Sword of the Stars II Preview (PC)

Despite the impressive tech demos, the talks, the wish-lists and the dreams, you can never really get a 'feel' for a game without getting a complete build in your hands. As amazing as Kerberos has made Sword of the Stars II sound, do this kind of thing for long enough and you'll soon learn that keeping a "believe it when we see it" mentality is key. But with only four months left on the clock, we're finally seeing the game come together, and for the first time Strategy Informer got to play around with a more complete build.

In the grim darkness of the far future, there is only- wait, wrong franchise...
The basics of the game you should already know - Sword of the Stars II is set 100 years after the first game, and is a thematic and logical evolution of that original title. This is reflected in the way things have been set up - technology has advanced, empires have been formed, politics have evolved... there's a real paradigm shift as to how the game plays. SOTS2 also sees the return of the 'Lords of Winter', an ancient, terrible, and fully playable extra race which we're told has a completely different play style to the other five, but what that entails is probably going to be a secret right up until we get a review going.

The changes are immediately apparent - from the stunningly beautiful MARS 2.0 engine, to simply how you set up a game. There will still be a wide selection of shaped Galaxy Maps to choose from, although this time the position of the stars are 'fixed' for each map. However, the specifics of those stars - what kind of planets it has, resources etc... will be randomised each time, so there's still customisation and randomization there to keep things interesting. You can also choose the size and number of stars as well.

Managing your empire seems like it's going to very similar, although there are several key changes - instead of those abstract trade zones, you can set up semi-autonomous provinces or regions. Instead of having to micro-manage your fleet's fuel, you simple assign them to a base of operations, and they will have a certain range they can operate out to. That change in particular will make exploration and recon slightly more difficult, but it's in line with the thematic shift from exploration to empires. Independent colonies - either splinter groups of your race, or new, emerging 'minor' races, will have more of an impact and you can interact with them in more ways as well.
Very nice, although we can't help but feel they've spent way more time on the ships than they have the planatery bodies...
Even the political landscape has changed - each race now has several ideological factions that are attributed to certain play styles and decisions. When you deal with a another empire diplomatically, not only do you have to take into account their race and beliefs, but also what faction you're dealing with as well. This also opens up new gameplay avenues in terms of coups and civil wars.

Other factors - like the technology tree, have also been touched upon already, but in all honesty that will probably be the most familiar part of the game. Tech trees are still randomized, and the kind of techs available have been updated to reflect the times. However, it's important to note that all technologies will be viewable at once, and you won't know what techs have been 'assigned' to you that playthrough until you start working your way up the tree. Instead, techs that are officially 'off-limits' to you are still technically achievable, through surveys, random events, or getting it off another ace. There's also the interesting mechanic of 'prototype' ships in the ship design section, although that's something we're probably going to have to wait to find out about

And then of course there's the new MARS 2.0 engine, and how that's effected the game. We've spoken a bit about it already, but seeing it perform outside of the a tech demo is still pretty impressive. No you don't need to be in a real-time battle scenario to glimpse the solar system and the planets around it (although you still load in to a more detailed map, we think, when it comes to tactical engagements). Not only that, but the changes made to how combat works are also highly visible as well. Instead of just being comprised of three 'sections' (where if you lost 2/3, the ship blew up), ships are now made up of varying sup systems, and each 'side' has its own shield and armour rating which are visually highlighted.

You can read up on interviews or press information as to what specifically this means for combat, as Kerberos have certainly spoken a lot about this, but to see in action is again nice to see. Weapon effects seem a little underwhelming at the moment, but we imagine those will be improved come the final build. The damage that the ship's skin shows doesn't necessarily effect what the read-outs say comprehensively, but like the first game there are visual indicators to show that your ship is getting pummelled. What we're really excited about is the more realistic damage 'blocks', with different weapons having different effects - shallow gouges, deep penetrations... should be fun.

This was in no way the final build however - it's still got content missing, still got a lot of work left on it, but it's getting there. As is common in game development, the final few months are actually spent bug-hinting and troubleshooting as opposed to actually developing or creating features, so we wouldn't be surprised if it'll be 'complete' sometime within the next couple of months.

Here you can see the new UI read-outs for ship health and damage. Very Sci-Fi!

But what we've seen so far is certainly exciting, and this game is shaping up rather nicely. The major changes are going to need some getting used to, but we're not that attached to how things used to be, so we're keeping an open mind. As always though, the release date can never seem to come quick enough. Sword of the Stars II is due out on PC on August 16th, 2011.

Oh, and we totally saw a Suul'ka ship.

Most anticipated feature: Getting to grips fully with the new combat engine and how it plays.

Game advertisements by <a href="" target="_blank">Game Advertising Online</a> require iframes.


By djole381 (SI Elite) on May 12, 2011
Game looks EPIC!!! Can't wait anymore. :D
By Evrett (SI Newbie) on May 13, 2011
Just remember Kerb has yet to release a product or patch without frustrating or game breaking bugs. I lol'd in the interview when the developer said "we walk the talk" since their past products show a lot of ambition but rocky follow through. Take whatever date your expecting it and add 6 months.
By jp161 (I just got here) on May 13, 2011
Now who's being a little grumpy? ;)
If we go with facts instead of fiction, it's actually exact opposite to that comment. SotS 1 is one of the most stable and bug-free games around. On top of that there is still one more patch coming, probably around the time of SotS 2 release. One thing TO remember though, is that SotS was released 2006, it's 2011 now. Kerberos does indeed 'walk the talk'.

As far as Fort Zombie goes, it was a small title intended as a testbed for Northstar's combat engine. The pricetag reflected this too.

Gotta love the new look of those ships in SotS 2, easily my most waited game of 2011. And the wait has been looong :D
By erdrik (SI Newbie) on May 13, 2011
Also can't wait for this game.
I love its look so far, and the devs have shown in the past they know what they are doing.
Evrett realy needs to get over his little stalker grudge.
I "lol'd" at his lies.
By Evrett (SI Newbie) on May 13, 2011
"SotS 1 is one of the most stable and bug-free games around" Umm stable? after how many years and how many patches that fixed one thing and broke another. And its not bug free..there are entire ships that dont work for example. And its been a year since the last patch and prob several more months until they address the errors introduced with the last "patch"
By Evrett (SI Newbie) on May 13, 2011
Erdrik how about telling the world how Kerberos treats its game moders?
By erdrik (SI Newbie) on May 13, 2011
They are very helpful and fair. Dunno what you actualy expected me to say, since I am very happy with SotS moddability and their mod support.
Evrett, you realy do need to grow up. SotS1 has long since been past its development cycle. The "year since the last patch" was spent working on SotS2.
And honestly I dunno what junk heap of PC you have that can't run SotS1, but SotS has always run stable for me. And thats across 3 different PC builds.
By Evrett (SI Newbie) on May 14, 2011
I've seen you and other mods berated by developers unprofessional behavior..but I'm not surprised you wont be honest about it..Everyone walks on eggshells on that forum hoping not to be picked on.

Sots1 had and has faulty half written events like the the Locutus or non existent AI for whole race (Zuul) or whole ships or feature not functional for 2 or more patch cycles like moral or diplomacy.

Nothing has changed in the culture of this company in 5 odd years and I fully expect Sots2 to be poorly tested and "rough" upon release. I'd love to be wrong but I wont be.
By erdrik (SI Newbie) on May 14, 2011
There is no such thing as a "Locutus" event.
Now the Locust event? Yea, thats not an "event". Its a Grand Menace and it worked and works just as intended.

And I'd realy appreciate it if you'd stop talking about the culture of a community you were rightfuly banned from.
Several times I might add.

Once again, I lol at your lies.
By jp161 (I just got here) on May 14, 2011
SotS 1 is very stable. Only times I've managed to crash the game have been with me modding something that just doesn't work. I also do plenty of modding and no, I haven't seen any reason to walk on eggshells either...

Oh, can't say I've seen too many games that can be left into the system tray for days and they'll boot up just nicely afterwards. ;)

Btw, you forgot to mention which ships, for example, do not work at all...
By Evrett (SI Newbie) on May 14, 2011
5 years later yes its stable..but it wasnt when it released, (in fact you couldnt even get patches for 2 of the 3 versions) nor were the subsequent patches properly tested. And since nothing is changed, anyone who thinks otherwise can study Fort Zombie, Kerberos products are something to be avoided for the first 6 or so months of release.

Locust, a "Grand Menace", crashed the game when spawned and then were subsequently made to self destruct as a band aid for several months. The Liir Propaganda ship has been broken since its release. There were also bugs with treaties like forever and people have been complaining lately of problems with fleet setup bugs.It has been a year since the last "patch".

Kerb has a history of releasing buggy products. Its not my opinion - its a historical pattern. The game would be better off without sycophants who live in fanbioland rather than address the testing needs of a game with much potential.
By DarkCecilo (I just got here) on May 14, 2011
It is in my humble opinion that trolls who have been banned should not rage about their ban by trying to downplay others products because he has a pessimistic attitude and a grudge.
By erdrik (SI Newbie) on May 15, 2011
Evrett, the game has been stable for me since day one.
It has also been stable for most of the players.

>(in fact you couldnt even get patches for 2 of the 3 versions)<

This is an outright lie. As evidenced by the version history:

Fort Zombie was a testbed for another games engine, and was priced accordingly. As such is not an accurate comparison.

The Locust never once crashed my game.
The other bugs you mentioned were only revealed after AMoC/ANY and the Devs have already acknowledged them, as well as plans to fix them.

>It has been a year since the last "patch".<

Ive already addressed this statement.
>>SotS1 has long since been past its development cycle. The "year since the last patch" was spent working on SotS2.
By Evrett (SI Newbie) on May 15, 2011
When Sots was originally released it came in 3 formats - Kerberos Hardcopy, Direct2drive and Gamersgate. The first couple patches were only available to people who purchased the hardcopy version due to copy protection issues Kerb had failed to negotiate with the download company. It took several months before the direct2drive people got their at all patches and Gamergate got them much later than the hardcopy customers. None of these irregularities Kerb told their customers about beforehand.

FZ was a kerberos product, it was released halfbaked at best and no one was told prior to purchase that t would be a "test bed" or whatever fanbio spin you are putting on it. I dont want to rip on FZ because it clearly was a labor of love but its a perfect example of why no one should by kerberos products until 6 months after release. The same policy and testing behavior that was in place at Sots launch was in place at FZ launch and sadly will be there for Sots 2 launch. Buyer Beware.

Like you I want Sots2 to succeed because I like what I've seen so far and I like what I've got in the past. Beacause the end result is so good im willing to look beyond the developers..eccentricities..but to future customers, since Kerberos isnt going to change the incestuous testing that continually led to problems then the best I can do is lead people away from the game at its release and hope they pick it up later and miss the frustrating bugs that are guarenteed by past results to come with.
By erdrik (SI Newbie) on May 15, 2011
>The first couple patches were only available to people who purchased the hardcopy version due to copy protection issues Kerb had failed to negotiate with the download company. It took several months before the direct2drive people got their at all patches and Gamergate got them much later than the hardcopy customers. None of these irregularities Kerb told their customers about beforehand.<
This was the fault of the download services and the publisher. It is the PUBLISHERS responsability to handle public relations like "telling their customers about beforehand". The PUBLISHER also has the ability(and this is generaly true for any game) to delay a patch or update for purposes of PUBLISHER testing.
It is in the nature of the beast to have delays when dealing with updating products between multiple companies.
(besides your Gamersgate complaint is in error since Gamersgate releases have always be 100% compatible with straight from Kerb updates)
Your grasping at straws Evrett. Not just here but your vain attempts at the Paradox forums as well.
Buyer Beware? Yes. They should beware your erroneous and petty statements.
By JustCommunication (SI Core) on May 16, 2011
Hey guys - wow, this has certainly gotten lively hasn't it? I'm glad you're all passionate about this, but I'd like to ask you to take it elsewhere now, please.

Evrett: I respect your opinion, but I think you've made your point now, thank you. If you continue I'm going to have to treat this as 'Trolling' and act accordingly.

Guests: I know you want to defend your game, but you know how these things work - you posts, he posts, you posts... it's an unending cycle. Thank you again for dropping in, and I hope you decide to stick around.

Regulars: If any of you lot are watching, I don't need to ask you to keep out, cheers guys.

Joe 'JustCommunication' Robinson
Deputy Editor
By nocutius (SI Elite) on May 16, 2011
There can never be too many good 4X space games. One of my favorite genres, so i'm obviously waiting for this one.
By Skywriter (I just got here) on May 22, 2011
I had picked up a copy of the original SOTS for $6 in a bargain bin several years ago. Best $6 I ever spent. I never had any stability or playability issues even with that original version or any of the subsequent patches. I purchased the complete collection as a download about a year ago and have had no problems with that either. For a game, I would say that Kerberos has done an above average job of producing a stable and bug free platform. I have really enjoy playing SOTS and the extensive modding capabilities help keep the game fresh. I had played - and liked - MOO and MOOII but did not really like MOOIII. I am really looking forward to SOTS II.