I was planning on actually diving straight into serious work today, thinking I'll swiftly lob up a new demo post. However, watching the trailer for the just-released Hegemony: Phillip Of Macedon something caught my eye and I thought I'd give it a quick crack. Looks kinda-Total-War-y with a more robust control system. I better check if it is that. It's not that! It's actually something else, which is also kinda nifty and certainly enough to make me recommend anyone interested in novel RTS-games to give a try. Video and further thoughts follow...
You'll see the bit which caught my eye - a battle-scene with the player sending the cavalry on a sweeping move, before "clicking" a phalanx into position. That's my main reservation with Total War's system at the moment, which especially is always at its worst during sieges. As in, it's all too often just a mess. I think they need to abstract a little to increase the "clarity" of the tactics and reduce how often it turns into a blobby melee, so I'm pleased to see Hegemony try this. That Greece is one of my favourite ancient-themes makes it even more attractive.
But despite the initial sweeping pan across Greece on a strategy map, this isn't the dual-sided game of Total War. It's a more traditional RTS, in that the economics and tactical side are firmly integrated. I didn't even have time to be disappointed, because it's immediately throwing its own twists. As you claim and rebuild settlements, you have to order them to link up with another settlement, sending little ox-carts all over the place. And the ox-carts can be attacked, leading to areas becoming unsupplied. Which matters, because "having enough food to eat" is absolutely key to the game. That the initial steps in the game's tutorial isn't "how to build units" but "how to capture farms and resupply there" says much. Seeing the links spread up between your empire's holdings is as satisfying as the more-traditional RTS-pleasure of your base building up - and oddly atmospheric, in terms of feeling like a kingdom. The game's tutorial also walks that elegant line between setting a variety of interesting objectives to work towards (and so learn the game), without actually turning it into simple-hand-holding.
Problems? Well, it's an indie-RTS. Aesthetically speaking, it's perfectly competent - well into the top half of the indie-genre - but it's not exactly state of the art. Also, the unit control system requires a little wrestling with to actually understand what you should be clicking to get it to do what you want. It's actually simpler than I thought - just double-click whatever individual from a mass you want - but it may trip you up. The demo also finishes at simultaneously at a moment that's simultaneously annoying and brilliantly timed, given a demo's purpose of making you want to play more. It does it with a lot of style, and if I didn't have too much else on today, I'd be throwing down my money right now.
You get the demo from Longbow Games' site, and also pay for the full version. Which is $29.99, which - to preempt the indie-game/mainstream-game pricing double-standard debate, strikes me as perfectly reasonable for a content-rich RTS like this. Definitely give it a try.