Question: have you played and enjoyed one of the previous Hegemony games from Longbow Games or backed Hegemony III on Kickstarter? If you said ‘yes’ congratulations, if you don’t have it already you should totally get Hegemony III: Clash of the Ancients. Anyone else, read on. I want to make it clear now that this review should absolutely not be the only one you pay attention to about this game. There are a lot of positive reviews on Steam alone for starters. I’m going to be talking about my personal experience playing Hegemony III and what I personally look for in a strategy game and I know I’m not the only one to feel this way, so if you’re looking for something different I understand if you enjoyed the game more than I did. Now that I’ve finished apologizing for my opinion before I’ve given it, let’s crack on.
Hegemony is a series of historical RTS games by Longbow Games where you command one of several classical factions and fight to create an empire. While a bit smaller in scope than Total War, nevertheless imagine one of those games but all taking place in the 3D battle map rather than cutting to a board game view and you’ll get an idea of what Hegemony plays like. Longbow Games did a Kickstarter for Hegemony III but sadly it failed, fortunately they still had the funds to finish the game and here it is. Boasting a map four times bigger than the last game, and 25 factions from Rome to the Etruscan Empire, Hegemony III certainly thinks big. It’s also technically only Hegemony II since the second game was a remastering of the first, but whatever.
I love that 'execute' is an option. Show no mercy my legions! Bwa ha haa!
I don’t want to start on a sour note, but Hegemony III does. Think of everything you might encounter at a game’s start and Hegemony III has probably cocked them up. Menus? Attractive but slow, overly designed, messy and confusing (it took me three tries to work out how to choose ‘Rome’ as my side). Interface? The same, you’ll be lost on the first tutorial and I’m still not sure how to access unit upgrades outside of the keyboard shortcut. Tutorials? They’ll tell you how to do basic functions but the game goes faster than they do, and you’ll soon find yourself fighting off invasion by Veii and Hoplites before you’ve worked out how slaves work. Controls? Mouse is fine, but the zooming is awful - it’s either too close, acceptable but with not enough detail, or Board Game. Very annoying.
In short, Hegemony III is not about being told what to do, it’s about experimenting and learning from mistakes. However, this is not Dark Souls. At least that gives you a chance. A couple of in-no-way-foreseeable mistakes made like an invasion from a random corner of the map and you’ll find all your progress from the last two hours completely undone, or even being forced to restart the game entirely. I had to restart three times, with countless additional reloads after I learned to keep constantly saving. I don’t mind being tested or challenged, but being forced to reload the entire game because a single troop of near-invincible over-powered Hoplite Raiders randomly appeared and massacred my entire army, and I couldn’t afford any more, really takes the biscuit.
Rome's burning, brought to its knees by a single squad of Hoplites. Realism!
Which is a shame, because spotty interface and brutal unfairness aside there is a lot to like about Hegemony III. The graphics are certainly no Total War but they’re pretty enough, and obviously not systems intensive. I love how objectives can be dealt with by war or by peace, like the way cities will open their doors for you if you protect them from savage raiders… or alternatively you can simply rush in swords-blazing, fending off their armies and turning an entire city’s population into slaves, or even raze the city to the ground and execute all the inhabitants. There are consequences to everything, like how attacking one city will put all nearby cities on alert and they’ll no longer want to deal with your Empire peacefully.
There’s lots to think about and lots to plan, and that goes double for the combat. While by no means Creative Assembly standard of insane attention to detail the combat in Hegemony III is both tactical and intelligent. Chucking several bands of body-painted axe-men in a neat line against heavily-armed Greek soldiers is not a smart move, but flanking them will drain their morale to the point that they’re easily beatable… if your men can still survive long enough to take advantage of that. You have to be mindful of unit types, terrain, position, morale, and more, and that’s the kind of satisfying strategy we like.
See that single troop on the right? I ordered my four squads to attack them. This is what happened
What a shame then that currently the AI and pathfinding is in such a sorry state. Enemy units will happily follow you into rivers and traps, and often will make no attempt to flank or use tactics, at least not as far as I could see. Worse are your own units though, who will get stuck on anything (including each other) and will often take the longest way to an objective. If you click two squads to attack one enemy squad one will go straight at the enemy and the other will get stuck on the first. They’re not intelligent either: at one point I left three squads of various types to handle a single Veii troop in the South while I concentrated on the North, then I came back to discover they’d all been massacred and the Veii hadn’t lost a single soldier.
The most annoying thing though is that not only is the economy messed up but the game gives you nothing to understand what you’re doing wrong. I spent most of my time with no money at all despite having a thriving city, several allied neighbours, and all the local farms, mines etc all fully stocked with slaves or workers. I had no money, often had no food, and couldn’t build any more units or get upgrades. Consequently most of my playtime consisted of sending my tiny army up and down the map to deal with threats from all sides, which wasn’t fun. I hate to sound spoilt but when I’m playing a complex game I want all the information presented to me in a nice, clear manner I can understand and act on, not having to dig through menus or restart games because I did something wrong somehow. I don’t mind hard games but I want to at least be able to learn from my experience, and have fun doing so.
HEGEMONY III: CLASH OF THE ANCIENTS VERDICT
I wanted to like Hegemony III but it was just too frustrating. The combat works exactly as I like it to with lots of options, and I love the diplomacy aspects, but there’s just too much here that sapped my enjoyment. First and foremost the game makes little effort to help you, with overly simplistic tutorials that don’t answer questions like “why am I not earning money despite having all the resource production facilities on the map running at full power” and “why has my entire army been murdered by a single squad that appeared randomly”. The interface is far too obtuse, with many important options hidden so well I’m still not sure how to get to them. Finally the pathfinding and AI issues sucked the last bit of fun out of the campaign for me as you’re forced to fight stupidity more often than Hoplites. If you’re a huge fan of Hegemony Gold you’ll probably be satisfied, and with some patches it still might be worth a look, but for anyone else coming cold to the series I’d hold off for now as it’s too much of a pain in the arse.
TOP GAME MOMENT
Crushing a band of rebels under your Imperial boot. Or making friends with a nearby city, whatever.
The combat is well thought out and satisfyingly strategic
Having the option to go diplomatic or warmongering from the same overhead view, no separate turn-based board game here.
Doesn't give the player enough information to effectively manage their Empire and hides everything behind overcomplicated menus.
Pathfinding and AI are lacklustre and this sucks the fun out of the combat.