Hegemony Gold: Wars of Ancient Greece (PC)
Developer: Longbow Games
Publisher: Longbow Games
Release: March 30, 2012
Truth be told, the historical framework over which the gameplay is laid is quite minimal, and only really comes up once every hour or two. Most of your time will be spent managing the logistics of your armies, the tactics of troop movement, and the sieging of city-states. It’s an elegant if at times tedious system that rests in an odd little nest between delightfully engaging and mildly vexing.
The core of Hegemony is the administration of your empire. You will be capturing cities and carefully establishing a network of supply lines to keep resources moving throughout your territory. Initially this is very simple and comfortably manageable. As you expand, however, this mechanic gets more and more complex. Each city can only form so many supply lines with mines, forts, farms, and other cities.
Each line has a maximum capacity and will only support so much traffic. This becomes relevant if you are, for example, building up forces for a major push and placing all of your units in one or two frontier cities. Your units will rapidly begin consuming that cities' food stores and your supply lines may be incapable of bringing in enough food to supply them. This can result in a poorly prepared fighting force and perhaps the loss of control of that city.
This simple element of play can dramatically increase the difficulty of the game as you progress. After ten hours, I barely controlled one quarter of all of Greece. Moving beyond your borders necessitates leaving troops behind as guards; when battlefronts collapse, it takes time to regrow your population and move your assets back into position, and you will need to upgrade your supply lines and carefully manage borders with certain aggressive factions. Raiders can and will rush in and torch farms, recapture mines and forts, and you will spend more and more time literally putting out fires.
Thankfully, you will have some great tools at your disposal. Chief among these is the zoom feature. If you can pull the camera out such that the map is rendered in very "big picture" terms, cities and economic resources are clearly depicted with simple icons, units are shown as stacks of discs sliding across the map, and the factional borders are color coded so you can tell which areas are safe to traverse.
Given the time period in which the game takes place, there are only a few available units. However, they run the gamut of real-time strategy staples, ranging from support and logistics (workers and slaves) to standard foot soldiers, cavalry, as well as siege and naval units.
Mechanically, Hegemony works very well. There’s enough subtlety in the tactics and practical applications for non-standard unit formations that even with the limited selection, the nuanced approaches and varied environments help keep things interesting. Each unit has a bar for unit health, morale, and food. The further your troops venture from farms, cities, and established supply lines, the lower their food stores get. If it hits zero, their morale drops like a rock, meaning they might not obey orders to assault enemy encampments, and if attacked, they will almost certainly break ranks and retreat back to their home city.
These stats work both ways, of course. Hegemony encourages careful maneuvering of your war assets to cut the enemy’s access to their own supply lines and food sources. Another viable tactic is distracting an enemy unit, then flanking with a cavalry charge. The overwhelming force will reduce their numbers fast enough to bring morale down quickly. If appropriately applied, it is entirely possible to break the ranks of much larger forces and force a retreat. It’s this creative use of mechanics that keeps Wars of Ancient Greece approachable yet complex -- the gold standard of game design.
The tactical nuances are punishing and may be very off-putting for non-enthusiasts, but the steady progression is both engaging and addictive, an intoxicating combo. When I first started playing Hegemony, it was about 10:00pm on a Thursday. I didn’t stop until 10:00am the next day. I slept for a total of four hours and then I kept playing.
I don't want to give the impression that Hegemony doesn't have flaws; quite the opposite. The game is graphically boring, the music loops almost every ten minutes, regardless of the campaign or scenario you will always be on the same map, there is no multiplayer, the narrative is delivered in a voice that is borderline monotone and does a great disservice to the rich and fascinating history of the region, and starting a new game is mind-numbingly tedious. The opening stages will always involve the same formulaic expand-fortify-expand pattern. Each of these issues aren't that big of a deal individually, but they do pile up.
At $20 and releasing in a marketplace filled with viable competitors, it is difficult to recommend Wars of Ancient Greece to any but the hardcore historical strategy fans. Those who can get past its many barriers to entry will almost certainly fall in love immediately, but this title is not for the faint of heart.
I find myself looking forward to the release of Hegemony: Rome. I hope that they can tighten up these mechanical problems, add some multiplayer, and help increase the overall longevity of the title. If they do, I would be more willing to give it my unqualified recommendation.
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