We never did review Hegemony III: Clash of the Ancients when it was released in August 2015, but I did write about it during out ‘Impedimenta’ week looking at supply & logistic systems within wargaming. Now, roughly a year and a half after release this unique title has received its first official expansion – The Eagle King.
This is an expansion of many facets, and I don’t mind saying from the off it definitely makes the whole experience more engaging, especially when combined with the free update that accompanied the DLC. For your money, you get an expanded sandbox map that includes the island of Sicily, and several new campaign starts: A mini-sandbox in Sicily itself, an “Invasion” campaign where you’re roaming up and down the Italian peninsular searching for a new home, and finally the “Eagle King” campaign itself. This is a more scripted affair that follows the exploits of King Pyrrhus of Epirus in his fight against early Roman Republic expansion. Bundled in with a host of other new quality of life improvements, new units and all of the little things, it’s rare to find a DLC that so obviously & quickly proves its worth.
The titular focus of the DLC is the new scripted campaign. This throws you onto the big sandbox at a later time-period than you traditionally start – there are fewer factions, and the Roman Republic is quite a force to be reckoned with, already touting their iconic early legion units like Hastati and Triarii. You play as the Greek Epirus faction, with King Pyrrhus himself as your main leader (you also get a bunch of other generals quite quickly). This campaign offers more targeted goals and choices than most, and the scripted events give a rather thrilling narrative to a campaign that coined the phrase “Pyrrhic Victory”. It’s challenging, it’s fun, although it also lacks the same kind of replay value you get from the sandbox game. This only really applies to the key goals and events it throws at you, though. How you approach them can differ from play-to-play and there are some choices you can make.
The new Invasion mode is probably the most ambitious new addition– instead of a starting city or area, you get to choose a race from a neighbouring region not depicted in the sandbox map. These could be Boii or another Gallic tribe, or even someone from mainland Greece. You’re given a starting army, some “colonists” and several baggage trains with food and you’re dumped on the map at a place of your choosing. The game then points you to three locations where you can settle and make a new home for yourself, and it’s your job to travel to one of them and start a new life for your people.
Depending on the ethnicity of the locals, this trek could be hard-fought every step of the way, or you may be given mini-quests to do that help you along with new units, heroes, supplies etc… While you’re in ‘horde mode’, your units have massively reduced upkeep and consumption rates but you’re not generating any resources either. The food you’re given at the start is it unless you make a deal with a settled faction to re-supply. This again is a very challenging game-mode, but once the wonder of your roaming wares off you quickly end up just racing towards your settlement point, especially since you only have a limited time to do it in. After that, gameplay kind of defaults to the standard sandbox except things are a lot harder – you have no friends, no free resource nodes AND an army that’s probably a bit too large for your economy to support. Have fun!
The secret best feature of this mode is the fact that you can choose the ‘age’ of the map you’re invading. There is ‘Early’, which is the standard start, ‘Middle’ & ‘Late’. If you toggle either of these latter options the game will generate a map, with the potential to have a different set-up even if you re-roll the same age. It’s a shame you can’t do this in any other mode.
The only real question mark around this expansion is where the line is drawn between the free patch that accompanied it, and what you pay for. Specifically, the expansion blurb mentions new Naval mechanics, however if you read the Update 3 patch-notes it’s implied that a lot of those features have been given away for free anyway. Not a deal-breaker by any means, more of an example of how you really need to be clear in your communication around stuff like this; people JUST wanting the improved naval stuff may not need to buy this DLC, for example.
The naval game in general does seem better, with more unit types and interactions available. Besieging/Raiding cities by sea is more doable, and transported units act as ‘Marines’ that can be useful in ship-to-ship or ship-to-city/fort combat. Your faction’s territory also extends out over water as well, allowing for more balanced expansion and supply concerns. The free patch does a great job in improving how the AI behaves, adds the afore-mentioned baggage trains to help with long-range campaigns, and generally makes the game a whole lot better. It’s tougher too – the AI is smarter about fort placement, is capable of attacking you on multiple fronts at once and is great at exploiting weakness, even on Normal difficultly. It’s getting to the point where you need to summon Paradox-levels of patience as you lose a fort here, or a city there, clinging to the hope that you’ll recover enough to re-take them and punish the transgressors.
The only area I think still needs work is raiding – it’s pretty good right now, but you should be able to raid food/wood directly into your stockpiles as well as money. Factions with a specific resource shortage shouldn’t always have to ‘expand’ to fill gaps. They should be able to build tall and simply take what they need for short-term benefits.
The Eagle King is a great expansion for a great game and I’m excited to see where Longbow takes things from here. It would be great to go back to the more military-focused gameplay of Hegemony II, and the ability to artificially age the game-state offers interesting potential as well. A final testament to the improved nature of this game is the lateness of this review – I meant to have this published a lot sooner, but instead of actually writing this up I decided to go back for just a little bit more play time. Those Samnites aren’t going to conquer themselves, after all!