Empire of the Ants returns: I was the Napoleon of ants for an hour and loved it


Steffi was allowed to wage ant war for an hour. What she experienced gives her high hopes for the release of the crawling real-time strategy

The blue beetles have fallen. No help is to be expected from the aphids, they are miles away from the battlefield. All hope now rests on the chitinous shoulders of my worker ants, who are unflinchingly making their way through the corpses of their fallen comrades. But suddenly the termites send two more legions against me – and sweat pours down my face in front of the screen.

“Hey Steffi, do you want to watchEmpire of the Ants?” my boss asked me a few days earlier, knowing full well that I’m immediately hooked on games with creepy-crawlies.

It also sounded pretty cozy, just playing into this reboot of the strategy classic from the year 2000.Instead, I was unexpectedly thrown into the most nerve-wracking battle I’ve experienced in years But the new gray hairs were definitely worth it

What is Empire of the Ants anyway?

1991 saw the publication of a science fiction novel with the same name, which – surprise! – is about ants and other creepy-crawlies that wage war among themselves and spin intrigues. The new Empire of the Ants is heavily based on the book, so the story campaign follows the events described in the book. Thanks to Unreal Engine 5, the strategy game is also set to make us shake our heads graphically when itis released for PC and consoles on November 7, 2024.

Empire of the Ants aims to offer a mix ofclassic story campaign with around 20 to 25 hours of gameplay and a multiplayer mode. The story serves as a long tutorial, so to speak, to prepare me for battles against real players

Although strategy is written all over it and StarCraft 2 is repeatedly cited as an inspiration, not only die-hard strategists should get their money’s worth. You don’t have to fight all the playable battles yourself; according to the developers, you can also tackle more exploration missions and observe the lifelike insect world instead.

(All animals and plants in the game really exist and should look familiar to you if you go for a walk from time to time)
(All animals and plants in the game really exist and should look familiar to you if you go for a walk from time to time)

The basic principle is simple. I crawl through the world in aswitchableshoulder or top-down perspectiveand lead different troops, each with different strengths and weaknesses. Ranged fighters, for example, do a lot of damage but are sensitive. I also erect production buildings or defenses at predefined locations. The menu for this is designed to be ant-friendly; I crawl across the floor to select the right button. Empire of the Ants also takes its template seriously in other respects

Napoleon on pheromones

The game puts me in the role of a seemingly simple ant named No. 103,683: In reality, I’m a general with unique abilities. And the great hope in the bitter war with the damn termites. I express this playfully by giving orders to my so-called legions and actively supporting them – with the help of scents, just like real ants communicate.

(Sometimes I scout out what lies ahead on my own. My troops are slower on the road.)
(Sometimes I scout out what lies ahead on my own. My troops are slower on the road.)

My in-game pheromones can do much more than just announce: “Hey, someone spilled soda here, let’s ruin his life.” With the push of a button, I can send my hordes into a raging battle frenzy or protect themby reinforcing their armor. These skills are extremely valuable, because the battles are really tough

What exactly did I play?Microids and developer Tower Five let us try out Empire of the Ants for an hour. The mission we played was predetermined and takes place relatively early in the story campaign. All important basic functions were unlocked during the test play, but not all units. The session was accompanied by a developer who explained how the game works – we skipped the tutorial due to time constraints.

I send up to five legions around at the same time. First I have to incubate or recruit them at conquered nests, because not only ants fight with me, but also fat blue beetles or tiny aphids, for example. Later, there will also be flying units that will drop my troops directly on the front line.

I can’t fight myself, but usually sit on a branch or rock during battles and look down on my brave troops. “Like Napoleon,” says my demo companion, and that’s exactly how I feel. I wander from nest to nest, and sometimes even upside down, because as an ant I’m naturally a great climber. My impressive legions in tow then conquer one place after another for me. In the first half of the mission, I feel invincible.But my ant Waterloo is already waiting for me.

(Time of day, weather changes and the four seasons should also become important.)
(Time of day, weather changes and the four seasons should also become important.)

The termites’ trump cards

The further I venture into enemy territory, the tougher the fighting becomes. At first, I plow through firebugs and small termite troops, but then several troops oppose me at the same time and the difficulty increases noticeably. If I don’t pay attention for a moment, my acid-spraying ranged fighters are history. Valuable time passes before I am joined by supplies, which the termites use to counterattack.

“It’s a difficult mission,” says my demo guide as I lament my heavy losses. “Only three people even made it as far as the termite fortress during the playthrough.” I hear him say that I will probably fail at this point. But of course the fire of ambition is burning inside me, and the spirit of the ant Napoleon finally takes possession of me. So I march straight to the heavily fortified termite nest with all my remaining troops

(As an ant, I can also walk across water (at least for three steps) and jump.
(As an ant, I can also walk across water (at least for three steps) and jump.

A fierce battle ensues, which I’m sure crickets are still chirping about today– and which would definitely have been given an 18+ rating if it had been about bipeds instead of insect troops. The nest sprays acid at my legions, termite warriors with thick biting tools shred through my shrunken army. One even nibbles on my abdomen, how dare it!

After escaping it with a daring headfirst maneuver, things don’t look good for my army. The termites have fallen, but their new brood is maturing in the nest at lightning speed, and all I have left are blue beetles. Varus, give me back my legions – wait a minute, wrong general, never mind!

My last armored crawlers throw themselves against the wooden barriers, but not fast enough! A spirited pheromone blast from my … well, at least it gives them new strength, but it’s just not enough, my bravest fighters roll lifelessly onto their backs.

(Here the ant general sprays his troops with a speed booster.)
(Here the ant general sprays his troops with a speed booster.)

The clock is ticking, my kick-off time is running out as quickly as my hope. A final push, my acid throwers are respawned and rush towards the fortress, but it gives acid back – until in the end only my very last ant is left standing, shoots one last time … and wins the battle in literally the last second.Ridley Scott couldn’t have staged it more dramatically.

I’ve never been so annoyed that I wasn’t allowed to film my game and share it with the GlobalESportNews community. After this extremely entertaining hour, the question now arises: If you win a battle in the forest and nobody is watching –have you won anyway?

Conclusion of the editorial team

Empire of the Ants has definitely won a place on my personal wish list. Strategy isn’t my greatest passion, but creepy-crawlies all the more so – and I really like the direct way of commanding my troops.

Of course, I’m aware that I’ve been extremely lucky and that the game won’t always be so cool. What’s more, I’ve only seen a small fraction of the game so far, there are supposed to be other mission types and the story also has something to offer. I can’t make a judgment on this yet, but it’s not too long until the release.

It’s also exciting that we’re getting two ant strategy games this year, as Empires of the Undergrowth was only recently released. Empire of the Ants definitely wins in terms of graphics, and after the demo I would also bet on it in terms of gameplay – but we’ll tell you when we’ve had the chance to test the full game extensively. Until then, I’ll leave you with a fitting piece of Napoleonic wisdom: Victory belongs to those who hold out the longest!

Empire of the Ants will also be released with German texts, as we learned from the developers. The insects’ language is made up anyway, so it would probably sound strange if they were to babble away in human words.

If you fancy reading the – really exciting – novel now: In German, the book is called “Die Ameisen” and there are several sequels, all by French author Bernard Werber.