Haegmonia: Legions of Iron is not a simple game, nor should you expect to just breeze through and play it without encountering a few problems. It's an ambitious stab at taking the crowns of Imperium Galactica II and Homeworld off those respective titles and it almost pulls it off. Now there will no doubt be those who will brand me a heretic for daring to rate this over these titles. Well, just be thankful you're not playing O.R.B which has to be the biggest remake of Homeworld ever, but this is about Haegmonia, why it's different and why it's worth getting hold of. It's created by the developers known as Digital Reality. These are folks who know their stuff since they also created Imperium Galactica I and II, in fact it shares a passing resemblance to those games but deviates in a few major areas.
Set in the far future and at the cusp of an interstellar war between Mars and Earth the story focuses on both sides of this conflict, with missions being well designed and scripted to lead from one engagement to the next. Using the Walker engine DR have taken the usual boring backgrounds of space and added a variety of terrain types from nebulae to asteroid fields and some other surprises. Stars glimmer in the ebon backdrop of night and the planets twinkle like gems in the heavens, it's all very beautiful and it all runs very smoothly. One can spend a good deal of time looking at these gorgeous backdrops and watching the civilian traders ply their wares across the vast distances, and for the most part the distances are vast (Accurate representations of the various cosmological details however, you won't find as that would make for a very boring game - go and buy a NASA Space Simulator program or something like that if you really want to see these kinds of details.)
It is possible to see the planets dark and light sides as day and night pass over and over, but the real meat and bones of the game lies in the fact that it likes to teach you as you play. While a tutorial should really have been included, the gameplay is so simple and the learning curve is so easy you'll be navigating the various screens before you know it. They did put an extensive knowledge base into the game that allows you to brush up on the finer points of how to use the various systems and such like. Which redeems the lack of a tutorial in my eyes, but I still wish one had been included.
The game plays from several screens and these are something that you have to become familiar with, thankfully the system for using most of them is relatively non-complex and anyone with slight experience in playing these kinds of RTS games will feel at home. At this point I really should point out the GUI (Graphical User Interface) of the game, where you can easily select squads and go to owned planets at the touch of an icon - this makes system management a doddle. Did I say, system management? More to come on that since this is going to be a fairly detailed review but I will not be going into too much depth about each element. If your ships are under attack then a small attack icon will flash next to the icon of the squad that is engaged in combat, clicking on that squad on the GUI will instantly transport you to the battle.
The battles in Haegmonia are some of the best with some of the best effects and graphics that I've seen in my time of playing these kinds of games. They are not over the top and they are certainly often like watching an episode of Babylon 5 as the bright flares of energy smash into the hulls and shields of attacking and defending ships. With explosions being impressive and causing the screen to shake a little depending on the camera view at the time (there are several very interesting cameras to choose from - which again makes for a more immerse and impressive experience.) Some of the models have multiple shear points and will come apart in bits rather than one large bang, as a rule - the bigger the starship or station, the bigger the explosion that results from it. With multiple big bangs going off as the whole vehicle turns into expanding clouds of superheated gas and bits of molten metal.
The models and graphics in Haegmonia are certainly impressive with the game boasting many polygons, all being thrown around by the Walker engine without a hitch on the 1.8ghz Athlon with 512mb of ram and a GF4 card, which was used to test it. The textures are all gorgeously done and lend a kind of organic feel to the ships, but also give an impression of the various races technological level. The earth ships are vaguely aerodynamic and some of the bigger ones fit in the bracket of 'sleek' and 'stylish', but the alien ships are also well made and designed. To be honest I don't think I've seen one of these ships that I didn't like on all of the 3 main races, Solons, Earth and Aliens (which I won't name, due to a desire to see the player find out for themselves.)
So it's packed with detail, gorgeous textures and fantastic looking models (If you like me, like this kind of attention to detail and found some of the Babylon 5 style ships pretty impressive). Sound is likewise top notch with the whole game set to an impressive and very reactive gorgeous musical score that lifts and transports the listener to the vast reaches of space and a little beyond. Weapons and various impact spot effects give a good account of death dealing in the big black and have a nice meaty feel to them (Even if in space you can't hear anyone scream.) Starship engines whine and roar as they dance a duel of deadly light against the flickering of stars and space gasses.
Visually, Haegmonia is one of the best games I've seen of this type, the sound is wonderfully done. The voice acting falls in the ok, but nothing outstanding category with the script to the story feeling a little stilted at times and I can't help thinking that Jack Garner (Earth's hero) sounds a tad like Sheridan from B5 (Ok I'll stop mentioning B5 now). So let's get right back to the gameplay, now you know it's a nice looking and great sounding game, let's really dig into how the game plays.
Initial missions are simple, with objectives ranging from interdiction missions to escort duty. The AI in Haegmonia is pretty good and your squads gain XP and levels for that little role-playing fix some of us need. You can name your squads in the menu and assign various heroes to the squads that are already in play. I note now that heroes all have skills and abilities that will affect the outcome of a battle, some of them are great at dogfights, some perform better in Capships and some are just good Planetary governors and Star System administrators. Expect to go from a small squad to the larger fleets and right up to being in charge of a fledgling new colony, since the engine allows for multiple Star Systems to be connected by the use of wormholes the game really opens up later on as you build and manage a whole Interstellar Empire, which you just know is going to come under Alien Invasion (Cue ominous music.) You can build various things on your planets and once you get so far into the game you'll find you can also research new technology, one great point to mention with Haegmonia is that once you research something, it's yours to keep for the rest of the game...and once you build a squad, if you pass the mission, you have the choice of which squads and heroes you can return to the game. So assets don't disappear and you can bring in a more experienced squad to the next mission over the old basic one.
Most of the missions are linked from one to the next so you'll often find a sense of continuity that isn't there in other games and this also helps to drag you further into the story. A quick tap of the spacebar allows you to view the Galactic Map and very quickly see the placement of units and planets (Squads remain in their original groups, so you can't split one Proton Fighter off from a group of 7 or so, this was done to lessen the amount of micro management and keep a fairly simple Squad selection system in place.) You can set waypoints and do all the usual kinds of tricks with the map or 3d space, alt clicking to go to a specific feature on the map or in 3d.
A quick right-click onto the selected group and changing the various commands that are available can likewise alter the behaviour of your squads. So for example you can go from watchful to aggressive or order the squad to shoot out the engines of a merchant ship without destroying it. These simple orders allow you to disable weapon systems on bigger ships and even later on planets. For Haegmonia allows you to indulge in colonization and destruction, with various buildings that can be added to the planet menu...and things like Planetary Shields and Guns are a must to research when possible.
Haegmonia is singleplayer and also multiplayer enabled with an innovative Co-Operative gametype added, where you can team up and play the singleplayer campaign with a friend or friends. You can also play the usual smattering of team games and team death-match that are the staple diet of the PC game these days. My only complaint here is that the game doesn't seem to have that many maps, the inclusion of a map editor to create your own playgrounds would have been a bonus and we can only hope the studio doesn't neglect their fans as so many others have done. Still, there are a couple of maps that support the system play as well, where the action takes place in two or more maps at the same time. The GUI really helps here to keep a track of things, and so does assigning a Governor to your planet. In fact assigning a hero in general helps any planet or squad that they happen to be in at the time, from adding a % to hit or more speed to the squads' movement to demonstrate their hero's increased level of skill and competence.
So this has only been a brief glimpse inside a very well formed and formulated game, since the mighty Homeworld opened a new door to the space RTS genre. There's a lot more to discover and utilize inside Haegmonia, the research system allocates a number of points as well, so you can't always get the 200 or so inventions that are on offer - try and work out what you really need and balance it with being a good Governor to your people. With things like spies and military bases, the game is open for action, diplomacy and sneakiness galore, as you try and out think and out manoeuvre your opponent in SP and MP. But in the end it really will come down to who has the bigger gun and the more experienced crew, those who plough their money into big weapons and no shielding will find that although they have massive battleships laden with death and destruction, the small nippy shielded and sneaky vessels will tear them to pieces. So all in all, Haegmonia is worth getting anyways or as well if you can't wait for Imperium Galactica III and you need that space fix now. If you want something different try this and stay well clear of O.R.B because it will put you off space RTS for life.