Zeus is a major improvement for Impressions' line of city-building games, and it's a significant advancement for city-building games in general.
Zeus: Master of Olympus follows in the same tradition as Impressions' other real-time city-building games, including Pharaoh and the Caesar series. These games combine the urban-management elements of Maxis' SimCity along with the colonial and imperial objectives of Blue Byte's Settlers games. Yet although Zeus is similar to its predecessors, it offers numerous enhancements and improvements that make it a much better game. These include features and options reminiscent of Ensemble's Age of Empires real-time strategy games as well as MicroProse's classic Civilization series. As a result, Zeus plays like a best-of-all-worlds combination of some of the greatest strategy games ever.
As the title implies, Zeus is set in ancient Greece. However, the setting doesn't have too much of an impact on gameplay. For the most part, Zeus plays exactly like Caesar and Pharaoh. The only surface differences are the products your people produce and the food your people eat. Just as in the previous games, your goal is to manage every aspect of an ancient city. From agriculture and housing to employment and military, everything is under your control. You must make sure that you have enough jobs for your people and enough people for your jobs. You also need enough food to feed your people and enough profit from exporting goods to cover the high cost of importing the goods you aren't able to produce. It's a high-wire act and becomes even trickier as your city grows in size.
As you get into the game, you'll notice there are actually some key differences in the way that Zeus plays compared with its predecessors. Impressions has made some significant changes to the mission structure so that - while the basic gameplay is still the same - it's now much more fun to play. A typical campaign, called an "adventure," works as follows. You begin with a tract of empty land. You build your city from scratch, as you aim for some preset, easily achievable goals. Once your city is functioning smoothly, the mission ends. The next mission will put you in charge of the same city, but your goals will be a bit more complex. Usually, these will involve having to attract a legendary hero, like Hercules or Perseus, to your city to perform some task. Once that's done, it's on to the next mission. Eventually, you'll choose a site to colonize and begin again from scratch. Then it's back to the parent city, this time with all the benefits of having a colony, including increased trade and a yearly tribute of money or goods. By this time, some of your neighboring countries will probably have been offended or will have become jealous, and so it'll be time to start invading or defending. The final mission will end with your having to accomplish some larger goals that ensure that your city is thriving and free from rivals.
While some of these ideas were implemented in Cleopatra, the expansion to Pharaoh, they are fully realized in Zeus. Specifically, your city remains exactly as you left it from mission to mission. Adventures range from five to eight missions and typically take quite a while to finish. There are seven in all, and they get increasingly difficult. Moreover, they each focus on one particular aspect of Greek history or mythology; one will have you aiding Jason through his tasks, while another is about the Trojan War. The only problem with the adventures is that the integration of the mythology occasionally seems like an afterthought. For instance, in an episode called Hercules' Labors, Hercules himself only plays a small role. But overall, the mission design is first-rate.