Push the Phalanx

Well, I’ve managed to secure a little time to give Hegemony: Philip of Macedon a bit of a try out. I must say I’m very impressed with its overall presentation, style, along with its engaging and rewarding play.

From my initial impressions, I’ll sum it up as a long scripted campaign of conquest, resource management, army development and tactical deployment. The game seems to present your entire campaign goals in one long list of Objectives for Hegemony, and each of these has a quota of sub-goals that require your attention to progress. They’re all nicely presented in bite size chunks, along with hyperlinks and physical links to the objects concerned. So you’re never really at a loss to grasp what is needed.

You begin your campaign in a tutorial that drip feeds information to you, but also is part of the main campaign. There are no joins, no seams, no loading screens. You just keep on growing and learning more and more. Its this exploratory play, with lots of guiding help, that makes approaching the game so easy.

As far as I can tell, you take part in this historical re-enactment, and you’re in control of acquisition, management and deployment of your troops and resources constrained by your own expansionist limits. You need to capture more cities and dwellings to be able to support larger armies. But the more you take, the more you have to defend. The more you have to supply. Alongside this growth, you will have to deal with scripted storied targets and events, making the game come alive with your active involvement. If the goal was purely conquest without any background or story, you’d have a game of mechanics and micro-management. But as it is, your armies live and breath, your Commanders and Hero are taking part in these specific events that add character to them and that require you to be reactive. I really like this level of “attention grabbing”. No longer are you dryly planning a civilisation, but you’ve got to get your feet wet in the here and now activities that are unfolding around you.

Another aspect to the game I really like, is the visual scope of the game, you view the action up close and personal as a normal top-down RTS, but as you grow you’ll find you need the bigger picture, so zooming out brings up a glorious schematic map unfolding with coloured plastic miniatures complete with bases. Yet you can shift your troops around using these as easy as you can in the normal RTS mode. The transition between the two modes is more or less seamless. Very much like the up and coming R.U.S.E presents itself. However Longbowgames have managed to create the same level of style, within a fraction of the costs and hard drive footprint.

The game plays out like an unfolding story, complete with minimally animated comic book features as a new part of the story opens out. The artwork is quite rough around the edges but very emotive, and serves the game’s immersion well. From what I can tell, you can only play through as the Macedonians under Philip, this isn’t a wargamers sandbox. The story is key to the enjoyment, so its more of an RTS/Adventure hybrid with some RPG elements attached to the heroes, companions and troops.

The map itself opens up slowly as you expand, and there are natural choke points between areas, that can be utilised “Thermopylae style”, to hold back a larger invading force. However, you’ll also find areas of water that allow sea-bourne invasions to come in from farther afield. So managing your troops defensive position and reacting to ad hoc attacks from all sides is one of the reactive bonuses to the game. Not to mention your troops require a good line of supply to keep their morale high, so you’ll need to make sure your cities are well connected to farms and the carts are rolling between them as well as moving armies into zones of supply encircling the cities to top them up.

If Philip is defeated in battle he is returned to his home city, and recuperates for a while before he can get back into action and boost his attached unit’s prowess. Similarly if any of your troops are routed, they will flee to their home cities to recover. If you manage to defeat invading forces there is a chance you can capture some of them and use them as slave labour in your mines or towns. However, you have to manage your troop assets very carefully, because I’ve found you’re always stretched to maintain a explorative army, alongside enough troops to defend your key cities and farms.

The tactical deployment is relatively simple, you bring a unit out of a city, right click on the area you want them stationed, and then you can change their formation, and rotation. Group them up into armies, move them as a large force, they will defend areas they are stationed at automatically. Holding invaders with a Phalanx, and then flanking with Cavalry are all useful tactics when trying to dispatch incoming enemies. Very simply controlled, very satisfying to watch. Having complete control of the whole “boardgame” area, sliding units as required, and then zooming down to watch the carnage unfold, is so much more rewarding than the complexities and starched nature in the likes of the Total War Series. Perhaps the tactical complexities are not there, but for me the connection is more immediate, more engaging. My strategic decisions are united with my tactical decisions and they all happen in the same area. Sheer Brilliance!

The confrontations can get quite messy, visually speaking, especially in a constricted pass with units juggling around for space. But with the zoom in and straightforward camera positioning, you can grab moments of visual pleasure. I distinctly remember seeing my spear toting Cavalry ride up and intersperse themselves within the gaps forming in the defending Phalanx and then rearing up and stabbing down with their spears past the Phalanx’s reach. Vivid imagery indeed, for an indie game of this nature. I still can’t believe they’ve managed to get a game of this depth into such a small installation footprint. And with all the polish of a much bigger title.

Here’s hoping the future is bright for Hegemony: Philip of Macedon, and it turns into a series of storied histories that you can take part in.

If this game was a Phalanx shield wall, I’d be behind it, feet dug in deep, pushing with my support all the way…