16 April 2014

PC Game Preview: Armada 2526

What do you get when the developer of the Total War series meets Sci-fi?

Published on 5 NOV 2009 11:40am by Scott Parrino
  1. Ntronium Games
  2. Matrix Games
  3. science fiction, outer space, turn-based, real-time, strategic, tactical, single-player, empire building, spaceship combat

Publisher:  Matrix

If Jeopardy’s Alex Trebek were to turn his interest to wargames, things might go something like this:

Contestant A:  Alex, I’ll take Wargames for $500

Alex: Armada 2526

Contestant A:  What do you get when the developer of the Total War series meets Sci-fi?

Alex: Right you are!

I seriously doubt Alex Trebek is a wargamer so I don’t expect to see that question any time soon.  However, Armada 2526 looks like it will become the spiritual successor to the Total War series in Sci-fi form.  Make no mistake, Bob Smith is a true wargamer at heart.  Checking out his bio, he has some solid credentials as both a wargamer and mainstream developer.  That experience gets translated favorably into his latest creation, Armada 2526

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Several of my fleets converge on a planet.

I can hear folks calling for a Time Out even from here.  The Total War series has both fans and detractors for various reasons, but it is indisputably one of the landmarks on the modern gaming landscape.  The combination of turn-based strategy and real-time tactical combat make it iconic.  Comparisons to the Total War series should not be undertaken lightly.  That is understood.  Nevertheless comparisons are going to be inevitable when the lead designer of the Total War series breaks out on his own. 

This preview of Armada 2526 needs to be focused on that game, rather than one in whose shadow it stands.  However, it would be a disservice to both readers and the developer not to attempt to compare and contrast the games – even when Armada 2526 is still in the beta stage.  First and foremost, Armada 2526 is not a straight clone of the Total War series.  General gameplay features share similarities, but the engine, graphics, and game architecture are brand new.  Armada 2526 boasts a turn-based strategy game on top of a real-time tactical game, but beyond that the differences become stark. 

Players begin by controlling a single star system.  Slowly they begin to explore and colonize nearby star systems.  As they do so they will encounter any number of new spacefaring races, some friendly, some less so.  A diplomatic layer allows players to make deals with other races, and trades can run nearly the complete gamut of assets a player might possess:  technology, money, ships, trading rights, technology, even complete star systems.  In addition, players have the option to offer these trades with a degree of nuance that I cannot recall in another game’s diplomatic system.  Players may offer items as gifts, request counter offers if the trade is unacceptable, demand an item, and even demand an item with the threat of war if it is refused.  While diplomacy isn’t the central feature of the game, such a well considered design lends itself well to a strategy genre where players often clamor for more diplomatic options. 

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The Diplomacy screen.

The tech tree appears robust.  Players have seven major technologies to research; a few of which appear to have some minor overlap at initial levels but most of which do not.  The technologies that can be researched are:  Weapons, Shields, Hyperspace, Construction, Information, Bio, and Psych.  Each of these technologies offers various benefits:  Construction aids some areas that are intuitive such as creating more robust mining operations and weather control to make planets more favorable for life.  However, the technology for researching ships to settle other planets is also found in that branch of the tech tree.  Research in the Information branch allows players to gain knowledge navigating through otherwise impassible barriers such as dust clouds.  It also allows for the research of technology to detect ships passing through space.  Bio research allows players to research biological weapons for attacking planets.  Psych research allows players to gain psionic powers that may be used to attack, defend, or control xenos with methods other than the physical.  In addition to the seven tech trees, players also have the opportunity to create what is called a “skunkworks”.  The idea behind this is to empower the brightest minds of your race in order to freely research whatever technology they desire.  The upside is that they are nearly five times faster at mastering a particular technology.  The downside is that they may duplicate efforts already ordered by the player.  It’s a gamble, but is one of those risky aspects to gaming that can possibly help a player leapfrog an area in a hurry. 

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A glimpse at the tech tree.

Combat all takes place in real-time, and can be conducted both in space and on the ground with marines assaulting planetary defenses.  Some ships have dual purposes and are able to conduct combat both in space and on ground targets, with the result that combined arms conflict on a planetary scale may never have looked better. 

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Preparing for planetary assault.

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Initial ship deployment.

All of my impressions are based on just a few hours’ worth of gaming – I’ve so far played just over 100 turns and it looks like it will be a long campaign.  I still have much of the tech tree and the universe to explore, but the basics of gameplay and mechanics are clear.  Players who enjoy the combination of turn-based strategy and real-time tactics are going to want to keep an eye on Armada 2526 – and if you’ve been waiting for the Total War series to hit the sci-fi genre Armada 2526 may be your ticket to the stars. 

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Developing the infrastructure on a new colony.