by Sergio Brinkhuis
previewed on PC
Hegemony Rome: The Rise of Caesar is about crafting, no, carving an empire. It is about raising armies, conquering new lands and defending old ones in a way that is quite unique to the Hegemony series. It revolves around a global campaign map much like Total War, but time progresses without the requirement of a ‘next turn’ button.
When armies clash, you zoom in on the battle, but there is no loading involved of any kind and there is nothing to keep you from zooming out and taking a look at another battle going on at the other side of your territory. Everything is fluid, everything goes on in real time and everything happens simultaneously. If that sounds a little overwhelming, then you will be happy to know that there - is - a pause button that allows you to sit back and take in everything that is happening across the map.
Lay of the land
Zoomed out, Hegemony Rome’s campaign map stretches from Northern Spain to Germany and resembles nothing so much as a board game. Hand-drawn rivers, plains, forests, mountain ranges and other terrain features describe the lay of the land. Towering on it, are settlements in a variety of colours that indicate ownership, as well as tokens that depict mines, farms and other resources that can be worked by citizens and slaves.
Naturally, the campaign map doesn’t only show static locations. It also gives players a quick overview of any units that are not stationed in towns, camps or other fortifications. There is a certain dramatic appeal to board game-like pawns that are cowering down as to depict their status as an enslaved workforce. Other unit types have been given a similar treatment. Skirmishers hold their swords up high, as if to deliver the final blow to a near-beaten enemy, and Archers look ready to strike at a moment’s notice. While Hegemony’s graphical prowess isn’t going to require you to scoop your jaw off of the ground, its aesthetics certainly more than make up for that.
Back to the topic of resources. Getting access to food, wood and metals is vital to the development of your settlements, as well as developing and maintaining your army. Pretty much any location - except - the resource buildings themselves, can be upgraded in a variety of degrees. To erect new buildings, you will need gold and wood or iron which are delivered at a slow but steady pace from connected resources within a certain range. It gets interesting when you look at how delivery works. You see, the availability of workers in a mine does not guarantee shipments of iron to nearby cities. The reliability of a supply line degrades as it grows longer. Too long, and none of the resources may ever make it to their destination. And even if you do have a reliable line, you better hope it does not get pillaged by raging barbarians. They are not picky and will raid whatever they can get their hands on until you rain on their parade and kick them out of your territory or, better still, enslave them to work in your mines.
A different kind of strategy
In a world where big strategy franchises are in a rut, Hegemony Rome: Rise of Caesar may well find itself carving its own little empire. Catering to an admittedly niche market, it is heartening to see that the team at Longbow Games is not trying to follow into the footsteps of defunct titles such as Age of Empires - which has fled the scene - and Command & Conquer - which really should. Instead, Longbow is creating a genuinely wonderful, if slightly eccentric, real-time strategy game. The constantly evolving map is both large and diverse, and commanding multiple battles synchronously across it is something I have not seen on this scale before. It is truly without peer.
The game has been trickling onto Steam’s Early Access service since February, with the third chapter of its campaign having opened up earlier this month. Despite currently living its life as a Beta, Hegemony Rome feels like it is ready to burst onto the scene as a finished game. Its performance has been pretty good for me, except for the times that I could not restrain myself from ALT-tabbing between the game and my desktop. Its current three chapters promise more, and already make the game well worth its pre-purchase price. If you cannot stand the wait, then feel comfortable picking it up now and get cracking.
Now, if only there was a way for my red units on the map would to stay red when I zoom in...