Old World: Heroes of the Aegean has been a bit unfairly lost, both in the vast World and here. The 4X strategy game got a strong 85 rating in the test, but it received far less attention from the press and players than Civilization’s other competitor, Humankind. One possible reason: is the Epic exclusivity.
But that’s changing now. On May 19th Old World was released on Steam and GOG.com. At the same time, the first DLC for Old World came with the heroes of the Aegean – for free. In addition, a new, previously unannounced civilization comes into play with the Hittites. And then there are dozens of patches since our test in summer 2021. So let’s see what the DLC can do and whether Old World has deserved an upgrade in the two years since release.
It suits you if…
You’ve never played Old World and crave a little guidance at first.
You like to play Civilization in ancient times.
You feel like a mini-campaign with a story and decisions.
It doesn’t suit you if…
You want as much freedom as possible in your 4X games.
You expect significant changes to the sandbox gameplay of the main game from the DLC.
A new scenario for history fans
Heroes of the Aegean contains six scenarios centered around the conflict between Persia and the Greek states, from the famous Battle of Marathon to the successor cities of Alexander’s empire.
It is not entirely clear why Mohawk Games chose this not a very common name because the island world between Greece and today’s Turkey does not play a role in the scenario. The setting in and of itself is very well chosen for this.
After all, compared to Civilization or Humankind, Old World is first and foremost characterized by the fact that we don’t go through the whole of human history in the round strategy that has been exclusive to Epic for a long time but stays in antiquity. And in this period, the Persian wars are one of the most apparent issues next to the rise of Rome.
Otherwise, this scenario pack makes more sense than we initially expected. This, in turn, is due to the Old World itself, which is better suited for this type of scenario content than, say, Civilization.
What was Old World again precisely?
As a quick reminder, Old World is a Civilization-style 4X city-building game. However, it differs in a few key respects. In addition to the mentioned focus on only one era, Old World lets you slip into the skin of a mortal leader whose successor you have to regulate like in Crusader Kings 3. If you fail, the game is over. Although the simulation of leaders, heirs to the throne, and court servants are not nearly as complex as in Crusader Kings, it is enough to differentiate it from the genre competition.
While this mix doesn’t always mesh perfectly in the base game, it shows its strengths in the DLC – at least in phases. In Civilization, such scenarios often seem artificial because we cannot follow the fate of individual people.
On the other hand, Old World lets us slip into the roles of great Greek and Macedonian leaders, telling their life stories and linking them with unique game mechanics.
From Marathon to Thermopylae
In the first short scenario, you play the battle of Marathon in a rudimentary way, which is probably intended as a new introduction for players who haven’t touched the game for a long time and have forgotten most of it – in short, people like me.
Then you hold back the Persians at Thermopylae with Leonidas as a general and defeat the naval battle at Salamis in the same scenario. You get more ships the longer you have held out with the Spartans beforehand.
In the third scenario, you play Philip II of Macedonia, the father of Alexander the Great. Like the historical model, you should unite Greece – and you don’t have unlimited time for that. While this is an excellent but playfully unimportant introduction to the new content, from now on, it is much more to the point.
During the game, you can choose several paths. For example, do you want to defeat the uncivilized peoples of Thrace militarily or persuade them to enter into a diplomatic truce? Will you get the Illyrians on your side by getting married, or will you also “pacify” them? And when do you dare against Athens and Sparta?
Lack of communication about the goals
In between, the game weaves in the historical development of the events and reveals two weaknesses.
For one thing, like the main game, the scenarios are very sparse, with easily accessible information about goals and mechanics. For example, why do we use events to train our son Alexander if he is never used because the scene ends as soon as Phillip dies?
On the positive side, however, we must emphasize that our criticism was immediately reacted to in the preview. It is now (somewhat hidden) that the scene ends when Phillip dies. That wasn’t clear at all beforehand. Overall, the developers’ communication with the outside world and the number of updates is exemplary—more on that in a moment.
History as if on rails
The second weakness of the DLC content stems from the first. Because, as you may have already noticed, Old World largely retells the actual events. But it doesn’t leave you much room to go your own way.
Leonidas died at Thermopylae, so he must too. The Greeks win at Salamis, so here too. You’re not even allowed to play the Persians. And if Philipp was murdered by his bodyguard in real life, that has to happen in the scenario.
This makes many decisions feel irrelevant. If you choose a conclusion that would significantly change the course of the story, you know beforehand that something will go wrong.
The DLC could have learned from role models.
Other games deal smarter with such circumstances. For example, Civilization 5 allows you to play Rome in the “The Fall of Rome” scenario and prevent that very pre-programmed fall. In the campaign of The Lord of the Rings: The Battle for Middle-earth, you can save Boromir with a lot of skill. The game doesn’t hint at it but allows for the possibility, which feels immensely satisfying.
This is where Old World: Heroes of the Aegean gambled away potential with its scenarios. But at least it offers a lot of variety since each scenario is played uniquely. Sometimes you only have access to troops but not cities. Then again, like in the fourth scenario, you have to deal mainly with domestic politics and work your way through a series of event chains to remain in power over Greece as Alexander’s mother and his at the same time support the campaign.
In the meantime, we could also play the fifth scenario. This revolves around Alexander’s campaign across the Persian Empire. Like the sixth scenario, this scenario is relatively long because you have to fight various battles along the way. The coast is unlocked for you bit by bit, so you play the historical advance again and have little creative freedom.
In this scenario, you hardly care about the economy but almost exclusively about the military, whose units bring significantly more clout to the field than customary units due to Alexander and his most important generals. You will then receive more troops via »research« instead of unlocking new technologies.
Overall, focusing on a massive land fight is fun but then becomes tiresome. Due to the particular movement system in Old World, it is a cramp to bring the reinforcement troops to the front because there are never enough command points available, and the units cannot remember more extended route commands.
Also, enemy troops appear out of nowhere due to the long-range (with Command Points present), especially when your progression unlocks a new sector. This makes tactical planning ahead difficult and quickly becomes frustrating.
The last scenario begins after Alexander’s death. Here, for the first time, you get true freedom of choice. You can choose which of the four Diadochi empires (the successor states of Alexander’s empire) you want to use to win back the kingdom.
Depending on your choice, the task will be more difficult or accessible. Tiny Macedonia is in a terrible starting position. At the same time, the prosperous Seleucid kingdom in Mesopotamia is in a good place but also lies between the Egyptian Ptolemy kingdom and the Antigonids of Asia Minor and is therefore exposed to a possible war on two fronts. So replay value is ensured in this scenario in particular.
Ultimately, Heroes of the Aegean is neither a big hit nor a disappointment. With some strengths based on the peculiarities of Old World and some weaknesses in the staging, the DLC would not be recommended at a purchase price of 20 or 30 euros. However, as an additional free treat, it’s definitely worth your attention and could serve as a persuasion aid for those who have toyed with the idea of buying Old World but have hesitated.
That was not all!
To our and possibly your surprise, that’s not all. The Steam release also has a new civilization up to its sleeve, the Hittites. As special units, they rely on their chariots and get quick access to recent ministerial posts through their families.
The charioteers from Anatolia are pretty flexible, but how strong they are compared to other cultures must first be shown in a more extended test by the community.
Patches, patches, patches
Since we are now in a follow-up test, it must not be forgotten that the developers are releasing minor updates at an improbable frequency. A patch with balance changes, bug fixes, sometimes dozens of new events (according to the developer, we’ve reached over 3000 in total), AI and performance improvements, new sound effects, and artwork comes almost every week.
The regularity of the updates shows how eager the developers are to their work, which is reflected in the quality of the game, which is constantly growing. The free content is also a good thing, although there is some confusion about whether (former) Epic buyers are also getting the benefit of the promotion. The statements of the developers and PR were contradictory in this regard.