, though it's possible I'm biased and in a bad mood at this point in time and I'll be slightly softer on this game in a few weeks.

Session time: 2 hours 55 minutes
Total time: 11 hours 5 minutes

But, can I leave it there? Having lost the game? Again, Laukku comes to the rescue with cheats for the Amiga version of the game. MisterKerr tried to help too but while his help didn't pan out I appreciate the attempt.

So, with a new option that doesn't involve me playing through the entire game again and again until the random generator rolls my way, let's fire up the Amiga version!

Attempting to Cheat My Way Through the Amiga Version

So, we start the game, I use the cheats to give me some gold. I buy a dagger...

Say hello to the only dagger in the entirety of the Roman Empire, which would otherwise be tragically lost under molten rock and ash.

... with my new dagger safely tucked into my inventory, I cheat to end each level, and at the start of the third level...


Now, I used to have an Amiga. Anyone who used to have an Amiga knows the dreaded Guru Meditation. It's the Amiga equivalent of the BSoD.

I tried to get past the error a few ways but every time the game loaded the Albion level the game crashed. I quickly gave up (if quickly means wasting multiple hours of my life) and watched the ending on youtube thanks to Al82: Retrogaming & Computing.

In the ending, having killed Gaius before killing the Emperor, Hector gets his throne and reflects on his time since the game began. It's apparently been only a few weeks since we started as a slave. That seems a bit short - I would have guessed months, even years for all those events and travel to take place, but what do I know. Anyway, after thinking fondly on his last few weeks, Hector, like all people in power, rules as an evil despot (what? why?), and one day...

So... Hector gets assassinated... and that's the good ending? And retiring peacefully to the countryside is the bad ending? Screw that. I'll take the loss, thank you.

Ah, a much happier ending! And I could have got it all the way back in Chapter 4, saving me a lot of trouble!

So, like Hector before us, let's reflect on some of the things Hector did to win his throne.
  1. Steal clothes
  2. Threaten people with a dagger in order to recoup the money spent on a dagger (seriously!)
  3. Bribe lots of citizens
  4. Buy slaves
  5. Send slaves to fight to the death
  6. Invade a foreign country that just wants to govern themselves
  7. Kill the foreign people
  8. Pillage the foreign people's homes
  9. Hire an assassin to kill the innocent Consul Gaius
  10. Murder someone with a dagger
Optional: (I didn't do these things but from what I've read I could have)
  1. Buy a female slave and force her to have sex with me
  2. Pimp my female slave to another citizen in order to get their vote in the election
Actually, now that I think about it - I wouldn't mind assassinating Hector myself. He's most definitely not a nice guy. And that's before he becomes Emperor and does unspecified evil and despotic things.

Well, that's it for this game. I for one am glad it's over, and I can say that I have absolutely no desire to restart the game from level 1 and win it myself. I did enjoy writing about it though. So thanks for reading!


  1. >Say hello to the only dagger in the entirety of the Roman Empire,
    >which would otherwise be tragically lost under molten rock and ash.


    This is an especially cruel dead end, where you'd expect a basic item to be SOMEWHAT common.

    1. Yeah. I could cope with the common rare trope if it wasn't tied into a chapter 1 dead-end that isn't a dead-end until the VERY LAST ACTION OF THE GAME!

  2. After reading your list of Hector's accomplishments, I stand by my earlier remark that the game would best be named "granditer furtum sinum currus".

    Awful game, but an entertaining read. Thanks.

    1. Nice one. Makes me think that most of the things I've listed that we'd consider immoral would be perfectly acceptable in game's setting. I'd guess only 1, 2 and 9 would be frowned upon by most ancient Romans.

    2. Considering their usual way to power even #9 wouldn't be frowned upon, and 1 and 2 only because you had the audacity to be born poor and not a citizen.

      That said I do like the backgrounds that reflect the time and place, gives a very nice "ancient times" feel to it, you can almost imagine it being the way a play is staged.

      And I agree with Michael on the better title and the entertaining read, like a gladiator in the circus we thank you for your highly amusing suffering.

  3. > MisterKerr tried to help too but while his help didn't pan out I appreciate the attempt.

    That's what happens when I post from a work computer that randomly blocks *some* gaming sites, like the one Laukku posted his link from which I couldn't actually click on until I was on a different computer. I still think there's probably a way to cheat/hex edit your way to the end in the PC version, but at this point it's probably moot. Well, that's Rome for you!

    1. At least you tried. If I did end up managing to cheat my way to success it would at least have been true to Hector's personality.

  4. Thank you SO MUCH, TBD, for getting through this lump of a game in my place. I think this one is a contender for worst game of the year. That dead end is simply inexcusable! I am sorry you got saddled with it.

    1. Happy to do it. And I'll be voting it for worst for sure, unless something surprising pops up.

    2. If Curse of Enchantia didn't have such good graphics it'd be the worst for sure.

    3. I really thought Curse of Enchantia would be worst game of the year by far, but finally it appears it's gonna be a tight fight!

    4. And people thought that Hugo III would be the worst one, back when making guessing 1992 rankings in... 2016 holy cow it's been so long already!?

    5. Time flies when you are having fun!

  5. Frankly, I am amazed that you persevered so long. Let's hope you'll face no as awful game in the nearby future!

    1. I think my obsessive compulsion to finish kicked in at some point but fortunately it left me after I couldn't get the Amiga version to work.

  6. Interestingly, the hill behind you on the "losing" screen looks very much like the Acropolis in Athens. Some nice real estate in Attica at that time.

    1. Ha. Maybe in my shame I walked all the way to Greece with a hangdog expression on my face, kicking stones as I went and refusing to be happy that I was a slave in a burning city weeks earlier and was now a rich landowner.

  7. Funny thing. The worst games tend to make the best reading. I often find this to be the case here and at the crpg addicts house.

    1. Yeah, bad games are fun to write as well, perhaps because you get to vent your frustration - good games are great fun too - I think it's the average games that I find least fun to write

  8. Is it possible to win without the Dagger if you build up 200 sesterces during your last opportunity to make money (which I guess is the chapter before Egypt) - so you can hire the assassin twice?

    1. I'm confident the answer is yes, but seeing as I had many attempts to complete Chapter 4 and only ended up succeeding with 2 sesterces to spare, I don't think it will be easy. And the only way to make money before borrowing money partway through Chapter 2 is by getting the dagger in Chapter 1 and threatening people before the lava hits.

      I did briefly consider restarting from Chapter 4 anyway until I remembered that the game only lets me have a single save game, so I could either restart Chapter 6 with 102 sesterces or start the game from Chapter 1 again.

      So, my guess is the only way to realistically do it is by buying the dagger anyway in order to start chapter 2 with some cash, thus avoiding the moneylender's exorbitant fees and being able to buy a slave earlier and compete in the first gladiator arena

  9. There's one other way to make money. You can buy a loaded die in Herculaneum and gamble with it in Chapter 2. It's not a huge influx of cash (if you stop before the other gamblers figure out you're cheating), but it can provide some extra pocket change.

    I beat this game as a kid, and I remember utterly despising the RTS sections. I think I'd be willing to replay the other chapters, but never again will Hector invade Britannia.

    1. But you'd still have to get the dagger too in order to be able to get the die and still escape.

    2. So...

      You need the dagger to get the die
      Without the dagger you are sure to die

      (Yeah, I'll show myself the way out...)

  10. This is one of the greatest games I have played as a child and still brings back memories. You who say it is aweful, well it was ground breaking when released - it was basically GTA style RPG (rob people and some innuendo style references later on). Day and night cycle. Intrigue and violence. War and beauty.