Manufacturing choices, tech tree routes, diplomatic options... Imperialism 2 is a treasure galleon packed to the gunnels with thorny yet graspable dilemmas. Like Total War, it's also a game that periodically slams shut the ledgers, rolls up the maps and suggests you get your hands bloody.
The optional battle layer wouldn't win any prizes as a standalone wargame, but there's sufficient distinction between the 40 unit types and enough unpredictability in the AI to make time in its company a pleasure. Often you're facing fortified foes and must breach walls with cannons, or feint to attract opportunity fire, before assaulting. Sometimes the only difference between victory and defeat is the timely use of a resolve-firming general.
On the battlefield, the AI is serviceable. On the global stage, though, it's sabre-sharp. Returning to Imperialism 2's enticing plains, forests, deserts, and uplands after many years away, I recklessly selected 'normal' difficulty for my first game and was left looking painfully rusty.
My silicon opponents explored, made friends, balanced books, and battered foes like they'd been practising their skills non- stop in my absence. Considering the number of interlocking factors at play in the average Imperialism game, the skill exhibited by rivals borders on the uncanny.
Want to wince as a neighbouring superpower invades three of your most vulnerable provinces simultaneously? Want to look up from diamond hunting, deal forging, and fort fighting to find the room dark and your coffee cold? Want to meet the only franchise that could have – should have – given Civilization a run for its money? Set a course for the impeccable Imperialism 2.
You can pick up Imperialism 2 for $5.99 on GOG.com if you're in the mood for a bit of world domination.