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Game Over Online ~ Hegemonia: Legions of Iron

GameOver Game Reviews - Hegemonia: Legions of Iron (c) DreamCatcher Interactive, Reviewed by - Fwiffo

Game & Publisher Hegemonia: Legions of Iron (c) DreamCatcher Interactive
System Requirements Windows, Pentium III 600MHz, 128MB RAM, 550MB HDD, 16MB 3D Accelerator, 4x CD-ROM
Overall Rating 78%
Date Published Monday, December 16th, 2002 at 02:02 PM


Divider Left By: Fwiffo Divider Right

It's difficult to pigeonhole Hegemonia into a single category or genre. It's a production and economic management game where you create installations and populate planets. It has scientific trees that are so large (I recall reading the developer's boast) that you can't go through all the advancements in one game. Then there's the real-time strategy battle between you and your enemy's ships, all beautifully rendered.

But Hegemonia is best classified as a 4X game; 4X for explore, expand, exploit and exterminate. Digital Reality cleverly puts the definition of hegemony on their website: the domination of one state over its allies. Derived from the Greek, the ia suffix in hegemonia simply implies the action, process or condition of such an act. That best summarizes the overall story of Hegemonia as you lead either the Earth or Mars contingents into the domination of terrestrial and later, extra-terrestrial species.

Hegemonia is set in the not too distant 22nd century. There are no warp drives or ships traveling at light speed. The interface, however, is really futuristic and the stuff that GUI developers dream of, I'm sure. For such a massive game, the interface is fairly simple. There are only a few functions you can perform: manage ships, browse through star systems, manage research, manage planets and look at empire-wide stats. Holding the mouse down on the ships menu will horizontally expand a list of your ships one by one, including indications which ones are in combat. Move your cursor over a particular squad and let go and you'll be transported directly to that ship's vicinity. Jumping through planets and systems is just as easy.

In the 3D mode, double clicking on any unit will bring up its properties. Double click on a planet and you'll find a screen not unlike something we'd find in Civilization. You can build domestic facilities to improve production, morale, as well as weapons of war while monitoring the morale and size of your population. Double click on a squadron and you can assign a hero (heroes can be assigned domestically too) to better augment the fighting capabilities of that particular unit.

Still, I thought the game had a fairly steep learning curve. Just knowing where things are at all times is tough. Sometimes it can be needlessly difficult. When you scroll through ships, for example, you can't exactly see the names of the squadrons or which systems they're at. The best view for keeping track of everything: the 2D overhead map. Those little things go a long way to making the overall interface polished. Granted, Hegemonia is far more complex than something like Warcraft III but one has to admire how Blizzard spent so many years in honing their interface to its most efficient and easy to use state today.

There are three principle races in Hegemonia aside from the distinctions between Earthly and colonial humans. Each race has a similar but massive tech tree at its disposal and throughout the campaign, you'll be granted research points to get your faction up to speed. Most of these are similar to what you would find in Civilization or more specifically, Alpha Centauri. Planet terraforming, for example, enables you to make the best out of harsh planets and satellites. Hive mind would reduce all domestic bickering and improve production speeds.

There are also military enhancements for four basic weapons technologies: quantum, ion, proton and missile. There is a pretense that these would play out as paper, rocks and scissors. Ion is a Star Trek like beam weapon and seems best matched to stop missiles. In practice, there's little difference. The weapons further lose their meaning because of the nature of combat. Other than targeting a ship's subsystems, there are no tactics. Simply having more numbers, more technology and amassing everyone into the battle will guarantee a victory.

Besides weapons, you can also research new hulls and ship classes. Here, again, the progression is not as smooth as it could be. In a 4X game like Master of Orion, you'd like to ideally see an overhaul of your entire fleet (wooden sailboats to ironclads, for example) every so often, such that, even a puny scout from a later era could defeat a titan from an earlier one. That's not the case in Hegemonia where larger ships are simply so good that they displace the earlier ones. True, fighters can scramble to a hotspot earlier than a cruiser, but what's the point in doing so when they get shot down by enemy cruisers in two seconds? The larger ships completely displace the smaller ones and this has a detrimental effect on the tactics in the game.

Hegemonia is also not a traditional 4X game. Most of those games are scenario or sandbox based. You're given a planet and then you're told to take over the known universe. In Hegemonia, you're also given a few starter planets but the objectives are driven by a heavy-handed story, replete with characters like commanding officers and star heroes. Many of the objectives are simple and 4X related. You have to conquer an entire system. You have to quell a certain menace. You have to colonize this or setup that. Some are more story driven, like aiding hero units to complete a certain task.

The campaign in Hegemonia begins with you in control of a simple fighter squadron. It starts off very slowly, chronicling the intra-star system wars the humans engage in. As you gain rank and prestige as part of the Legions of Iron, you'll be given relative autonomy from the home empire and more pressing objectives. Space stations nearby could be in distress. The home empire could be under attack and you'll have to shuttle your fleet over to relieve them. Some objectives, unfortunately, are unclear. A side mission involved evacuating a particular space station but you're not told which ship to send to evacuate and there isn't an "evacuator" class of ship.

Difficulties arise because of Hegemonia's heavy story presence. Where it needs to communicate, it communicates very little. Where you don't need guidance and hand holding, it does it, perhaps a little too much. The story restricts how many units you can build (a unit cap) and how much research you can conduct. This is so you don't get carried away and become a megalomaniac or worse yet, get too far ahead in the story. But the truth is: production and money making is fairly simple. It's not as complex as, say, Alpha Centauri or Master of Orion. That means, often times, you'll be sitting on a goldmine but unable to make any advances.

This frustration is compounded with the overall slowness of the game. Ships spend too much time traveling from one place to another. Installations and planets take too long to take over. Digital Reality has included a speed slider so you can advance at up to four times the normal speed but even then, it takes awhile to get across multiple star systems. (One has to wonder why the Star Trek warp drive wasn't invented earlier.) As such, gameplay will often degenerate into a stop and go exercise; accelerating time until an event pops up, which makes for a fairly disjointed playing experience.

The unit cap also artificially inflates the difficulty level. Since you're unable to field a reasonable number of ships, defenses will be spread very thin. And often, the developers will force you to race from one end of the galaxy to another. Since the ships are big and travel very slowly and since the only effective ships in combat are the big ships, you can see how these problems are all inter-related to each other.

Luckily, you are emancipated from many of these flaws in the multiplayer skirmish modes. You start off with a credible set of heroes and there's no story hampering you from simply outpacing your opponents. The multiple star systems add layers and depth to the game. It's not something we haven't seen before. Heroes of Might and Magic had a subterranean map beneath the normal map and that's roughly how the other star systems play out in Hegemonia.

One of the most interesting features in Hegemonia is the co-operative mode, which lets you team up with someone in the main campaign. It's an incredibly novel idea, especially applied to a 4X game of this scale. The partner must share the same resources as you do. So unfortunately, that means sharing the ridiculous unit cap as well, which can make for some pretty boring sessions. Take the first few missions, for example, where you're given almost no production control and only a few squadrons. There's only so much work for one person to do, much less two people.

Hegemonia is undoubtedly a huge game. If you're willing to overlook the slow pace of the story, you're in for many hours of gameplay. The main crux of the game is the inability for Hegemonia to create a sense of urgency without putting a short leash on you (unit caps, etc.). The voiceovers aren't particularly good at doing that either. It didn't help that I blasted a Kariak fleet back to the stone age with one or two losses. But still, the characters in Hegemonia were whining about how tough and invincible the aliens were. Thus, there's a sense of disconnection with the protagonists and characters and that's bad for a game that relies on the story so much.

Finally, the visuals are incredibly well done. They're easily the highlight of the entire game, indisputably capable of rendering the epic battle scenes. The amount of text and abundance of material (particularly for the tech tree) invested into this title suggests an epic as well. The music score has similar connotations. However, the rough edges detract from the overall impact that this title could have made. Pitted against other 4X titles, the individual parts of Hegemonia never seem to glue or mesh into a compelling and cohesive whole.

 

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Rating
78%
 

 

 
 

 

 

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