Empire of the Ants is a beautiful looking strategy game that plays great on console

Guide your colony through a deadly forest as they escape from a flood in their search for a new home in Empire of the Ants.

The secret to getting strategy or tactical games to work on console is an incredibly closely guarded secret, especially in the case of games that have already launched on PC. Empire of the Ants has got that secret down and that’s because of two things: The Controls and The Camera.

But, before we get into all of that — and because a game is about more than a genre, or two features — it’s important to talk about what Empire of the Ants is. It’s a strategy title that’s at least somewhat based on the book of the same name by Bernard Werber. Microids, who are publishing this, have already had a go at making a game of the book, back two-dozen years ago. Their effort was a wider strategy one with multiple layers, while this one has a clear divide between the narrative and strategy sections.

You take on the role of an ant that finds themself as an ambassador of sorts to another nest, you’re quickly brought in by the queen and tasked with securing the nearby area, and ultimately helping move the colony in an attempt to escape the strange occurrences that are happening. In the case of the behind-doors demo that I played at GDC this was bizarre flooding. I’m not sure where the rest of the campaign takes you.

What I am sure of is that it’s going to be done in style though. Empire of the Ants is incredibly detailed, and with a tight third-person camera and some fantastic lighting it’s no surprise that words like ‘photorealistic’ are already being bandied about by people talking about it. Critically though, it also performs fantastically. I played a console version and had hundreds of creatures on screen, with each of the insects adapting and shifting their position depending on how combat went. As I slid around the outside of the combat (I never got involved, because who would?), climbing mounds and scuttering around twigs and roots, I didn’t experience any slowdown, despite the mass of projectiles, corpses and combatants that the console was churning out.

Now, let’s get to the controls. As I said at the start of this preview, this is exactly where most strategy games fall down on console. Everything here is really simple, delightfully simple. Each of the nests that you control within a mission/level/scenario grants you a type of enemies; these can be workers, gunners or warriors with a second tier of upgraded troops to shift the pace once you’ve started making progress. You’ll capture your nest by simply targeting it and ordering a squad to capture it. If you’re nearby then you can use a radial menu to build upgrades for yourself, for the nest, or for your troops. You can also pick out what units you’d like it to make — it can only make one unless you get certain upgrades.

Once you’re out and at range you’ve still got control over those nests, however you’ll need to focus on them and use the radial menu, which’ll take you out of the action when you do it. This is, however, a great way to change up your unit composition if you’re struggling to capture a chokepoint. And, you will struggle to capture checkpoints because the AI doesn’t simply wait around for you, they’ll often keep churning out units and trying to recapture nests that you’ve taken, so you’ll need to think fast.

Luckily, then, there are more options for troop positioning and command at your fingertips. You can put your ants into groups, and quickly select groups or individual ‘squads’. This is particularly great if you want to pincer attack a group of enemies, or if you want to break off a worker group to gather extra food from around the map to speed up your base development.

While all of this is happening you’ll be scuttling around. Being that you’re an ant you’ve got an ambitious jump and the ability to walk on vertical surfaces, and as long as you don’t err into the water you can cross the map quickly with some tactical dashing. Despite that, most of the levels are expected to take a little over 20 minutes. That said, I could bumble around on these maps all day — and I bet that some modders could make a cool exploratory platform-puzzler with the traversal tech that’s on show here.

Relatedly, something that I’ve not seen other previews mention is the multiplayer mode that’ll be coming with Empire of the Ants when it launches. Players, up to four, will battle over maps; each will perceive themselves as Ants and the enemies as the termite faction — however, as the termites have a scaled tech-tree, this will match perfectly. I’m optimistic for the multiplayer, it sounds balanced by design, and strategy games that feature commander units almost always make for great multiplayer experiences.

I have some questions left though; things I’d love to know more about. The little story that I did see was interesting but minimal — I enjoyed that the ant names were simply their birth order within the colony, and the writing seemed really well done… I am unsure of where the story is going to head though, and if there is any sort of escalation. Do troops persist? That seems unlikely due to the somewhat minimalist tech tree, however a careful scale increase and the introduction of new enemies and threats could easily replace the need for that. We’ve got a while yet before it releases, so maybe we’ll learn more before then.

What I know for now though, is that Empire of the Ants is a beautiful looking strategy game that plays fantastically on console.

Empire of the Ants is expected to launch on most current generation consoles and PC later this year.

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