Empire of the Ants | Feature Image

Developer: Tower Five
Platform(s): PlayStation 5, Xbox Series X/S, PC
Release Date: 2024

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Empire of the Ants, based upon a novel written by Bernard Werber, is a photorealistic real-time-strategy game where you play the role of a general in your own personal army of ants as you direct them over a battlefield comprised of leaves, fallen branches, water, and more. Empire of the Ants also has one of the most satisfying RTS gameplay loops I have encountered yet, and I honestly struggled to believe that was not a finished product being presented to me at GDC instead of an early version of the game. My demo was a PC build played via a regular home console controller.

Instead of a top-down god-eye view of the entire environment, you are in the thick of the effort as an ant who can jump, run, and cling to any and all surfaces on the environment as you run around. Interestingly, you can only direct your troops around to where you can see it in your area. This ended up making me constantly run around to check on all the different war efforts I had going on in order to make sure the different efforts were going well.

I started off with a single ant hill to summon from, and I ended up summoning regular warrior ants. As I marched to war against other ant hills and directed my ants to subsequently conquer them, I would summon additional worker ants that I would send off to collect materials to supplement my war effort. As I conquered more and more ant hills, slowly spreading my Empire of the Ants (the name makes sense!) across the map, I gradually summoned aphids to help heal up my units and even ants that would shoot from a distance! And all the while, the worker ants became the backbone of my war effort by helping me summon additional units faster and faster through their material gathering. This all felt extremely intuitive to figure out, and I did not really need the (extremely kind!) development team to hold my hand in figuring out how to build up my forces appropriately. Ultimately, I took on the final boss in the area, termites, and I CRUSHED them using all the attacking forces, defensive forces, and assisting forces that I had built up in my demo playthrough. If anything, it made me hunger for more, larger, and harder foes to defeat.

Empire of Ants | Ant army
In Empire of the Ants, you play the role of a general of an ant army that you build through resources and conquered hills. (Images courtesy of Microids).

Empire of the ants | Gameplay screenshot

I used a controller to play my Empire of the Ants demo, and I was surprised at how well the game worked with it once I got the hang of it. I am used to using a mouse for RTS games, and so I was curious how it all would work. You can split and combine different units into two (or more, presumably) larger battalions with a couple button presses, and then direct each battalion off to do a different task — as long as that end goal is within eyesight of the ant you control. The wedged circle design of selecting each unit was slightly clumsy, as I found myself wishing I had a way to ‘snap’ between wedges more easily than what I had. With Empire of the Ants coming to the PlayStation 5 and Xbox Series X|S later this year, it is honestly important that these controls work for more than just PC — and honestly? I like how Tower Five made it work.

If I had only one kind-of complaint, it would be that this game is sometimes too photorealistic. More than once at the beginning of the demo, a cutscene would end and I would just be…standing around…because I was not aware the cutscene had ended, since graphics looked just that good and the game transitioned that seamlessly from the story back to the gameplay. More than once, the development team would have to gently tell me that I could start playing again. I will also say that if you have Entomophobia – fear of insects — then Empire of the Ants would not be a good game for you, because the graphics are just that real in Unreal Engine 5. There is also a day/night cycle, but I unfortunately did not get to see it in my demo.

Empire of the Ants | Spider
While I did not get to fight anything harder than termites in my demo, I am excited to see how I fare against creatures like spiders in the final game. (Image courtesy of Microids).

So, what’s the verdict on my GDC demo of Empire of the Ants? One of the biggest keys to making an RTS game fun to play is figuring out how to balance encouraging players to build troops and gather resources while also making sure players can figure out how to expend those resources in a way that keeps the gameplay going instead of being just a resource building sim. And frankly, Empire of the Ants absolutely succeeds in that. I genuinely want to play this game when it is released later in 2024, and you should too.

Are you excited for Empire of the Ants? What kind of natural creatures would you want to fight with your own ant army?

Let us know in the comments below!

Quentin H.
I have been a journalist for oprainfall since 2015, and I have loved every moment of it.