I had to contain my excitement when I heard that a game titled “Numantia” recently released. I am here writing about a video game, but I also have a career writing about history. Having my master’s degree in ancient military history, I was overjoyed that there was a game that focused on the relatively obscure war for Spain.
The Iberians were a fierce people and the Romans would not gain control of the peninsula until they conquered the mighty stronghold of Numantia. A great story that unfolds wonderfully through this game. History buffs will notice the authenticity of the units and much of the story instantly, with accurate historical characters and real names of the many units.
So what is Numantia and how does it play? It reminds me of a mix of the Total War series and Civilization. It has a two-part gameplay featuring the story on the campaign map and battles on a hexagonally tiled battlefield. This is similar to Total War, but with an absolute focus on narrative during the campaign and less spectacular, but still quite tactical battles.
The battles themselves are very familiar if you have played Civilization V or VI. One unit per hex, represented by six men, or one hero/leader, no stacking hexes. From here, however, Numantia really ramps up the fun compared to Civ. Animations are impactful, an elephant charging into your lines gives the infantry a satisfying toss, ranged units look good and the map looks great.
Tactics are key in these battles. A unit’s direction is supremely important as flanking is one of the best ways to destroy troops. Keeping army cohesion is important, so a lone unit may quickly fall apart when far from its army.
Different unit and hero abilities combine with items and the morale system to make for a deeply strategic battle system. I found myself fighting as the ancients would, peppering enemies with ranged units before letting my infantry take the brunt of the attack and flanking with cavalry.
There is the option to fight skirmishes, but in the campaign, the battles serve as a vehicle to move the impressive story along. The game uses the framework of the Numantian Wars to give the player a story with multiple choices throughout and the ability to play as either the Romans or the Numantines. Most people might pick the familiar Romans but I had a blast as the Numantines.
I don’t want to give any of the story away, but your choices have an impact, particularly on the battles. An enemy patrol seems vulnerable, should you scout more, rush to the attack, carefully prepare an ambush, or do nothing as it’s probably a trap? It is impressive how many options there tends to be and how many times you get to make impactful decisions. The cutscenes play out like a comic book, and aside from a little chunkiness in the writing, it makes for a good story.
Unfortunately, Numantia is plagued with a host of mechanical, graphical and UI problems that take the core of a great game down quite hard. Numantia seems to be a port of a console game, and while you can play it well with a controller, mouse and keyboard implementation doesn’t seem well thought out.
I was crying for basic tooltips when I hovered over anything with my mouse as many important aspects of the game, such as abilities, are only described in the barracks and not in battles where I need that information. A mouse tooltip would be immensely helpful. I noticed that the developers put in some hotfixes for mouse and keyboard freezing, so we may see better usability overall in future updates.
Other things such as seeming to need extra clicks to achieve something relatively simple and having a hard time swapping equipment were things that too often cropped up, and occasionally there seemed to be a few things that I just wasn’t able to click or select, like equipment again, that I was sure I should be able to utilize.
While battles are well made from a gameplay standpoint, it takes a lot to competently and confidently play through them. The lack of information makes me unsure exactly how best I should use my units, and the poorly designed UI makes it hard to get into the groove of fighting a battle.
Moving on to graphics, while the battles and campaign look great most of the time, there is an excessive blur in many scenes and locations from the campaign and battles, though the cutscenes always looked great. I wasn’t sure if this was a glitch or a purposeful decision but I thought it took away from the great art in the game.
A lack of customizing options was also a bit frustrating. No real graphics settings, and no customizable controls in addition to no way to tweak the gameplay aside from difficulty. This, combined with the limiting UI and lack of mouse/keyboard implementation made me feel like I just couldn’t play the game how I wanted.
Lastly, though the ideas are great, you can get great battles and campaign mechanics, and stability, from the mentioned Civilization and Total War series, the controls and options are comfortable and easy. So why play Numantia?
Well, with some UI fixes I thought that the battles in Numantia were amazing, like Civ battles on steroids and unique enough to stand on their own. Secondly, the story is unique, it’s not the tale of Caesar or the Greco-Persian Wars so established in modern culture, it’s about the forgotten struggle for Numantia.
Characters like Scipio, not the one that beat Hannibal, his adopted grandson, and Masinissa are amazing characters in Roman history and “barbarians” such as Avarus and Rhetogenes, who are footnotes even in academic history books, see their stories magnificently expanded.
If you can struggle through the sizeable collection of flaws that surround the story and combat, you are in for a great experience at a third of the price of most AAA games.
- Great story and cutscenes
- Accurate enough for history buffs
- Dynamic combat system
- Terrible UI and controls
- Limited customizable options
- Bugs and unflattering blur throughout