In June 2021, a small but surprisingly strong contender was released in the 4X strategy space. The Ants stood out from the crowd with its unusual theme – the game follows the life of an ant colony trying to make it in the wild – and piqued the interest of gamers all over the world, managing to reach top200 in the US and Japanese market. What really differentiates The Ants from the rest, however, is not just the theme but the game’s mechanics, which give it an entirely different feel from the usual 4X we’re used to.
In this blog post, we take a look at how The Ants: Underground Kingdom differentiates itself from its competitors.
General data on The Ants
The Ants has performed decently since launch. The game has cemented its position within the top100 games, and its revenue per download numbers are steadily increasing.
The motivations data for The Ants indicates that the game puts slightly more emphasis on the social elements than the average 4X game. It is also much more management and resource optimization heavy. This is likely due to the game’s varied upgrading system but also due to the way the daily gameplay focus shifts from one mechanic to another. This type of shifting requires players to be mindful of spending their resources at the correct timings.
The lone Queen uses its remaining strength to establish a colony underground, and that’s where the journey begins. As in 4X titles generally, the player is first familiarized with the base (called anthill in The Ants) and its construction mechanics and is soon introduced to the core gameplay map for some resource collecting and enemy fighting.
The rough core loop is as follows:
We’re playing a game about ants, so it would be strange if the main characters of the game were not ants. Special Ants are ants of varying species, each of which has its own specialties and abilities. Insects are creatures that lead armies and provide them with boosts. There are various ways to upgrade and develop these creatures, opening up a myriad of IAP monetization possibilities. They provide several boosts for the player’s troops in battle and are also commonly used in most PvE and PvP modes.
Armies wouldn’t be anything without troops. The Ants has three different troop types (Guardians, Shooters, and Carriers), each of which has its own specialty and strengths. Troops can be generated in designated buildings and upgraded to their stronger versions, much like troops in most 4X games.
Mutation Flora is a building inside the base that, after being built and leveled up, unlocks a series of Troop enhancing upgrades. Each of them requires materials collected from various side modes of the game. The Mutation Flora is partly a way to encourage players to participate in the side modes daily in order to get stronger over time.
In the vein of having a solid collecting meta, collecting and upgrading characters is monetized heavily: upgrading materials and speed-up items are sold in multiple packs throughout the game, and gacha pulls can be purchased. However, The Ants’ monetization does not differ significantly from other successful titles on the market and is, frankly, nothing special.
Where The Ants really shines is how the game’s social gameplay has been structured.
The Ants’ social elements
4X titles are very social at their core, with a huge focus on guild interaction. The Ants is no different. Very early on, the player is introduced to guilds (called Alliance) and is required to join if they wish to benefit from the various guild perks the game has to offer. Even daily quests are locked if the player is not part of a guild, so joining is one of the top priorities in the game.
Guilds provide plenty of boosts, some familiar to those who have played 4X titles before. The guild research, donating, and helping other guild members with their personal research and constructing are all there. Some monsters in the core game map can only be attacked with guild mates, and Alliance Gifts from those monsters are distributed to all guild members.
While many 4X titles limit the social interaction to that within the guild, The Ants has taken a slightly different approach by expanding it for the whole server. The battle for the ruling spot on the server is still there, but the whole server benefits more if it starts to work together as a unit.
Early on, players can choose one of the three classes for their Ant Queen. Each class gives various boosts to the player: Cultivator specializes in resource production and gathering, Raider specializes in fighting, and Herder focuses on supporting allies by efficient resource distribution.
In Warzone construction, each player can complete tasks appointed to their chosen ant class and contribute to the construction. With each completed task, the player gains class experience and earns Privilege points for the server. The King of the server can turn on Warzone buffs with the Privilege points, which benefits all players.
The King is appointed through the War of Kings event, during which all Alliances fight to claim the throne (the tree pictured above). The server I’m active in does not really have a proper War of Kings because the ruling Alliance is so far ahead of everyone else. That’s why the ruling Alliance does not change, and they just reclaim the throne without much opposition.
The objective of the ruler is not to overpower everyone else but to help everyone to succeed against other servers. This seems to be the case in many other servers as well, which makes the gameplay feel more cooperative compared to other games of the same genre.
Server versus server
Server versus server events are one of the driving factors of the game. The focus is mostly on defeating other servers and rising in the ranks for precious rewards.
During Strongest Warzone, two servers are pitted against each other. The winner of the event is the server that has managed to collect more points than the other. Every player can contribute by completing a series of tasks daily, gathering points for their server with each completion.
Even a more casual player can contribute to the daily challenges and be of use. The challenges change daily, but the rotation is the same week in and week out. That way, the player can plan their gameplay because they know exactly what the focus of the day will be. Strongest Warzone has a ranking system, which motivates the servers to do their best.
Visual elements and theme
The theme of the game is certainly very intriguing. While 4X titles have mostly based their settings on the zombie apocalypse or historical themes, ants (or animal themes in general) have never been on the top of the list. The ant theme is so out there it’s brilliant — and it fits the sub-genre and the gameplay perfectly, too!
Another thing that really differentiates The Ants from its competitors is the general visual look of the game. The Ants looks crisp, and its colors are vivid. Many 4X games tend to look a bit murky and even a bit low quality, so this feels like a refreshing approach.
One area where the game’s visual appeal really shows is the decoration. Like in many 4X games, The Ants has implemented decorative skins for the bases. But the decorating doesn’t stop there: Players can furnish the inside of their base with ornaments (collected mainly from events) which give small boosts as well. Decorations inside the base are something we’ve seen pop up in a couple of 4X games lately. The beautiful skin designs and cute ornaments are nice to look at and make even the core game map look better and more refined.
4X or a farming simulator?
Because the day-to-day playing is generally very peaceful, the game feels a bit more casual compared to other titles of the same genre. Shield usage does not seem that critical (at least if you’re part of one of the top guilds) when in most games, you would certainly be annihilated if caught without your shield up. When the focus is on the server battles, other guilds are seen more as allies than enemies.
The downside would obviously be that for those who enjoy the PvP element of 4X, The Ants can get a bit boring and feel a bit like a farming simulator. The server I’m in does not face many conflicts, and the ruling guild is so strong that there’s no way to challenge the throne. The Ants has introduced several PvP modes and server versus server battle events to combat this.
The new addition to the game, the “Race of Champions – Lost Island” seasonal event, is a good way to bring some variety to the game. The mode is essentially a seasonal playing map, a feature we’ve seen implemented in multiple 4X titles as of late. It enables players to have a fresh start without losing their existing progression in the main game and have a healthy competition against others at the same time. Seasonal maps give the same vibe as resetting maps in many Chinese 4X titles, giving a fresh feeling to a game that might otherwise get a bit stale over time.
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