Is it smart to admit
that I had to look up the title of this game in the dictionary?
Normally Iíd say no, but in this case I think itís appropriate, because
it certainly wasnít the last time I felt in over my head.
Hegemonia: Legions of
Iron is the latest adventure (coughreal time strategycough)
game from DreamCatcher. Whoops Ė caught that, huh? Very well, Iíll
play it straight, but only if youíll promise to stick with me through
the end. I realize that GameBoomers havenít tended to be the prime
demographic for strategy games, but maybe I can make some inroads there,
or at the very least help you understand what your strat-loving spouse,
kids, or friends are raving about.
Hegemonia is a fully
3D, galactic conquest game. Anyone with experience in RTS games will
immediately think ď3D in space? You mean like Homeworld?Ē While
Digital Reality, the Hungarian developers of Hegemonia (spelled
Haegemonia in the U.K.), might cringe to hear a reference to Homeworld,
comparison is inevitable. And in fact the answer to that particular
question is yes, it shares more than a few qualities with the
game that pioneered and set the standard for 3D space RTSís. But for
those who wouldnít know Homeworld from Imperium Galactica (the
developerís previous game series), letís move on.
The wonderful opening
cinematic details the rift between the inhabitants of Earth and the
human colonies on Mars and elsewhere around the solar system. Just when
it appears that a peaceful settlement is within reach, a diplomatic
mission is sabotaged, and a Counselor from Mars is killed, causing
tensions between Earth and the colonies to rise again, and plunging the
two sides back into open conflict.
The player is given
two choices to begin the game Ė the Earth or Mars campaigns. Either can
be played first, although the Earth missions are recommended, as the
early scenarios are slightly easier. This option quickly becomes
redundant, however. Several episodes into each campaign, a far greater
threat poses itself to mankind in the alien form of the Kariaks and
Darzoks. As a result, the humans must quickly band together to face the
encroaching menace. Itís an interesting plot twist, but it makes the
campaigns virtually identical in structure, so the benefit of having a
choice is lost. It also makes the backstory and initial cutscene seem
much ado about nothing. Why not just set up the conflict that will
comprise the bulk of the game?
The first thing you
notice upon starting to play is that this game is jaw-droppingly,
drop-dead gorgeous. The designers opted for a rather unrealistic, but
visually breathtaking panorama of planets, stars, gaseous nebulae, and
coloured lighting. The structures and ship models are nicely done, and
the camera allows for zooming, rotation, and panning, all of which is
silky smooth. Yes, as far as eye candy goes, Hegemonia takes a back
seat to no strategy game Iíve ever played.
The next thing youíll
discover after gawking around sufficiently is that you havenít got a
freakiní CLUE what to do. Believe me, Hegemonia is a game that begs
for a tutorial that doesnít exist. Granted, the first mission in either
campaign is far easier than whatís to come, but thatís a relative
issue. At the time, I didnít feel adequately prepared to tackle a
multi-task mission that included tactical combat and timed rescues.
This isnít a complaint, per se, but consider it a warning Ė this is NOT
a game for newcomers to the genre. Even those who have cut their teeth
on ground based strategy games will quickly realize that outer space,
with its vast expanse and additional Z axis, is a whole different
At this point, I
resigned myself to the fact that my cursory perusal of the manual just
wasnít going to cut it. So I poured over every one of the 70-page
instructions, at which point my head was swimming and I felt a little
intimidated by what I knew was to come. And only then did I ask myself
ďwhat the heck does Hegemonia even MEAN?!Ē The answer isÖ well, Iíd
tell you, but you promised to read through to the end, so Iíll save it
Hegemonia has a
strong storyline running through it, and the missions are heavily
scripted. Each mission has multiple, specific objectives which, once
completed (or sometimes not) will trigger the next scripted sequence.
(As an aside, this is one element adventure lovers probably donít
realize about strategy games. The good ones work just as hard to
provide a rich, immersive story as any other genre, and Hegemonia does
While I liked the
nice variety of objectives (not all of which involved combat), I did
find some of them to be too vague. On more than one occasion, I
believed I was doing the right thing, only to find out Iíd completely
botched up the objective. Oops. In most cases I recovered, but in one
of the early scenarios, my mission ended because Iíd taken too much
time, and Iíd been given NO indication that it was a timed segment. The
game offers both autosave and save-anywhere features, but be sure to
save to different slots, as you may be backing yourself into an
inescapable corner if you donít.
In order to carry out
the task of defending the galaxy, much more is required than fighting.
As in all RTSís, youíre responsible for collecting resources (in the
form of ore and cash), constructing buildings and units, and researching
new technologies. However, as youíre building a giant space empire
covering more than one solar system throughout the game, youíll also
busy yourself with such things as terraforming and colonizing planets,
assigning heroes, transporting through wormholes, setting taxation
rates, spying, and developing trade routes. Oh yeah Ė and fighting.
I was disappointed to
find that, for the most part, the three races were functionally quite
similar. The two alien races have natural advantages in other areas
than the humans, but neither has unique technology or weapons. This
greatly reduces the actual strategic aspect of the game, as the best
strategy is simply to be the fastest to research your specialized
technologies and construct a kick-butt fighting force (a common
occurrence in RTS games).
Strangely, given that
the game seems to strive for an ďepicĒ scope, you are only able to amass
a limited fleet size at any given time. This does have the benefit of
making combat more manageable, however. Ships are not controlled
individually, but in squadrons of various sizes. There are only four
different ship classes: fighters, corvettes, cruisers, and battleships,
and rarely (if ever) will you employ all four at once. Once a battle
begins, it tends to be fairly automated, as the ships engage each other
quickly, and thereís little to do besides set aggressiveness levels and
systems to target. The game is defaulted to real time, but you can
pause at any time and issue orders at your leisure. VERY smart move by
thatís much appreciated is a subtle role playing element (see?
something for everybody!) in which units gain experience in combat.
Units with higher experience are stronger and more accurate than entry
level ships. As a result, youíll want them in thick of things when the
action heats up, yet preserve them for future use. The latter is all
the more important because units and technology are carried forward
through missions, so itís essential to keep the larger goal in mind.
Each planet you
control requires management, and youíll be responsible to balance taxes
with the morale of the people, and production with research. In total
there are approximately 200 ship, weapon, and civilization technologies
available. Each tech requires research points, which are allotted at
the beginning of most missions, and new technologies periodically become
The use of heroes
adds another layer of complexity to the game. Heroes assigned to
squadrons become commanders that offer combat bonuses, while those
assigned to colonies become governors who can provide bonuses in
population growth, taxes, and morale. Spy ships also become an
important factor as the game wears on. While quite limited in ability
at first, with experience they are able to do much more serious harm to
The bulk of the game
is viewed through the main tactical screen but equally important is the
secondary starmap, and this is one of my largest gripes with the game.
The starmap is a much smaller scale strategic screen, where many
movement orders are issued, but the screen is WAY too cluttered. I
appreciate attention to detail, but when I canít select an enemy ship to
attack because itís obscured by the planet behind it, itís useless to
me. The starmap is supposedly 3D as well, but it merely tilts on an
axis rather than provide a full 3D view.
The game sports a
clean, efficient interface. All relevant information is represented by
unobtrusive icons in the screen corners, and can also be accessed by
hotkeys. The click, hold, and scroll method of accessing sub-screens is
rather annoying, but thatís a minor issue. My greater concern is the
sheer volume of information that deluges the player once in the
sub-screens. I understand that this was a design choice, and it wasnít
a surprise, but it WAS somewhat overwhelming.
The music in the game
is comprised of many orchestral scores, all of which sound professional
and quite enjoyable. I tend to tire of music in games, but the
selections here were well suited to the theme. Sound effects werenít
particularly noteworthy, but there were some nice touches, such as the
hum of a shipís engines when you zoom in close to it. The voice acting
varied in quality, but was generally acceptable.
My final criticism of
the game is the lack of the random map feature. Random maps are often
the meat and potatoes of RTS games, and the lack of this option
seriously detracts from Hegemoniaís replayability. Once youíve
completed the campaigns, thatís all there is for the single player game
(although apparently itís possible to play in skirmish mode against
computer opponents). Having said that, the game does offer a
multiplayer feature, which I didnít experience, so fans of online play
will be happy.
So whatís the final
verdict? And for that matter, what (FINALLY!) does Hegemonia
mean, anyway? Well, Hegemonia is a Greek word which roughly translates
along the lines of ďdominant leadershipĒ or ďinfluential authorityĒ.
That definition captures both the strengths and weaknesses of the game.
Becoming the leader of the known universe is no small undertaking, and
not surprisingly, at times it seems that the gameís reach has exceeded
its grasp. Hegemonia was aiming for complex, but often ended up being
complicated. In this way, the game shows its roots in 4X games
(explore, expand, exploit, exterminate). Again, this isnít necessarily
a negative, but the marriage to the tactical battles of real time
strategy doesnít always work as well as Iím sure the developers had
Nevertheless, if you
(or someone you know and love) are willing to invest some time and
patience in a grand space empire strategy game, I can easily recommend
Hegemonia. Itís graphically stunning, deep, technically solid, and has
an engaging storyline, all of which overshadow the gameís shortcomings.
Just make sure you/they know what theyíre getting into (and hey! thatís
what reviews are for!!)
For fans of the genre
P4 1.8 Ghz
512 MB RAM
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