I’m still not writing to say that MOO2 has been unseated from it’s throne as best 4X space game ever, but Sword of the Stars may be the closest thing to bastard upstart rival capable of causing a genre wide (or at least, Golden Jew wide) civil war. The full game builds upon the demo, showing that the guys at Kerebros know what they’re doing and have created an extremely entertaining, robust game with a great deal of replayability.
This review will be written assuming you read my demo review. If you haven’t, you should go read it. Let me touch upon some high level items first. The one personal pet peeve I have about SOTS is they decided to go the route of “you should discover the intricacies of the game by playing it.” This means the manual is useless and does not dissect all of the racial bonuses, give massive detail of weapon stats, or descriptions of the tech tree. I find this very, very annoying.
Fortunately, thanks to the internet, a robust wiki will satisfy your detail craving. I recommend the entire thing as required reading for playing this game, unless you are the type to enjoy floundering around in the dark (I’m more of a lights on kind of guy myself). It is from this Wiki you will learn neat things such as the fact the Liir have the lowest HP, but inertia-less ships, or that the Hivers have the most guns because of the fact their ships don’t have FTL drives, or that Tarka’s have the most robust cruisers.
Another note. If you’re like me, and probably most other players in the world, when you come to a new space game with many bizarre alien races, you tend to play as the humans first. Don’t. The Human form of space travel is finicky and unique compared to the other races. They can’t change paths during warp travel, and are limited to “node lines.” I recommend the Tarka or Liir (I prefer the Liir). The Hivers are for the patient: they lack star drives altogether, but upon reaching a destination, they can build teleportation gates that allow for nearly instant travel between gated systems. However, be prepared to spend many turns sitting on your hands as you build out your network and find habitable stars to start out.
Lastly, DO NOT BUY THIS GAME FROM DIRECT 2 DRIVE. I generally would not put something like this in a review, but D2D took it upon themselves to encrypt a key file of the game, preventing MODing and causing extreme lag in long games. Further, they are currently five days behind releasing the patch (and counting) for the game, whereas every other outlet, including other downloadable services, has already released the patch.
Now then, let’s get on to the core game aspects.
On the whole, this was very well represented in the demo, and has not changed terribly much in the final version. One thing that isn’t noticeable in the demo is the fact that in bigger star systems, you’ll be engaging in the Depth Perception Challengeâ„¢. The beautifully rendered 3-D galaxies can be very deceptive in terms of star distances, especially on the sphere and rift settings. It takes some getting used to, and sometimes can be quite irritating.
Another aspect that was not an issue in the demo is the balance of empire size vs. fleet size. Cruisers and dreadnoughts cost exponentially more fleet maintenance than destroyers do. Accordingly, once you start producing ships of these caliber, you can’t just crank out massive numbers of ships, or you’ll pay through the nose. This can get tricky when garrisoning your planets with a sufficient force to hold off enemy hordes without reducing your capability to strike back.
Diplomacy is very no frills. You have non-aggression pacts, and alliances. The computer seemed amiable to joining in both with me, although would periodically pull out for no reason. Something I dislike is the fact that you can station huge fleets at a system and then break an alliance for a sneak attack. A feature like Civ 4 has where fleets are forced out of your circle of influence could make this less abusable (or perhaps space is just a mean place and you shouldn’t trust anyone…). People expecting a robust diplomatic experience, such as found in Galactic Civilization 2, will be disappointed in this aspect of the game. For the rest of us war mongers, it’s enough to get by.
The randomized tech tree is a one of the greatest strengths of this game. The limitations of the demo, where the absence of certain techs led to relatively certain doom are gone, and instead replaced by a variety of options for game and styles. There are several core classes of weapon, each with its own nuances and counters. You can neglect certain weapon classes, but this may come back to bite you in the ass depending on what you go up against. For example, the devastating positron beam will slice enemy ships and planets to shreds… but is completely harmless against shields.
One thing I like about the tech tree is that there are certain “Gatekeeper” techs that are required to push on. These are generally in the “power” area. I had thought my tech tree seemed capped out, but once I researched “fusion,” several new techs across the board opened up. Although there are a few branches of the tree dedicated to peacetime activities (population growth, industrial output), the vast majority of them are focused on war, and your decisions are influenced by the enemies you’re fighting and your own personal play style.
Inertia-less ships? So when they are in motion, they don’t tend to stay in motion? And when they’re at rest, they don’t stay that way either?
Damn, that’d be annoying.
The game models thrust pretty accurately so it takes time to have anything happen with the heavier stuff. Liir ships start fast, stop fast, and get to their max speed very quickly, thereby bypassing much of the need to overcome the inertia that a dreadnought has.
Technically, according to game lore, they have an inertialess *drive*, not inertialess ships. How? They use so-called "stutterwarp" (or "flickerwarp" for later in the tech tree) where they teleport a tiny, tiny distance, but do so many, many times per second. So once the drive is cycled up, they go merrily on their way – without really moving.