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Feb 15, 2023

Pharaoh: A New Era Review

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3 Okay
Retails for: $22.99
We Recommend: $22.99
  • Developer: Triskell Interactive
  • Publisher: Dotemu
  • Genre: Simulation, Strategy
  • Released: Feb 15, 2023
  • Platform: Windows
  • Reviewed: Windows

A full remake of 1999’s Pharaoh and its expansion in 4K would not be on my bingo card of any E3. But here we are with Pharaoh: A New Era , from publisher Dotemu and developer Triskell Interactive. Far and away the improvements into the playability of the game are easily apparent, through playing it the two major improvements it makes over the original is guidance, and speed. It does such a great job of introducing you to the mechanics clearly and progressively. This is a great introduction to the series if you missed two decades ago, and if you’re playing it again, it feels completely new. Pharaoh: A New Era is a deep and engrossing city-builder with a unique structure for its time, but I ultimately couldn’t shake that something felt off the entire time I was playing it.

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Unlike most games of this genre, you’ll start in the Predynastic Period, and work your way to The New Kingdom, Ramses II, and then Cleopatra’s Capital. While it might not be clear this game includes the original’s expansion, also fully remade, this is how you know. There’s 4000 years of history to progress through, and it’ll take you through fifty-plus missions over fifty-plus hours – the original and this remake is certainly not short on content.

The first thing you’ll do upon starting the campaign is starting a family. What immediately struck me was not having a random name generator full of Egyptian-accurate surnames to work with. However, I was able to find one fitting enough to get started. While true to the original, you’ll also notice that there’s no difficulty selection, either. The game then will inform you of the mission’s objectives, and then guide you through most of it, before having you finish the mission as requested. From here it’s all about attracting residents, keeping them entertained, and appeasing the gods.

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What’s so new about this remake? Quite a lot, actually. First and foremost there’s tutorials that actually onboard the player, instead of you know, just throwing them into the Nile with the crocodiles. There’s a sense of progression, skill, and knowledge this way, and is by far preferred over the original. Triskell has made it easier to build things, with a focus on everything you do not taking more than having a “two-click maximum”. There’s now a ‘Nilometer’ that tells you when it might flood, which is a better indicator than… the nothing you had before. My favorite addition, a modern convenience in today’s city builders is that you can copy and paste buildings now. This is really efficient, and much welcome here. There’s even accessibility features, and assistance about any perceived difficulty to make things easier, and the developers promise this doesn’t compromise the game’s integrity if you choose to use them. Removing barriers to play any game is always a bonus.

As it was in 1999, the campaign of Pharaoh: A New Era is a mission-based game, instead of an ongoing map. It’s actually preferred by me in most cases, as I’m not bearing the weight of a poor decision from hours ago, and trying to work around that. Missions get progressively more challenging, but it’s all about efficiency and understanding how cities work and thrive, and keeping them and the gods happy. The first six missions are tutorial missions, easing you into the game, and teaching you what you’ll need to know for the remainder. Triskell has smoothed out all the rough edges. When the objectives for a mission are met, you’re able to move on to the next, or you can stay and keep governing your city under the parameters of that mission.

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Pharaoh: A New Era is a lot more guided than it was before, where you had to crack open a paper manual just to perform basic actions, and it’s a lot more intuitive, too. There’s mission briefings so you can remind yourself what needs to be done for the level. There’s also a healthy amount of notifications, overlays, overseers, world map, and objectives to give you all the necessary information you need. There’s also an in-game help guide and encyclopedia for more “how to” aspects of the game.

The game has a great look, with everything drawn and re-created by hand. Though there’s something about it, how it seems to be missing personality. The teams involved did work with a certified Egyptologist to ensure historical accuracy and correctness. While any given mission can look stunning as clouds pass overhead, shading areas of the map, it tends to look flat and lifeless. When compared to the original , you can see how they dressed it up, but something was lost along the way.

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You can even control the patrols of your walkers, there’s roaming walkers and destination walkers, which give them purpose and prevent them from straying too far and being put in a bad situation. This is all done through roadblocks. You’ll setup markets for trade, and even build armies to not only protect your city, but also cities you’re in good standing with as you frequently trade between them. Advanced categories when you have established cities are: Services, Food & Farming, Stock & Distribution, Production, Religion, and Entertainment. There’s a lot of moving parts, but again, it feels like a steady ramp-up to all of these different elements.

Each mission’s focus is about balance and growth. Buildings are built instantly, which is a really nice touch. If you’re not careful, fires can be devastating to housing or crops. You have to use the overlays to ensure that risks such as these get mitigated by installing a fire department to high-risk areas. Often there are floods as the water from the river Nile rises and falls, but this is your chance to exploit the excess water for crops, and have to take advantage of your fertile lands. Then once you’ve got your crops, you can exercise your trade routes to sell off your bounty. It’s really fun once all the pieces fall into place.

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Pharaoh: A New Era being a complete remake of the original game and its expansion from 24 years ago is incredible to see. This is a lovingly recreated game with many quality of life improvements and has accessibility in mind. Whether you’re new to the series or returning, there’s a lot to like here. This is a really involved game, but I wish Triskell Interactive did more with it. Pharaoh: A New Era is threadbare remake of a really good game.

A Steam code was provided in advance by the publisher for review purposes