Pharaoh: A New Era Review

We all have comfort games we turn to when we fancy taking a break from shiny new titles and for me, that means the City Building ancient city sim series. While I enjoyed most of the games — sorry Caesar 4, you aren’t included — my favourite was Zeus: Master of Olympus, as it benefitted from that extra polish that came from being one of the later titles to launch. When I have a city-building craving it’s still my go-to, even 12 years later. However, Pharaoh: A New Era, a remake of 1999’s Pharaoh, is set to change my top choice.

When I first booted it up, it felt like I saw the game exactly how I remembered, with the sandy landscape, the Nile flooding, ostriches running wild, and little people rushing in to build their homes. The detailed world was always one of the biggest charms of the original series, and seeing it again brought back so many memories. Clicking on people will still get you a little soundbite of their voice, something I used to find so funny as a kid (I don’t know why), so I love that the remake kept it.

Out of curiosity, I reinstalled the original Pharoah. When I was faced with blurry pixel graphics in a 4:3 box, I knew my faded memories from 1999 had lied to me. A New Era has retained the same signature style, but it has a pristine clean look that the original can’t compare to.

Much like the original, A New Era can be quite challenging because it requires the know-how to make the most of its myriad of mechanics, as everything in your city affects something else. It’s an ecosystem that must be carefully balanced, and you have to maintain multiple things at once to ensure your city is running smoothly and all of your citizens are happy, all while trying to achieve your goals.

It took me years to figure out all the little quirks and benefits. I learned the hard way that deliverymen waiting outside their farms will get wiped away during floods, losing your precious resources. So don’t be stingy with your granaries and storage yards, people. Even if I didn’t have the patience to do everything right, I knew all the right corners to cut. If people don’t want to move to your city, lower taxes and raise wages. Need somewhere to be more desirable? Just spam decorations in the vicinity.

You can enjoy it without a high level of expertise, but you get more out of the game by learning all the inner workings. A New Era does an excellent job of teaching you things in stages, so you don’t go into your first city feeling overwhelmed by everything on offer. Veterans might find the first few campaigns hold your hand too much, but I can see why it’s necessary for newcomers.

One of the reasons the original series (and A New Era by extension) is a great city builder is that it never strays too far into the warfare side of things. Even if you neglect your military (as I often do), at worst, your attacker will just knock down a building or two that you can quickly rebuild, unless it’s a specific campaign that focuses on military objectives, but even that doesn’t happen too often.

One of the best changes in A New Era is the overhauled UI. It’s so much easier to use and understand now, which makes all the difference when you’re trying to run a city efficiently. Everything is neatly compartmentalised, and you can find what you need with ease, while the extensive encyclopaedia and help menus enable you to understand the game in greater detail.

A New Era learns from its predecessors. There was so much that Zeus did better than Pharoah, and A New Era took advantage of this by implementing the Global Labor Pool. Rather than having to rely on recruiters needing to reach houses to find workers, any place of work can find employees simply by being connected by a road. The original recruiter mechanic can still be used if you wish, but let’s face it, it ruins your perfect system of roadblocks that you have in place to ensure your housing is getting all its needs met.

The number of options available to tailor your gameplay is refreshingly welcome. You can toggle off predators (fun fact, if you do this on a level with predators such as crocodiles, you will see them die on screen), you can pause scripted events, and change the default for accepting goods at docks and storage yards. You can toggle to a Fixed Worker Ratio instead of Age Simulation, meaning 40 percent of your population is always ready to work rather than worrying about citizens growing old and shuffling off this mortal coil. Being able to copy and paste buildings was another very welcome addition. Let’s not forget the cheats. They’re still available and just as hilarious.

One thing I particularly appreciated is that you can toggle the garden selection. Rather than just having a random garden design appear, you can choose the exact style, similar to selecting statues. For those who love creating perfectly beautiful laid-out cities with symmetrical gardens, it makes a world of difference to be able to make the designs match.

Still, it would have been nice if A New Era borrowed more from Zeus. The battle scene pop-ups felt quite pointless. Having the army arrive in your city and your soldiers march to face them would have felt less jarring, as you can’t impact the battle scenes anyway. Zeus’s world map options would have been welcome, too. Such as being able to attack other cities for goods, or gifting cities items from your supply of products, rather than the limited monetary gifts you can only give to Egypt. It was always a good way to offload extra crap you didn’t need while getting in good with a neighbouring city. I also missed the mini-map, which was present in Pharaoh and Zeus, as it was easier to move to sections of the city and highlight resource or problem areas.

I have always considered the original City Building series to be some of the best games in the genre, and A New Era elevates Pharoah to modern standards spectacularly well. You’ll come for the charming style and intricate building mechanics but stay for the sheer wealth of content available, allowing you to spend hours building the Egyptian city of your dreams. I hope to see remakes of the rest of the series in the future, or maybe even a brand new ancient civilization city builder.

Score: 4/5. A PC code was provided by the publisher.

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