My journey into Egypt started on the best possible foot: A spectacular cutscene. Pharaoh: A New Era‘s vibrantly stylized visuals painted a picture of a land growing in population, wealth, sophistication, and power. By the end of the intro, I was ready to carve my place into the land of the Nile. But my ambitions were, perhaps, oversized.
Knowing how overwhelming the city-builder’s deep, interwoven systems can be, the game’s developer wisely starts off the campaign mode with the basics. Instead of lofty palaces and grand temples, my first task was to build a row of small houses for incoming workers. Then, I had to provide for their basic needs with things like wells for fresh water and food storage.
Truthfully, I was glad to get the step-by-step treatment because as things piled on, I realized just how much I have to keep track of. All I needed to do to win — and assure the next generation’s survival — was upgrade six of my various dwellings to meager shanties. This required a steady stream of construction. My water-supplied huts provided workers for hunting lodges, food storage facilities, and bazaars, which, in turn, allowed the citizens access to food.
Deciding where to place everything could mean the difference between success and failure. Roads had to connect to everything, and wells only supplied nearby houses. And beyond just practical concerns, my villagers just didn’t like living next to buildings like granaries. So, keeping them happy meant planning space for the offending, and relatively large, warehouse.
I was patting myself on the back after raising up my six little shanties when I confidently moved on to the next challenge. The action moved to a new city and generation, whose ambitions were stirring toward larger-scale goals. This new site needed to produce much more wealth, requiring mines, to maintain a palatial structure capable of taxing the populous.
With gold flowing through the streets, I needed to employ some villagers to patrol the streets and watch out for crime. And as more and more people poured in, I had to keep sickness at bay with medical facilities, hazard risk down with architects and firehouses, and the gods pleased with suitable places for worship.
My second mission took 36 in-game months, and around an hour of real-time to complete. Though the challenge was over, I had become attached to the budding city and wanted to stay to continue my expansion plans. It was nice that the game allowed for this, and I could see myself halting my campaign progress just to build up this little-known site. But the promise of even greater monuments and influence looms large.