The Siege of Numantia in 150 – 130 BC was a historic event where a bunch of people in old-timey Spain (a Celtiberian city in Hispania if you want to get technical) decided to stand up against the Roman Empire. They gave it a good crack but it didn’t work out. The game Numantia does a decent job of retelling the story while injecting some drama to spice things up.
A grand map that serves as nothing more than a pretty menu
At its core Numantia is a turn based strategy game played on a hex grid of varying sizes. Players take turns at moving and taking actions of individual units until the enemy is dead. When not in combat the player is presented with slightly animated still images with text dialogue and the occasional set of “choose-your-own-adventure” style options. In between battles and story the player is given a little time to purchase units and item upgrades for future fights… and that’s about it.
Before we get into the window dressing of the story let’s get into the main attraction: the battles and how it all works. Pay attention because if you plan on picking Numantia up, this info will be super helpful (the tutorial certainly wasn’t).
The battle maps are clearly more function than form.
The most important thing to learn is how the initiative system works in Numantia. Seriously, it took me nearly half of the game to finally understand what was going on. Each unit in both the Numantian and Roman armies are assigned a number. This number determines when they get to have an action.
There’s a small number at the top of the screen; this is the current initiative step. It counts down from eight to one. All units with the same number as this current step will get to activate. Some speedy units like light cavalry will have two numbers assigned eg. 8 – 4. This means they’ll activate in both step eight, then again in step 4.
Congratulations! You can now play the game without scratching your head and questioning why you can’t just pick and choose who you want to move.
The close-up view: not at all useful but at least you can see dudes actually fight… and the animation is is pretty good!
This leads me to one of the main issue I have with Numantia; as simple a game as it is, there’s plenty of confusion. The UI doesn’t help.
Before a recent patch, unit abilities needed to be activated by pressing the corresponding number on the keyboard. No, you can’t just click the icon, you need to press the number… but in the right spot or at the right time.
Some units want you to have just the controlling unit selected, some want you to not select but instead hover over an enemy unit, or just your own. Then there are the times where you’ll be happily clicking away, moving units, until the game halts and wants you to press a number to move them instead. WTF?! Why? Often I found I was fighting the system as much as I was fighting the enemy.
The unit roster you get to play with is disappointingly small. An army is typically made up of a couple of main character heroes, close combat troops, cavalry and ranged units. Within each of these groups, there’s choice of three flavours which usually brake down to: all rounder, high damage output but weaker defensively, and high defence but weaker attack value. This formula is repeated across all unit types.
Base camp, where you’ll only visit the barracks and market for unit hiring and equipment buying (when available).
Eventually you’ll be given the option to upgrade units, which I was excited for. Then you find out that it’s nothing more than a stat bump.
It may sound all doom and gloom but the actual battles were decent. It scratched that itch of having to strategize and juggle different unit move speeds and attack ranges while trying to ensure I made the first blows. As a unit takes damage their combat effectiveness also drops, so it’s best to hit first and receive a softer retaliatory strike back.
If you’re able to strike a unit in the flank or rear the amount of damage is increased: another ingredient in the strategy pie.
As simple as the combat and army structure is, the fights were satisfying and lasted the perfect amount of time (once I got to grips with the controls).
Jumping back to the window dressing, the story follows events to a tee. The player is given a couple of characters to try and establish empathy for their situation and at times you’re given a moral or tactical choice. Should your hunter search for a missing scout troop? Or should they remain home fearing an ambush?
Whatever the decision there will be one of three things that happen:
- Nothing. Nothing will happen and your time will feel wasted.
- Something bad. You found enemy troops and now you have to fight them with no benefit afterwards. You lose currency, or your morale or troops will be damaged for the next fight.
- Something not bad. You gain currency, a unit or an item.
It may seem that I’m dumbing it down too much, but really, that’s all it is. For every decision. If you want to get gamey, just save before any decision and pick something. Don’t like the outcome? Reload and choose again. Ultimately though, it’s all for naught as by the end of the game you’ll either have so much money you couldn’t possibly spend it all, or you’ll have just enough money to get by, so it’s all a wash.
More close-up shots as the normal view is pretty boring to look at…
I think that’s what irks me most. This was an opportunity for a “what if” situation (SPOILER: Romans always win.. except for when they don’t) to play with history. If feels really unfair when you complete a battle against a 16 unit Roman army (as the Numantians) without losing a single unit yourself only for the game narrative to say “Romans are too good and Numantia lost another fight.”
“Err excuse me? Did you not just witness what happened literally 15 seconds ago?” It got to the point where I felt fighting was just a waste of time if it had no impact on the story outcome.
Earlier I made mention of currency so I’ll quickly explain why it doesn’t matter. There are two types of currency to play with: silver and “supplies”. Silver is harder to get than supplies, and you’ll find you’ll have way more than one than the other, but when you can visit the market and buy / sell one currency for the other, it doesn’t really make much difference. Units also cost a proportional amount of each so you shouldn’t ever feel strapped for cash.
This also ties in with my story gripe. The game is telling me that the people are starving but my HUD is saying the opposite. Why do the people need to hunt rats for food when I clearly have enough “supplies” to last many winters?
Visually the game is pretty enough, though there seems to be a major clash in artistic styles. On one hand you have these beautifully painted cut scene backdrops with an impressionistic feel to it. On the other a hand you have these starkly contrasting character drawings slapped on top of the pretty backgrounds. They aren’t lit with the same atmosphere the background is trying to evoke, so they stick out like a sore thumb. To me it just looks odd.
There was also occasionally this weird motion blur effect during battles, specifically when panning the camera around. Something I’ve not seen since the PS2 era. There’s a reason people stopped using that effect.
A tough choice between which shadow people to let into the city.
Once all was said and done, I did enjoy my time with the game and I’ll probably go back and experience the other side of the coin. The battles were engaging enough and required an active mind without being draining.
Numantia is a little rough around the edges with some occasional bugs (the most recent patch has helped tremendously) but it’s by no means a bad game. Its shorter length is also a boon; at around 11 -14 hours to complete a campaign, it doesn’t outstay its welcome.
Give it a go if the time period is of interest or if you’re after something a little less taxing to fill the space between major releases.
SCORE – 65%
Numantia is currently available on Steam for PC here – http://store.steampowered.com/app/588080/Numantia/