Back in 1999, Impressions Games and Sierra Studios put out a pretty solid city builder themed around the grand and diverse history of ancient Egypt. It became a worldwide hit, garnering sales in the millions - very impressive for a city builder back then. Now, Dotemu and developer Triskell Interactive have unearthed Pharaoh from its tomb, dumped the sand out, and given its bones a fresh polish in Pharaoh: A New Era. What that amounts to is a visually appealing city builder that’s easy to grasp, fun to explore, and delightful to master, even if its guidance can sometimes leave would-be rulers up the Nile without a paddle.
From elder to king
Pharaoh’s basic construct is seemingly intact from the original. The main game is laid out in a series of campaign missions that will guide you from the very humble beginnings of your first bountiful village up to the vast and wide expanse of a decadent kingdom that would make Ramses blush. The game does a good job of guiding you in for the most part. Each mission gives you just a few more tools to play with and adequately guides you on how to deploy and manage them. It starts with housing, water supply, and food production, then moving on to needs like mining, then luxuries like beer and entertainment. Before long, you’re unlocking a world map that lets you trade your surplus goods with other nations, as well as building temples and hosting festivals to satisfy the whims of the gods.
There were a few moments where I wish Pharaoh: A New Era guided me a bit better. For instance, it tells you that Reed Collectors operate in swamps and bogs, but doesn’t really tell you exactly what plot of land you should build them on. Likewise, I had a hard time figuring out how to properly get importing and exporting going. In fact, I ruined my economy on one mission by importing far too many bricks at once without properly balancing out the exports I was selling off. There’s a glossary, thankfully, that you can visit at nearly any point to see detailed explanations of the game’s mechanics, but even with that I still found it difficult to adequately get the game to do what I wanted it to do at times.
Even so, there are also a lot of improvements in Pharaoh: A New Era that make it worth a revisit even if you put in your time in the original. The visuals are deliciously rich and vibrant and the bustle of your cities as they grow is straight-up satisfying to watch. Heck, you can even put up posts that keep your vendors from venturing down streets you don’t want them to on their patrols, allowing you to effectively determine foot traffic of your citizens in Pharaoh in a simple, yet satisfying way. All of this is aided by revamped buildings, terrain, citizens, and events that are fun to watch play out as you go, and guided by a somewhat typical, but still satisfying background soundtrack. Reaching a point where I built my first monuments was breathtaking, and finding my way to even more grandiose designs became an ever-delightful goal.
I only take issue with Pharaoh’s visuals in regards to the fixed camera. True to the original, Pharoah: A New Era’s camera provides only a fixed, isometric view of the land. Where this becomes a problem is that you can easily hide your buildings behind larger ones, making it somewhat hard to keep stock of what you have and where it is located. This is especially true when you get to large monuments like the Sphinx or Pyramids that utterly cover up most things behind them. You can see through them if you hover your cursor over a building at certain spots, but it’s just kind of a leftover core design of the original game that makes things slightly annoying.
Follow their path to the throne or choose your own
Everything in Pharaoh eventually leads up to some impressive customizability. You can follow the campaign all the way to its ending or, once you have the full hang of things, you can venture into custom missions, custom maps, and an endless sandbox mode. I really liked these latter options as then you don’t necessarily have to worry about where you fail or succeed. You can just build and manage to your heart’s content.
You can even alter a lot of the game’s main rules, challenges, and difficulties if you so desire. Having a particular bit of trouble with a section? You can put the game on easy, change some specific rules like worker pools staying static instead of dying from age, or even turn on cheat codes. Yes, Pharaoh came from the days of cheats, and there’s a selection in the Gameplay Options menu to turn cheats on, allowing you to access a panel where you can play with all sorts of debugs, from stopping fires and disease to spawning extra money and religious favor, and so much more.
If ever the game gets too hard or annoying, there’s plenty of ways to alleviate the matter in Pharaoh: A New Era. As the game itself says, "we’re just here to have fun and build Pyramids." Conversely, if you're looking to challenge yourself in a big way, you can also take many of these options in the other direction to make a unique challenge for yourself.
Ra shines his gaze on your empire
Pharaoh: A New Era’s visuals, music, and gameplay tweaks make for a very easy-to-grasp, complex-to-master setup, and there are loads of options to soften the challenge whenever you feel like it. More than that, when you get your cities bustling with farms, markets, industry, entertainment, religion, and monuments the whole thing is a busy spectacle of beauty. Some archaic bits can make things difficult, and this isn’t my favorite city builder I’ve played, but it’s still an excellent spin on a classic.
This review is based on a PC digital copy supplied by the publisher. Pharaoh: A New Era is slated to release on PC on February 15, 2023.
Pharaoh: A New Era
- Gorgeous revamp of visuals
- Neat tweaks and updates to mechanics
- Wide variety of campaign and sandbox gameplay
- Fantastic to watch everything in working order
- Plenty of options lessen/heighten challenge
- Guidance sometimes falls short
- Easy to fail hard
- View locked in isometric angle
- Massive monuments can hide small buildings
TJ Denzer posted a new article, Pharaoh: A New Era review: May your empire stand eternal
Glad to see this I didn't know there was a remake.
My wife is excited for this, it's pretty much the only game she plays. :) She's been playing the old version for a long time.