Egypt: Old Kingdom Review. Walk Like an Ancient Egyptian
When it comes to strategy games set in ancient Egypt, only a handful rise above the pool of average games. Does Egypt: Old Kingdom enter the pantheon of great ancient Egypt games? Here's my review of it.
What is Egypt: Old Kingdom
Egypt: Old Kingdom is actually the second in the series. The developer, Clarus Victoria, published Predynastic Egypt, which centred around the formation of the first Egyptian state.
Egypt: Old Kingdom is largely the same game except its campaign begins at the dawn of the first six dynasties of the pharaohs and it sports improved graphics.
It’s essentially a Worker Management strategy game. Don’t be fooled by the screenshots. It might look like a city-builder, but the core of the game focuses on how you use your citizens.
It’s like an expanded version of the Sid Meier's Civilization series' pop management mechanic. At each turn, your burgeoning Egyptian settlement accrues resources. Collect enough food and you'll get to ‘create’ a new citizen.
You then assign your citizen to the different areas (these are essentially tiles) on the map to work on that section or to explore the area and reveal the fog of war. Just like in Civ, one citizen per area/tile.
The game also bills itself as being historically accurate. The description on its official website states the game was designed with the help of Egyptologists. And it shows as the game asolutely revels in the historical facts and theories of Egyptian society.
The Basics of Resource Gathering
There are seven resources in Egypt: Old Kingdom. The first five I've listed below are resources that are used to grow your city. While the last two are dedicated to research and matters of god.
Food is required to grow your population. Get 10 food and you’re given the option to create a citizen. Citizens aren’t automatically created in Egypt: Old Kingdom.
Building workshops help increase the rate you get this. Mainly used for building and repairing.
Workshops also increase the luxury rate a little. You mostly gain it by trade. Luxuries are important for your citizens as they consume it. There are also other uses, such as improving relations with angry neighbours.
You don’t build an army like you normally would in other strategy games. In Egypt: Old Kingdom, your army is basically a resource you accumulate. The amount you gain each turn depends on the number of barracks you have.
Culture is used for researching new tech. The tech tree brings progress to your people in several areas. Some of them are military, societal and religion.
Used to worship gods. These Egyptian gods impart some positive modifiers for a limited number of turns. You gain Favour by building cemeteries.
Much of Egypt: Old Kingdom involves the strategic use of limited space. You can only build houses, workshops and barracks on plains. Which leads to a strategic decision you'll have to make on how many houses versus barracks or workshops do you want to build.
Some of the resources also give you options. Wild game can be exterminated for a bigger one-time boost in food or hunted for many more turns for a small trickle of food per turn. Farms allow you to cultivate either wheat that gives you food, or flax for production.
The Early Game Conundrum
You start off focusing on growing your population, exploring unrevealed areas and gathering resources. While there is a short tutorial phase at the beginning of the campaign, you’ll have to do the guesswork on all the tiny little icons on what they represent.
However, this isn’t too difficult as the base of the game is quite simple. There are tool tips that tell you what the resources are and shows you the breakdown on how much you’re accumulating versus how much you're spending.
The game falls into a familiar repetitive process after a while. Even though it throws some random events at you, those are usually a small bonus here or a plus there.
The lack of depth in the resource collection & management means the early game quickly becomes uninteresting.
Unfortunately for Egypt: Old Kingdom, I assume most people will drop off from the game right about here, not making it past the boring early game. Which would be a mistake...
Things Are About To Get Interesting
Once you get past the drab early game, you would have used up most of the areas on the map. Now you would have discovered a new region. Regions are distant lands you can’t expand your empire to.
However, regions are essentially a resource-rich boon to your empire. Send your citizens there to explore, trade, mine for new resources and bring back the riches to your land.
You’ll be making far more than what you can gather in your own lands, so it’s now time to rethink and maybe redevelop some of the areas in your land. Maybe remove some workshops to build more housing to increase your pop size.
And right about now, the game begins to get interesting. Events will start to unfold and play a bigger role in your campaign.
The events are the star of Egypt: Old Kingdom. There are different types of events from the scripted, story-advancing ones to smaller random events. You could get a scripted event stating that a new Pharoah demands tribute from you. You can either resist, which can get bloody, or give in to him.
There are also random events that are mostly smaller ones that add modifiers to particular resources for a bit. Random events can also occur on the game map such as lions killing your citizenry or hippos destroying your crops.
The impact of these missions cannot be understated as some of them will change the course of your campaign. You have to think wisely which decisions play to your advantage.
One element in Egypt: Old Kingdom that’s an important interplay with the events system is worship. By spending the Favour points you gain over time on worshipping a selection of deities, you can negate some of the effects of bad events and even boost the positive ones.
The only problem with Favours is from a User Experience standpoint. Once you start getting lots of Favour points from various bonuses, you’ll constantly be clicking the worship button to pick a deity. Every... single... turn. Which seems like unnecessary busy work.
Late Game Challenges
Combat occurs much more frequently during the late game. It’s not the most involved combat system, by far. You or your enemies can attack any area by moving a citizen into the enemy’s area.
It then takes 5 turns for the battle to commence. In the meantime, you or the defending force can take steps to reduce the effectiveness of the opposing side (this mostly involves worshipping a deity that reduces the strength of the enemy).
The battles are completely automated. Dice rolls decide the status of battles such as being ambushed, flanked or a general being killed which speeds up the capitulation of the enemy.
Battles in Egypt: Old Kingdom always boils down to this one major point. Who has the largest army. There are no tactics to choose (other than the options you get in the battle screen), or generals to hire that could've added more depth to the battles. There are also ways to avoid conflict altogether.
Butter up your neighbours and improve relations by sending luxuries. Other factions that have good relations won’t attack you. It’s a question of what do you want to spend your resources on.
Do you spend more resources and luxuries to appease other factions? Or do you gather a large army to crush them? Strategic decisions like these are what makes the late game much better than the previous half of it.
You’re going to need to use your wits as you’ll be challenged to survive all the trials the game throws at you at this point. There’s an endgame event that I won’t spoil, but all the events leading up to this endgame start to slowly build up to this crescendo of difficulty.
Egypt: Old Kingdom surprisingly morphs into a survival game. You’ve grown your city, accumulated wealth, now how are you going to survive all this bad stuff that is thrown at you.
The entire campaign is 300 hundred turns long. This is simply too long as the early game churn means it takes forever to experience anything interesting.
"But Wait. What About Pyramids?", I Hear You Asking
Pyramids were such an integral part of the ancient Egyptian lore, you'd expect a game so steeped in ancient Egyptian history to do them justice. It does and it doesn't. Egypt: Old Kingdom goes for realism and pyramids are aplenty. You'll be building lots of small ones and maybe a big one.
But therein lies the problem. Pyramids have been normalised, they've been made a chore. A tick on a checklist. There is very little reward for building one. It should be an achievement. Your citizens should rejoice in accomplishing this remarkable feat. Parties should be thrown in the streets.
But the game doesn't make you feel like you've built something great. No, instead it says build another 9 more! Your reward, a 3D illustration of the pyramid you've built. Yay?
Egypt: Old Kingdom could have been a very good ancient Egypt themed strategy game. Its poor pacing drags the game on for far too long and boring early game kills whatever enjoyment to be had.
It plays its best cards (to use a card analogy) far too late in the game. It could have used more interesting events in the early game and included a shorter game mode.
If ancient Egyptian history is your thing, then you’ll likely have a lot more appreciation for the game’s efforts to preserve the historical accuracy of its lore and its presentation ofancient Egyptian society.
For the rest of us, Egypt: Old Kingdom is a decent game that could have been a lot better if only it had put more focus on balancing and polishing up the gameplay. Net ideas, but lacks polish.
Egypt: Old Kingdom is available on Steam for USD$14.99 (RM32) or your regional equivalent.
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