My review & impressions of The Hive - an Early Access RTS/RPG hybrid game

The Hive is a narrative driven real time strategy game with some RPG elements mixed in that puts you in command of a young alien hive and tasks you with leading hordes of insectoid creatures towards their grand destiny in a ravaged world.

It is currently in Early Access and as such many features are unfinished, unpolished or simply missing so take everything I say with a grain of salt as it might change in the coming months. As of right now The Hive is both an interesting and unique blend between an RPG and an RTS that does many things right but still needs some work done when it comes to mission variety.

 

***NOTE***
The developers have launched a very comprehensive patch recently that fixed many of the complaints I had with the Hive. The difficulty has been greatly increased, Turret spam is discouraged through higher mineral cost, treasure chests now always contain items and the enemies require more diverse tactics.

I'll keep the body of the review intact for posterity and as proof of how much The Hive has improved in a very short period of time. However, I did update the verdict at the end to reflect the current state of The Hive.
***NOTE***

The Hive is a single player only game and as such relies on the strength of its campaign to carry you through and for the most part it does a good job at it. The story is told through short voice-acted cutscenes that can sometimes drag on for far too long but are always enjoyable to listen to because the voice acting is genuinely impressive. Your insectoid adviser will do the majority of the narration throughout the game and since he sounds like the Zerg Overmind from Starcraft 1 the whole experience is much more immersive than you might expect.

What I don't like is how The Hive's intro cinematic sets up this grand story about humanity's flight from Earth due to an impending catastrophe and then references it exactly once in the entirety of the campaign. I understand the need for mystery but I would prefer it if the introduction dealt with the emergence of the Hive you spend the entire game with rather than to set up a tiny bit of background lore.

As for the story itself its a bit of a mixed bag because while you have an interesting mystery backed up with some great voice acting the writing tends to be really cheesy and the mission objectives uninspired. Even though I'm interested to see how the story will end I do believe the developers need to go back and either add some more clues or just explain our motivation better because I've destroyed entire civilizations while having only the faintest idea why I'm doing so.

While the story might be a bit lackluster at parts the presentation is great throughout the campaign. Both the environments and the units are very pretty to look at and more importantly filled with vast amounts of little details that aren't relevant on their own but add a lot to the ambiance and atmosphere of the world The Hive inhabits.

The Hive is small but numerous

What they lack in size they make up with numbers... and very sharp teeth

The campaign currently features 9 of the 10 planned missions and each one will task you with building up a base, raising and army and then either obliterating everything in your path or solving some simplistic puzzles while obliterating everything in your path. All of that starts with a single drone on whose back the entire empire will be built.

Speaking of empires, the base building and resource management in The Hive is very reminiscent of the system found in the Age of Empires series. You have to worry about food which lets you spawn various alien critters, minerals which go towards construction and the population cap which attempts but fails at ensuring you can't just create a deathball and roll over your enemies.

You can gather large amounts of food slowly through fishing or go for the faster but less sustainable method of hunting down poor innocent turtles and butchering them for meat. While it presents an interesting tactical choice the campaign was unfortunately so easy I always hunted down turtles to extinction in order to speed up construction and then simply won from there without facing the consequences of having an unsustainable economy... I'm sure there's a political joke in there somewhere.

One of the most satisfying parts of the base building experience is how your little worker drones gather resources. You can clearly see them use their pincers to catch fish, throw it behind them and continue on with their work as small pill-bugs scoot over to collect the produce in order to store it in ever-increasing piles near the main hive. Its a small detail but the constant buzz of activity in your base makes it feel like you're at the head of a ravenous swarm rather than simply watching numbers increase.

The process of building up your base is a very satisfying one but it suffers from being far too slow. There are only a couple of buildings in The Hive and its very clear what the optimal build order is so you will start every single game the exact same way and since you always begin with only one worker the whole procedure tends to take a while. The way I would address this issue is by providing a more diverse starting point, so one mission begins will an entire base, another with a bunch of units that need to conquer a food-rich area in order to start building and so on.

Base building in The Hive

A couple of workers gathering and piling up silly amounts of food (far left)

Thankfully the same doesn't apply to the squads of insectoid warriors you can spawn because once you get your economy rolling the units are cheap and easy to field. Most importantly, due to their varying sizes and appearances combined with the sheer number of units you can have, The Hive really gives off the impression that you're guiding an unstoppable force across the battlefield. Which is exactly where my main gripe with The Hive lies, you are nigh unstoppable.

The majority of the problem lies in the enemy AI, or the complete lack of thereof. Throughout the entire 9 mission campaign I think there are only two maps in total where you actually get attacked and those attacks are so weak that two cheap turrets completely negate them. The worst thing about it is that The Hive does nothing to prepare players for these scenarios. It simply goes from three mind-numbingly easy missions at the start in to one that has you rushed down by 20 enemy units without any indication that such a thing might happen.

Besides the strange difficulty spike in mission 4 there is nothing else to challenge you in The Hive as you have infinite time to grow your insatiable army. And with no increasingly-stronger enemy attacks to whittle down your troops every mission starts to feel exactly the same. It also doesn't help that The Hive for some reason restricts how many of each unit type you can build which even further homogenizes every single mission.

But even if you had much smaller armies the enemy AI is still extremely exploitable and rather dumb. When attacking enemy bases filled with hordes of units you don't have to worry about fighting all of them at once, no, no. Instead the AI will send only a couple of the closest units at you while the rest twiddle their thumbs and wait to be eaten like good little baddies.

This is extremely unfortunate as all the different unit archetypes you have along with their unique abilities simply beg to be used in cool ways but all you will really end up doing is attack-move across the map.

The Hive has some nice boss fights

If there's a mountain of bones behind someone I'd recommend not messing with them

There is a glimmer of hope that this might be fixed in the future because The Hive has systems in place that are seemingly made for a much harder game. For example, all of your units have a "retreat" button which forces them to run back to the nearest hive at increased speed which is completely irrelevant for an easy game but if The Hive ever becomes tough such an option becomes invaluable when it comes to saving resources.

But the biggest indicators of things to come are the inventory and unit promotion systems which can greatly increase a squad's efficiency. The way promotions work is pretty simple, by participating in battles and killing enemies your squads will gain experience and once that experience reaches a threshold they will increase in rank and stats.

On its own this isn't very exciting but when combined with the RPG equipment system The Hive has it becomes a great way to customize your armies, even if its a very slight difference. There are plenty of slots for you to put that equipment in so even though you can retrieve gear from dead units you will never have a fully decked-out army and that's pretty cool because only having a couple of powerful veteran units makes them feel special and worth taking care of.

The Hive has a very RPG-like inventory system

Almost all of these items can be equipped on to a single unit making them the ultimate killing-machine

The second great thing about the equipment system is that it encourages exploration since you can find gear on the corpses of your enemies, in treasure chests or even on mini bosses scattered throughout the maps. Or at least that's the idea but with no fog of war (areas of the map that obscure vision until you've explored them) you can pinpoint where exactly treasure chests are and just beeline for them while completely ignoring all of the optional enemies sprinkled across the maps. This is such an obvious problem that I can't imagine it won't get fixed by the time The Hive leaves Early Access but its an important thing to note regardless.

And the final small, but incredibly annoying, issue is the fact that these treasure chests sometimes contain nothing! You can fight through hordes of enemies, including a mini-boss, in order to reach a sparkling chest surrounded by gold and then gain absolutely flipping nothing out of it. I love loot based games so to have The Hive tease me like this only to pull the carrot away as soon as I reach it is a bit of a cruel joke.

Verdict

The Hive is buzzing with good ideas and real potential but as of right now it is still somewhat unfinished and lacking in mission variety. However, after the recent patch that added tougher enemies and minibosses it has become a lot more fun since you now have a reason to use all of the abilities and tactics at your disposal.

Given how willing the developers were to work with criticism I can't help but recommend you The Hive if you're up for playing a short but sweet RTS/RPG hybrid.

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