Sword of the Stars Review (PC)

Developer Kerberos delivers an old favourite flavour to turn based strategy; a space based 4X’er!  For those who have lived under a very dark, technologically devoid rock, the four X's stand for explore, expand, exploit and exterminate.

One mean space gun The tech ‘tree’

You’ll soon realise that there’s no set storyline or plot here, instead you’re handed the opportunity to dominate an entire galaxy.  You can choose to setup your own custom games where you can decide the general shape of the system, number of planets, starting cash, technologies, difficulty and a number of other finer tweaks.  Alternatively you can try your hand at the ready made scenarios.

A game, whether custom or not, can easily last for days depending on your preferred strategy, number of players and the difficulty setting.  Choosing to play a huge galaxy could even take weeks especially if you’re new to the game.

The tutorial is a must if you have no experience with a 4X title, and even if you do its best you see how Sword of the Stars has its take on things.  Simplicity is usually a gamer’s friend when it comes to controls, and it delivers as a catch twenty-two here.  The GUI is very clean and very straight forward which is a great big thumbs up.  The downside is that there are not a lot of helpful hints during a game, so unless you have a fantastic memory you could find yourself stumbling a little or maybe even a lot.

You have four races to choose from, SolForce, the Liir, Hivers and Tarkas Imperium.  Each has their own very unique and distinctive fleet designs but it doesn’t stop just there.  The Hivers are essentially an insect hive and travel quite slowly to each new planet but have the ability to build jump gates that allow instantaneous travel.  The Liir and Tarkas Imperium have hyper drives which scoot them about.  Now the human SolForce use Nodes to travel very fast between planets but once a course is set it cannot be diverted, and if they can’t use them then it’s very slow sub light speeds.

Brief project information Pie break down

This makes for interesting strategies as you move fleets around, and can offer something varied when you choose a new race other than just a different appearance.  Research is also something unique as its random each time, preventing you from ‘perfecting’ a route in the tech tree.  Just because you can research shields this time, doesn’t mean you’ll get it next time so tactics will need to change.

The galaxy itself is portrayed through a 3D map, which delivers the perfect representation except it’s also a big issue to deal with.  Zooming around at first may seem great and everything but it gets old soon enough as you realise decisions can be hampered.  Clicking on planets or fleets fixes the camera on that object which is the only effective way to ‘scroll’.  Sadly there’s no option to condense the galaxy into a 2D view if you find it too frustrating.

Empire management is too a minimal here, so other than colonizing and deciding how much of the pie (chart) is spent on research etc. there’s nothing demanding.  You’ll be focusing on research, exploration and fleet building and movements.  Ship designs are a must; you decide the modules that make a destroyer, cruiser or dreadnaught what it is.  You can tweak what weapons they use, engines and the type of bridge as long as you’ve researched them.

Fleet combat is in real time and by default is on a time limit, which can end in a draw.  The graphics are okay but nothing much to fawn over, you get a variety of effects from the selection of weapons you can equip ships with.  Commanding ships is easy and you can give them orders which will set them off on their own. If you don’t even feel like take charge yourself you can have the computer do it for you, providing you remember how to by clicking the crossed guns so they change to a computer screen.

Diplomacy is rudimentary and very easy to use; a non-aggression pact, alliance or just plain old war is available to you.

Planets have a climate hazard rating so not all can be colonized by you; if the number exceeds a threshold then colonists have no chance in settling down.  Others will be terraformed slowly as the turns go by, which can be sped up researching new biological projects or investing more into terraformation.  As they become more and more like your homeworld, productivity and the population size will improve also.  Some planets are limited to what they can produce depending on their size.

Multiplayer is easy to setup and should an unfortunate disconnect occur, the game will save at that point so you can load back up and let the ‘lost’ gamers reconnect.  Online games can last a very long time just like in single player, so communication with other players could be crucial to keep up interest or just for fun/trade.  However a research hurdle can make cross-race communications difficult, as to understand what they say you have to ‘research’ their language.

Defining your galaxy The space web

Sword of the Stars is an involving game, with interesting varied strategic options and challenges thrown at the player.  Less micromanagement fuss and more big number fleet action is what it aims to deliver.  Yes it does provide some great battles and gets your head thinking, but the catch twenty-two interface hurts – simple UI but striped a little too bare perhaps?

Top Game Moment:
Seeing some Dreadnaughts in action for the first time.

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