Set in the mythical Heroic Age, Zeus doesn’t pretend to be an accurate historical simulation, a fact bemoaned by some of the series’ fans. The twelve chief deities of the Olympian pantheon will all periodically walk (or attack) the streets of your cities, and legendary monsters like the Minotaur and the Lernean Hydra will make snack food out of your hapless citizens. Great “heroes” such as Theseus and Hercules will come to your rescue if you meet their mercenary demands for cash, goods, and services. These mythological complications add serious tension to the scenarios where they occur. When an angry Poseidon destroys the water-born trade and fishing that a coastal city relies upon for survival, a real sense of urgency results.
Still, the heart of Zeus lies in city design. Veterans of the previous games will immediately notice that Zeus features a somewhat simpler (and therefore faster-paced) approach to urban planning. Industrial, agricultural, military, and cultural buildings no longer send out “walkers” that need to find residential housing within a certain radius in order for the buildings to function. Instead, if there is available labor anywhere in the city, employees come to work. This makes the game easier than Caesar or Pharaoh, both of which forced you to place polluting industries close enough to housing to find workers.
The fashion in which campaigns are structured is also greatly improved. Instead of forcing you to hack a brand-new city out of a howling wilderness in each scenario, most cities in Zeus carry forward into the next episode. For example, in the “Athens through the Ages” campaign, you’ll establish new cities (Athens and two colonies) in three of the eight scenarios. The remaining five episodes of the campaign build upon Athens’ early foundations, and in the process your creation will evolve from a minor village into the greatest city in Greece.
And what a Greece it is! Past Impressions titles have done a poor job simulating the world surrounding your cities, at most allowing you to trade with a few neighbors and fulfill their requests for goods or troops. In Zeus, an entirely new political and economic model enables much more interesting interactions with the other city-states. Allied cities will still trade with you and make occasional requests, but you can finally badger them for goods too. Colonies and vassals pay annual resource tributes to your capital. Rival cities will sometimes attack you, but you can do the same. Better still, every action you take has diplomatic consequences. Conquering a rival, winning the Olympic Games, or fulfilling an ally’s request will improve your standing with other cities.
Zeus is significantly different from previous titles and a worthy addition to the series. Its faster pace, simpler city design, and mythological elements open the game to more casual players.