The Ancients AR review: Summon giants and engage in epic sea battles

Have you ever wanted to wage war in the middle of the seas and summon powerful creatures that can cause massive bursts of destruction? If you said yes to any of those things, then you should check out The Ancients AR, which is an exciting new real-time strategy game that utilizes the power of Apple's ARKit technology to bring augmented reality (AR) to your tabletop gaming experience.

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Usually, I'm not a big fan of strategy games since I don't think I'm that great at them (there's plenty of casualties on my side), but I had to check out this one because the AR mode looked interesting.

Story and setting

With most strategy games I've tried, they end up having fairly interesting and in-depth storylines to go along with the action. The Ancients is no different.

In this game, players discover the lore behind the Ancients, which are powerful and gigantic creatures that are allies with the faction that you're playing as. These incredibly strong creatures can dish out some serious damage and turn the tide of battle in your favor.

Your world's been invaded by pesky foes trying to take over the land, and it's up to you and the Ancients to keep them at bay. Each level in the game reveals a bit more of the story through smooth, cinematic cutscenes that feature hand-drawn artwork. The voice dialogue's done well too, and there are subtitles, so you can catch on to every word.

Gameplay and controls

Even if you don't often play real-time strategy games, the gameplay here is pretty simple and straightforward. There's also a tutorial that explains each step of the process if you need it.

Each stage has a set of three objectives. To earn the most rewards from these levels, you'll want to complete all of the objectives if you can. Sometimes this involves multiple playthroughs.

Before you start each battle, you'll need to compile your deck. Your deck consists of up to eight cards, which are essentially the ships you're bringing into battle. Each available ship has a certain cost, and you can bring them as long as you can afford it.

All of the ships you can pick from have their own set of stats and abilities, which you can see prior to purchasing. Once your deck is finished, you then go into battle.

Your ships start out on a specific side of the battlefield on each stage. Red circles indicate which direction enemy ships are going to come in from.

To move your ships, just tap on them (or their card) to select them, and then tap where you want to direct them to. Each ship has a highlighted area around or in front of it, which indicates its attack range. Once enemies enter that zone, the ships will automatically attack.

In order to use special moves, the enemy ships need to be within range, and then you can tap the button off to the bottom left corner for the selected ship. Once these moves get used, there's a cooldown before you're able to use it again. Another button appears next to this special move if the ship has another ability so you can just tap it when it's charged to use.

Health bars appear above both your ships and enemies to tell you how they're doing. As you attack and take down foes, you're also charging up the ability to call upon the Ancients. When it's ready to go, a button appears on the right-hand side of the screen, and you simply drag it onto the battlefield where you want to position the Ancient.

Once it's on the field, you can tap on it to select it and then pick a target for it to begin attacking. But don't get cocky! Ancients may be stronger than your normal units, but they can still get taken down if you're not careful.

Overall, the controls for The Ancients is pretty easy, but when things get a bit chaotic, it can be hard to remember how to manage your resources. There's also a button on the left-hand side that allows you to slow down the action, giving you more time to think about your moves.

After you've complete level 7, you'll unlocked the option to upgrade your Ancients, strengthening them to be more devastating in battle.

Augmented reality mode

During my testing of the game, I had to give the AR mode a try since it's heavily advertised for the game. Personally, I found it to be too gimmicky for regular use.

When you select AR mode, the game displays an outline of where the board's going to be placed through your camera viewfinder. It requires a flat desk or floor to play on, so you'll need to make sure the surface is clean.

As you start a battle in AR mode, the battlefield comes to life right before your eyes through your device's camera. The controls for moving around and using your abilities remains the same, but you can just move the device around to zoom in or out of the map, and put focus on one area, rather than using your fingers.

Again, I found this mode to be more of a gimmick to show off to friends rather than a practical way to play the game. This is because it gets tiring to hold the device up to see the board and also control your units at the same time.

It's neat, but definitely not my preferred way to play.

Sound and design

In terms of audio and visual design, I think The Ancients is done pretty well.

The graphics are rendered in full 3D, and with the top-down perspective, it's easy to see the entire battlefield in a glance. I found the textures of the game world to look fantastic, as it feels realistic to a degree. The Ancients, when summoned, take center stage once you release them, and seeing them deal their massive attacks is truly immersive.

Animations during battle are smooth and fluid, though I did find the movement to be a bit slow at times. I wish that my ships would move a little faster, especially when I have a swarm of enemies coming my way, but I suppose that's just bad planning on my part (told you I'm not the best strategist).

Music in The Ancients is your standard medieval adventure fare. It's atmospheric and immersive, fitting in well with the overall theme. The sound effects during battle are quite fun and realistic with what you'd expect from sea battles. I also like the battle cry of each ship as they follow your command.

The cutscenes are my favorite part, as I found them beautiful to behold and the voice acting is superb. It truly pulls you into the world of The Ancients.

My verdict


  • Challenging levels
  • A lot of replay value
  • Interesting story that unfolds through gorgeous cutscenes
  • Simple controls that are pretty straightforward


  • Movement of ships feels a bit slow at times
  • Not very forgiving of small mistakes
  • Takes some time to get used to
  • AR mode is more of a gimmick than a practical way to play

While I'm not the best at real-time strategy games, I'm still finding The Ancients AR to be a fairly enjoyable title. It's challenging enough to keep me interested, and just takes some practice to get used to the entire system. It originally launched with a hefty $7 price tag, which I did think was a bit steep for just having a single-player campaign mode, but the developers are promising more play modes in future updates. If you're interested in Ancient AR, you might want to get it while it's priced at just $2.99. Once more content is added, the price will probably go back up.

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Christine Chan

Christine Romero-Chan was formerly a Senior Editor for iMore. She has been writing about technology, specifically Apple, for over a decade at a variety of websites. She is currently part of the Digital Trends team, and has been using Apple’s smartphone since the original iPhone back in 2007. While her main speciality is the iPhone, she also covers Apple Watch, iPad, and Mac when needed. When she isn’t writing about Apple, Christine can often be found at Disneyland in Anaheim, California, as she is a passholder and obsessed with all things Disney, especially Star Wars. Christine also enjoys coffee, food, photography, mechanical keyboards, and spending as much time with her new daughter as possible.