Welcome to our review for Pharaoh: A New Era. Pharaoh initially released in 1999 and followed the classic city building formula. While most games in this genre often followed a medieval or fantasy setting, Pharaoh set itself apart way back in the 90’s for it’s unique setting. As the name suggests, it is themed around Ancient Egypt. A time when Pharaoh’s ruled one of the most interesting societies in human history. Oddly enough, ever since the original release of Pharaoh there have hardly been any games like it. It was reason enough for Triskell Interactive and Dotemu to create a remake of the original classic.
The stigma of remakes
The past decade, gamers have been swarmed with remakes of all sorts. Ranging from love letters to absolute classics and cash grabs. Sadly, the latter has mostly been the case. This has left gamers a little disgruntled towards remakes. However, in my opinion, remakes done right definitely serve a purpose. If there’s enough time between the original game and the remake, it can offer a sense of nostalgia to reacquaint veteran gamers with a specific game, reminding them why it is a game they loved. On the other hand, it can introduce a younger audience to the game giving it a second wind. Updated visuals and gameplay are key here. Pharaoh: A New Era strikes both these chords perfectly.
Myself, I fall into the former demographic. I still remember playing the original Pharaoh demo as a kid. It was a time where tutorials were basic and you had to just figure it out on your own. As a kid, I lost dozens of hours just on the demo itself. It offered a quick glance at an interesting gameplay loop, similar to games like Settlers and the Anno franchise. In Pharaoh: A New Era, you start out with almost nothing in the Egyptian desert along the banks of the Nile. It’s up to you to found a village and grow it into a bustling city. All the while navigating complex Egyptian society. I, for one, am glad this core formula hasn’t changed much. It just became more accessible, holding itself to modern standards.
Building a society isn’t easy
Pharaoh: A New era starts off like many city building games. You work on the foundation first, setting up housing to attract your population and working on basic needs. This means securing food, security and basic hygiene. In order to achieve this, you’ll need to set up distribution chains. For example, you can setup up a hunter’s lodges to gather meat. However, in order for it to be distributed to your citizens, you’ll need a granary to store it. The next stop would be a Bazaar, which acts something of a shop or hand-off point to your citizens. So in order to get your citizens fed, you’ll need four stops in total. This is your basic distribution chain. Now imagine that dozens of hours into the game, you’ll have massive cities with all kinds of goods being required. You’ll build massive distribution chains, mining ore, gathering clay for pots, crafting luxury goods for your citizens to make them happy, arming your military and so on. Before you know it, you’ll be fighting off invasions using the military you trained. It’s a classic formulae but one that never gets old.
Now in order to progress in the game, your citizenry is the most important aspect. If their housing improves, so do the options and buildings you have at your disposal. At first, all they’ll need is access to water and food. But it won’t be long until they require luxury goods like pottery. And seeing to their needs for growth isn’t all. You’ll need the equivalent of firemen in case fires break out, an architect to prevent buildings collapsing and proper policing. This isn’t very complex at the start, but as your city expands and you build new neighborhoods you’ll need to plan accordingly. This offers a great challenge for newcomers and veterans alike. Fortunately, the game gives you plenty of tools to find out where you need to tweak your citizen’s needs.
Walk like an Egyptian
One critical aspect of every city builder are roads. Just like in other games from the genre, roads are essential to get goods and materials towards buildings. Whether they’re houses or production buildings, everything needs to be connected to a road to function. Usually, the bigger your city gets the more challenging the pathing gets. The original Pharaoh was designed with roads leading in- and out of the map. This was meant as a way to spawn new citizens into the map, looking for residency. However, this also created a problem. Citizens and workers tended to wander all around the map due to these roads. Even if your village was very small. In order to combat this, roadblocks were created. They basically allow you to mark points where your workers should turn around and go back. Using this tool, you can further optimize the pathing of your citizens. After replaying Pharaoh, it reminded me how great this feature is for your micro managing needs. It’s something I really wish I had at my disposal in franchises like Anno and The Settlers.
When you get a little further into the game and your citizens become more demanding, you’ll also gain access to decorations in the form of Beautifications. In contrast to many games, decorations actually serve an important function. The more refined your society becomes, the more they care about aesthetics. They want gardens, beautiful promenades and so on. It even becomes a requirement to progress in the game much further on. However, it also works as you would expect. The most creative builders among us, could actually build cities rivaling the hanging gardens themselves.
Making use of the era
Now, the key question most of you will have is how Pharaoh: A New Era differentiates itself from other city builders. Well, the easy answer is obviously the setting. It is unique in games, with it rarely being used at all. Assassin’s Creed Origins proved that it can be an extremely interesting time period to explore. Pharaoh: A New Era proves this yet again, because Egyptian society was very complex. There’s an extensive Egyptian mythology and it’s mainly based around the gods. Egyptians were very religious people with many gods. The game does a good job in taking advantage of this.
One of the key aspects of building a successful city is managing the gods. You can build shrines and temples to multiple gods with one being your patron god. Basically, you’re favored god. It requires more attention than the others in order not to anger them. And you don’t want to anger them. If you anger a god, all sorts of misfortune will fall upon your society. Much like natural disasters in Sim City. In contrast, when you please gods you will gain benefits depending on the god. You can gain bountiful harvests, happier citizens, boosts to your industry and so on. Each gods has their own perks. You can further adorn your cities with statues of your favorite gods. It’s a great way to honor Egyptian society as a whole while enhancing gameplay. In order to appease them faster, you can throw festivals in their honor once every now and then.
Step by step
Now the above may seem pretty complex, which it can be. For veterans of the genre, it’s a good thing because the game offers you dozens of hours of challenge. But it may seem intimidating for newcomers. Worry not, as the game offers a massive campaign which teaches you the ropes of the game step by step. The campaign sees you start out your dynasty in a small village, going all the way through Egyptian history up to Cleopatra’s reign. The earlier missions may seem simple and slow, but their goal is to slowly open up gameplay options for you. It does a great way to set you up for late game play, which can become pretty chaotic if you jump straight into it.
If you’re a series veteran, you’re in luck. You can also choose to use the Mission Select feature. You can pick any campaign mission there and start jumping in wherever you want if that’s your thing. There are also custom scenario’s. Single missions with hefty challenges. And of course, there’s a sandbox mode. Do note, you can play any campaign mission in sandbox mode once you completed the objective. However, you’re limited to that mission’s available buildings. To me, it seems like a strange choice opening up the entire campaign from the get go, considering there are scenario’s and a sandbox mode available. It’s not a bad choice, it just doesn’t make a lot of sense given the other options available. The mission objectives aren’t always very clear either. There’s no text, just icons showing what to attain. Eventually you’ll understand what they are, but for a new player it may be puzzling at first.
As I mentioned above, Egyptians lived in a refined society where luxury and aesthetics were important. So, what about the game itself? The developers faced a real challenge here. The original game looked fairly cartoony, because at the time pretty much every game looked like that. Fast forward to this decade and there are tons of games with realistic graphics. Especially simulation games. The developers chose to stick to the cartoony graphics and modernize them. In my opinion, it worked out great. It really feeds the nostalgia and looks great at the same time. The clouds moving over the landscape don’t look like pixelated blocks like back in the day, but slide over the landscape in high quality graphics. Additionally, the colorful buildings used in Pharaoh stand out far better in the style used in this game. Using a calm soundtrack which sticks mostly to the background, it gives the finishing touch for a relaxing experience. The developers have definitely nailed this.
The UI however could have used a little work. Apart from an graphically updated version of the original, it doesn’t add anything new. It’s a missed chance, because it’s the one area where they could have innovated while not touching the core gameplay. Don’t get me wrong however, the UI is fine from a functional perspective and does what it needs to do. It just seems that more could be done with it.
A great remaster of Ancient Egypt
Pharaoh: A New Era doesn’t innovate on the genre immensely, offering familiar gameplay to fans of the genre. But this makes sense, because it’s based on a game from 1999. If anything, it goes to show it’s been an inspiration to modern city builders. It still managed to surprise me in little ways with unique gameplay hooks, which is impressive considering there have been dozens of games after it. Everything in the game shows Triskell Interactive took great care of the IP and tried to stay as true to the original as possible, while carefully adapting it with QoL changes up to modern standards. I can definitely recommend the game to anyone who used to play it back in the day or anyone looking for a fresh city builder experience. At the moment, Pharaoh: A New Era isn’t available for cloud gaming yet. We expected it to be available for GeForce Now or Boosteroid. But this will surely change soon. In the meantime, you can play it on most PC’s. We hope you enjoyed our Pharaoh: A New Era review!
– Easy to pick up, difficult to master
– Beautifully stylized
– Gods and religion offer a fresh gameplay take
– Giant cities can quickly become chaotic
– UI could have been improved