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Video Game / Empires of the Undergrowth

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Assimilate, or exterminate.

"Your queen has set up home beneath a rotting log. She is fat, and vulnerable. Her first brood will need to move quickly if the colony is to survive. Their priority now is to find food, and there is plenty around; but there are other hungry creatures in the undergrowth. The workers will need to be vigilant."

Ant War, the Video Game.

Empires of the Undergrowth is an ant colony management game, done in a fast-paced Real-Time Strategy style. It was released on PC through Steam Early Access on December 1st, 2017, and remains in active development as of the time of writing.

The player excavates their nest underground, constructing tunnels and chambers to store food and raise brood. On the surface, the ants claim territory, gather resources, overwhelm fearsome arachnids and clash with other colonies.

Compare to much earlier Empire of the Ants.


Tropes present in this game:

  • And Now For Something Completely Different: Each set of Missions enforces this due to the different diets and gameplay styles of the ants in question. This also teaches the player new mechanics important to each part of the game.
    • Black ant missions require you to defend yourself from local creatures under the rotting log and the slavemaker ants from outside, using very limited resources.
    • Wood ant missions require you to defend yourself from local creatures and other ant colonies running from the rising tides. You get access to the surface and the day/night cycle for the first time.
    • Leafcutter ant missions require you be offensive. You must compete in leaf harvesting with the high ground leafcutter colony in the first mission, and push the army ant hunting trail away in the second one. You can only gain food from farming the leaves you harvest.
    • Lastly, gene-stealer ants (whose can be considered The Protagonist of the game) must expand and adapt in the formicarium, while surviving whatever the scientists throw at them.
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  • An Arm and a Leg: The long-legged harvestman can drop one of its limbs and flee to safety, while the ants continue attacking the twitching severed limb.
  • Anti-Frustration Feature: In between waves for formicarium challenges, food will be dropped on the formicarium, allowing to restock your stores before the onslaught begins anew.
  • Antlion Monster: Oddly enough, true antlions aren't present, as designing their signature funnels would be an absolute pain to model. The role instead goes to tiger beetle larvae, which show up in the challenge mode for Missions 2.1 and 2.2. Unlike most examples of this trope, they can actually leave their burrows to eat your ants. They are only vulnerable when attack, and are very fast, so you either need to avoid them or attack en-masse. Do not expect to come out unscathed from this.
  • Arbitrary Headcount Limit: Your formicarium uses this. Completing formicarium challenges increases this cap.
  • Area of Effect: Level 3 Wood Ant Mortar soldiers gain this effect with their projectiles. Beetles and spiders have this effect in their adult form.
  • Artistic License – Biology: While there are species of ants that have separate worker and soldier casts, none show the level featured in the game's Formica ereptor. Then again, if this was the case in-game, we wouldn't be able to use the various different species of ants in one colony.
  • Ascended to Carnivorism: Quite a number of normally non-insectivorous critters, such as crickets and hermit crabs, are portrayed here as voracious predators of ants. Somewhat justified in this case, as the narrator states that they are "opportunistic feeders", though the amount of aggression they show to the ant colonies in unrealistic and downright suicidal.
  • Bag of Spilling: In order to do further testing on the ants, you colony is moved over from the original formicarium to a new one following the events of the second chapter of the story, nullifying all of the food spent on building tiles. You do get bonus royal jelly as compensation, though.
  • Beef Gate: Each Formicarium challenge functions as one, in order to force the player to learn how to use the different types of ants.
    • The first one merely requires a lot of ants to beat, since you only have black ant warriors.
    • The second one practically requires using wood ants, whether or not you want to, because enemy wood ants will rapidly wear down your black ants while tiger beetles and wolf spiders can kill black ants quickly in close range.
    • The third one forces you to use leafcutter major. Without them tanking hits, enemy army ants and trapjaw ants will totally crush your army. Not mentioning those pesky mantis that can eat most ants to regain health (they can't do this to leafcutter major though).
  • Boring, but Practical: For the first two Formicarium challenges you can just hold the entrance of the nest underground with a huge clump of warriors. This isn't nearly as interesting as trying to fight them off on the surface, but is much more practical and safe especially if you have mortar Green Ants. The second challenge requires you to have a smaller group of ants protecting the queen when the spiders zerg rush the nest, but the same principal applies. This no longer works when you reach the third challenge, though, as the enemy colony gets access to Army Ant Warriors, whose damage buffs will let them shred right through normal black ants. The scientist will shake the formicarium if you stay underground for too long and thus kill lots of ants. You must have strategy to position your army and fight them on the surface.
  • Bottomless Fuel Tanks: Biological example; ants only require food to hatch into usable units from pupae. The ants don't need to eat or go hungry at all.
  • Character Customization: Most upgrades for your ereptor colony are mutually exclusive. For example, Aggressive Broodnote  and Efficient Broodnote  are mutually exclusive upgrades for your formica ereptor workers. You can change them later, but it disables the previous upgrade you bought. The ereptor version of black ant, wood ant and leafcutter ant also have these kind of upgrade, in addition to their unit choice.
    • Formica Rufa colonies have ranged soldiers, but a colony can only [1] choose high-damage but slow-firing mortars, or low-damage but fast-firing shooters. The same applies to leaf cutter ant warriors, who can either choose stun or taunt. Unlike the upgrades mentioned for the workers, this choice is permanent.
  • Construct Additional Pylons: Each nursery tile is tied to a single individual ant you control.
  • Demonic Spiders: This trope is invoked by different creatures based on the mission. In the challenge modes for missions 1.1 and 1.2, mole crickets are definitely these. They can spawn on any tiles you worked on, and spawn more in number and frequency as the level progresses.
  • Divergent Character Evolution: Excluding the queen, worker ants and black ants, every ant in the game can be evolved to possess one of two abilites, as well as unique sub abilities to complement them.
  • Easy Communication: Averted Unlike other RTS games, you don't command ants, you can only suggest them to move to the pheromone marker direction. Ants that reach the marker but fail to find a job will trail back to the nest.
  • Evil Is One Big, Happy Family: Played With:
    • Played Straight during Formicarium Challenges - enemy ants and non-ant creatures will ignore each other in favor of killing your colony.
    • Zig-Zagged in Missions - enemy creatures will ignore each others, but enemy ants will attack enemy creatures and vice versa, while everyone gangs up on woodlice and woodworms.
    • Averted in Freeplay - everything will try to kill everything else.
  • Giant Mook: Leafcutter majors are truly immense and powerful and pack quite a punch.
  • Goddamned Bats: Like Demonic Spiders, this trope is invoked by different creatures based on the mission. The hermit crabs in mission 2.1 do little damage, but are very durable and can regenerate health. The slavemaker ants in 1.2 are usually this once your colony becomes large enough.
  • Harder Than Hard: Missions 1.1 and 1.2 have "challenge" modes that have an added bonus of spawning mole crickets with high health and damage. Missions 2.1 and 2.2 also have this, with the crickets replaced by tiger beetle larvae.
    • The devs have confirmed that every mission in the game will have a challenge mode, so more are going to come.
  • Hard Mode Perks: Higher difficulties allow players to gain more resources when they complete a mission. Challenge mode can be enabled for the same effect, and both can be used to significantly increase your haul for each mission.
  • Herbivores Are Friendly: Subverted with the leafcutter ants: while the narrator states that they are strictly plant-eaters and seldom attack unless provoked, they are willing to fight to the death if necessary.
  • Hub Level: The formicarium acts as this for the ants. Here, food is placed on the surface to be harvested, territory can be spent to expand the nest, and royal jelly is used to upgrade your ants.
  • In-Universe Game Clock: Starting from the second batch of missions.
    • In 2.1 and 2.2, during the day, the beaches will be covered with hapless morsels, tiger beetles wander the high ground, and aphids will only be under attack from at most one ladybird at a time. At night, hermit crabs and wolf spiders will begin to invade your nest, devil's coach horse beetles gather around your aphid farms, while the number and frequency of ladybird attacks on your aphids will increase.
    • In 3.1 and 3.2, jumping spiders and praying mantis roam during the day while harvestman, rove beetles and bush crickets appear at night. In 3.2, army ant army marches during the day while at night, the huge whip spider comes out of its hiding place.
  • Mook Debut Cutscene: When your ants discover a certain mook for the first time, the narrator briefly talks about that specific species.
    Narrator: A sanguinea scout has noticed the presence of the black ants. A raid on the colony is now inevitable.
    • Inverted: In 3.1 and 3.2, the narrator only talks about rove beetles larvae and adult when you encounter them in your nest, even if you have killed many of them on the surface.
  • Mooks but No Bosses: The campaign levels don't actually have a boss, you usually have to survive a giant wave of mooks at the end of the level.
    • Mission 2.1 subverts this trope; the final wave of nest-invading mooks is actually a huge wolf spider with an army of formidable spiderlings!
    • Survival mode also subverts this, as it has bosses in the form of Uber Creatures. Killing one is extremely difficult, but the rewards are massive.
    • The second leafcutter ant mission has an adult whip-spider as its optional boss, only emerging if the playthrough exceeds a number of in-game nights, depend on difficulty. Killing it doesn't end the level, but it guard the plant with the most leaves in the entire map.
  • Nice Hat: "Arachnophobe Mode" makes arachnids such as spider less menacing by giving them hats.
  • Nightmare Fuel: Given that it's a game about bugs, it's pretty much expected.
    • The spiders. Fast, vicious and sneaky, they're a bane of every player at night, as they can very easily sneak unnoticed into your nest at night and attack your queen without warning.
      • And the final miniboss of the beach level: a mother wolf spider and her innumerable swarm of spiderlings! The huge mother is bad enough, but her tiny youngsters are so small they're barely visible, and with such speed and numbers, they're everywhere in your nest at once...
    • The narrator can become eerily ominous at times, making familiar and mundane insects sound like terrifying monsters through his darkly poetic descriptions.
    • The male scientist is pretty creepy. While his collegue seems only interested in the ants for research purposes, his obsession with the ants seems to imply that he has more... nefarious plans for the little bugs.
    • The Formica ereptor themselves may count as this. An all-conquering ant species that can assimilate DNA from other species and breed highly varied and adaptable soldiers of their own? The next closest real-life counterpart would be the invasive Argentine ant with its massive supercolonies and tendency to displace natice ants in its path, and look at the damage it has caused. Now imagine if it had superpowers.
    • The optional boss of the leafcutter level is a massive Whip Spider with horrific spiked forelimbs that can kill even majors in one swipe. Sweet dreams, everyone.
  • Non-Entity General: The player can be considered this, though there are scientists who watch over your formicarium.
  • Not Playing Fair With Resources: The rival colonies in 2.2 don't seem to require resources to produce ants.
    • The rival leafcutter colony in the third level has random spawners that constantly produce majors!
  • Power Glows: Uber creatures have this, indicating they are the most superior version of their species.
  • Scripted Event: After killing a funnel-web spider and placing a few nurseries, a single slavemaker ant will enter the nest and steal a brood. The ant can't be stopped, and the narrator will warn you of their discovery.
  • So Last Season: Each Formicarium Challenge introduces at least one creature that acts as a counter to the ants unlocked in the previous section, in order to encourage using the new ants obtained during that section.
    • The second batch of missions includes tiger beetles and wolf spiders, who not only hit hard and fast, but have area of effect attacks, effectively rendering a group of black ants useless.
    • The third Formicarium Challenge involves fighting another colony, which you must enter their nest and kill their queen, effectively turning the previous strategy of holding enemies in choke points against you. Army ants with their attack buff will crush your army, and praying mantis with acid resistance will make a quick work of your wood ant.
  • Strong Ants: A Downplayed example, but your workers, black ants, and wood ants can all carry a juvenile Devil's Coach Horse beetle back to your nest on their own, in-spite of the vast difference in size between these organisms. This is less egregious in the case of Leaf Cutter Ants, which are roughly the same size as the beetle larvae, and Averted with regards to larger insects, who are instead cut up by your ants and carried back to your nest in pieces.
  • Tech Tree: How you upgrade your formica ereptor colony.
  • Underground Monkey: Missions 3.1 and 3.2 will feature Rove Beetles as enemies, which are mostly PaletteSwaps of the Devil's Coach Horse Beetles you fight in the first few missions. [[Justified The DCH is a type of rove beetle, though, so this isn't unexpected.]]
  • Violation of Common Sense: Despite the fact that your ants need numbers to defeat most enemies, the game actually encourages you to build your nests with long and narrow paths, which limits your ability to use said numbers. However, you can fit more than one ant into a tile, allowing you to bottleneck enemies and force them to fight through your ants to reach a more open area.
  • Where the Hell Is Springfield?: The game never really specifies where ant colonies (and the formicarium) are located. Word of God has confirmed that black ants and wood ants live in a forest near a beach in Europe, and the leafcutter ants are natives to Ecuador.
  • Worker Unit: They are the only ants that can build tiles and dig through the ground. They can fight, but are weak individually. You can upgrade them to be better fighters, but this comes at the cost of efficiency with domestic duties until the ability is turned off.
    • Aside from the worker "minors", the leafcutter ants have an even smaller caste called "minims" which hatch for free and are not directly controlled by the player, instead automatically performing inside-nest activities such as transporting leaves and disposing of waste.
  • Zerg Rush: Being in control of an ant colony usually means invoking this trope often.
    • The antagonistic Eciton army ants that attack during the leafcutter campaign are a special mention, as they literally flow through the map like a river of ants, slowly moving toward your nest and forcing you to block off their pathways.


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