Empires Of The Undergrowth is a colony simulation game. You manage the fate of an ant colony in real-time. Excavate your underground nest and build tunnels as you search for food. Create chambers to raise your brood and build your numbers to venture to the surface. Your queen is fat and vulnerable and you are going to have to expand to ensure the prosperity of your colony. Your ants might clash with other colonies, or protect themselves from fearsome lurking arachnids and other predators, be it in the underground or on the surface. You need to design your nest, create an army to protect your workers, and take over your little corner of the world.
Insects as a base for a strategy game
If you think about it, it’s actually a wonder that there are not more ant or insect-related games out there. The concept of insects that build complex colonies is truly a fascinating one. Ants are actually perfectly suitable for a colony management game. Or any strategy game for that matter. Fierce small creatures that have an awe-inspiring ability to carry objects that are several times as heavy as their own body weight. Complex colonies and social systems of workers, soldiers, and other types. Plus, there are tons of individual ant types that all have unique societies and systems. Luckily, Empires Of The Undergrowth features a bunch of them and is only expanding upon that.
Play your own documentary
The cool thing about this game is, when you play a mission, you will have a documentary-style narrator explaining everything that is happening to your colony. Were it not for your gameplay, it would truly feel like watching a documentary. Truth be told, it makes every action you do more fun and helps with the immersion. Moving your ants around and giving orders to gather food or face enemy insects feels much more impactful if there is a serious voice narrating the fate of your ants. Plus, you are actually learning something. This game builds upon real ant colonies and focuses on providing authentic information.
Beware of predators on the surface
The game modes
Empires Of The Undergrowth features two game-modes. A freeplay mode that has only been implemented recently and is currently being improved with each patch and some sort of “story” mode.
As always, you control an ant colony, but this time it is in a controlled laboratory environment. This ant type is actually a special one. The so-called Gene Stealer ant that is being researched in this laboratory has access to ant-types of different families, which is a good approach to make the units as diverse as possible. Two researchers have created a controlled environment to let the colony you control grow. In other words, they will add food but also introduce enemies to test your capacities. However, the resources that you have at your disposal are limited.
Territory inside the Undergrowth, technological capacities, and even food can only be acquired by finishing missions that are unrelated to the story. The documentary aspect of Empires Of The Undergrowth will shine inside these missions the most. Each mission will feel like its own episode. There are going to be scenarios where you play certain other ant types (e.g. leaf-cutter ants) and have to lead them to success in specific environments. For example, you might have to lead an ant colony that has found its home near an ocean, where the tide is going to be a constant threat to your ant’s safety. Once you complete these scenarios you will get the resources to let your Gene Stealer colony in the main story grow. Finish enough missions and you can start a so-called gateway-missions. In these, the researches will conduct increasingly difficult tests on your colony.
Two ant-colonies are having a territorial dispute
The gameplay of Empire Of The Undergrowth fits the setting extremely well. You cannot just click on any ant and give them orders. What you need to do is group certain ants together and send them out by placing pheromone markers. Some of your workers will have to stay behind at all times to tend to the colony. Having more workers means faster colony-operations, but also fewer ants to gather food for example. Managing your eggs, building tunnels, and designing your nest are crucial elements for the game. For example, you will have to create small corridors close to the exit in order to be able to defend attacks more efficiently. Your brood-chambers need to be placed tactically as well. The positioning of a nesting-place will determine how fast they can join the fray, or how big a group will be. Another aspect will be the composition of workers to soldiers and soldier types.
Depending on the ant family you are playing, the gameplay will feel vastly different. Leaf-cutter ants for example will not eat other insects or larvae but need to gather plants and let fungi grow on them to provide nutrition. This will change how you approach the game as there is usually way more vegetable food available.
Despite the somewhat limited features (it is early access after all), there is a real depth to the game. Managing your colony requires strategical thinking, planning ahead, and speed as well. The fast-paced nature of Empires Of The Undergrowth will require quick reactions at times. However, there is a clear lack of micro-management simply due to the nature of the game design. Not being able to give out individual orders means there is a higher focus on macro-decisions. The real impact stems from where you send your army, how you design your base and colony, and which food sources you try to acquire first. Reacting to predators and adapting to threats is mainly being done by closely watching the environment. Resource-management is also key, as you won’t only need food to expand your numbers but also maintain them.
Proper base design will have a huge impact
Empires Of The Undergrowth is not just on early access, its made by an indie studio that has been pouring its heart into the game. This title is their first one and truth be told, it’s been a while since they have started. But the question is: Is it going anywhere? Early access titles are not only unfinished, but they might also be a buggy mess, move very slowly, or be flat-out abandoned
However, Disco Slug Studios is clearly committed to their game. They have been bringing out patches constantly and are staying in touch with their player base. I am going, to be frank though, there have been shortages of content in the past. However, the overall commitment is unquestionable. Especially if you try out the game, you will feel that this is a labor of love. The most important question however is, if their game is worth playing at this state.
The current price on steam is 20€ or 20$ respectively. Personally, I would say it’s worth it. The price is not terribly high and the game does have enough content for you to enjoy. I’d say depending on how much you are into it you can easily spend 20-60 hours without feeling bored. And as I said, the frequency of patches and size of the content has been steadily increasing. The real question is whether you enjoy playing colony sim strategy games that are based on insects. Do you like ants and think it might be fun to have tiny little creatures swarm through the Undergrowth? Are you intrigued by a setting that is very unique in the genre? If so, I would urge you to give Empires Of The Undergrowth a try.
If your interested is piqued, do check it out on their homepage. Empires Of The Undergrowth is available on Steam & GOG.
Consider checking this Empires Of The Undergrowth Guide as well.