I have to say, I was expecting the worst when sitting down to this game. Not only were my haunches raised because this was an Early Access version that charges you thirty dollars for the privilege of playing, I was about to play an RTS that charts the expansion of the Roman Empire. Got the t-shirt doesn’t even start to cover it.
However, despite tempting comparisons to titles like Total War, amongst many others, Hegemony Rome stands as a unique testament to its genre, blending strategic and tactical gameplay in one fluid movement. Panning out your camera in-game provides a macro-cosmic view of a huge map, allowing you, as Caesar, to manage entire continents through the movement of units between cities, camps and farms. The feeling of standing as a powerful tactician over a map is further enhanced by the chess-style pieces that represent your troops and workers as they move cross the board.
In one motion – while still in real-time – you can zoom into a target area of your map as the environment comes alive around you, using the rotating camera to follow marching soldiers as they traverse dangerous terrain. And this is not just voyeuristic. Attacking enemy units becomes a calculated military engagement, with the ‘pause’ function allowing obsessive losers like me to carefully arrange units according to their tactical advantages, or to try and flank the enemy on either side.
Unfortunately, at this stage of development, enemies will not try to do the same. Though the basic AI is one of the ‘Known Issues’ listed on the Early Access menu, the missions were almost disappointingly easy to beat. This is one of a host of problems that still exist at this point, including balancing issues, limited graphical detail on a close-up level, and some missing sound effects/music. Not to mention the frequent stuttering, delayed action, and multiple times when the game would freeze or randomly shut down entirely.
But I persevered through these issues, because ultimately, it’s a fun and addictive experience. The game takes you through the first two chapters of the campaign (an additional two chapters will be present, alongside a sandbox mode, on full release), and though the narrated storyline is the usual pseudo-historical drivel, I thoroughly enjoyed slaughtering my way to power. Success in building your empire and completing missions relies on a system of connecting conquered cities with other smaller camps via supply lines, which you must have in place in order to keep your army’s bellies full and morale high as they march across miles and miles of land. This in itself can become a game of wits through blocking enemy supply lines by taking certain strategic points, in addition to scavenging farms, destroying bridges, and fortifying garrisons.
Navigating the campaign is also coordinated by a series of helpful objectives, complete with a few side quests – however, the various menus these opened, alongside other functions, often blocked significant chunks of the screen and felt clunky in their execution. The user interface is definitely something that will need work before the final release, but as is always the case with Early Access, the effectiveness and extent of the changes made are yet to be seen.
So, in spite of the many technical difficulties that hinder it, Hegemony Rome: Rise of Caesar is shaping up to be an original and interesting RTS, delivering strategy on a grand scale that is seamlessly blended with detailed, tactical warfare. Unless you want to contribute to community feedback, I’d avoid the Early Access version, but definitely watch out for this one on full release.