First Impressions: Sword of the Stars

By Scott Parrino 06 Sep 2006 0

What is this game all about?

Sword of the Stars is a classic strategic space exploration game. It definitely fits well within the 4X formula of Exploration, Expansion, Exploitation, and Extermination. Indeed it is everything a gamer might come to expect a 4X space strategy game to be, although the developer, Kerberos, has made a few changes and tweaks that could be very appealing to hard-core space strategy players. Sword of the Stars is a mix of turn-based strategy and real-time tactical battles that will support single-player and multiplayer games.

Players take the role of their species? administrator and attempt to expand their domains through the local galaxy. The player controls all aspects of this expansion including research, defense, and economic management. One nice thing though is that economics seems to be much simpler and involve much less micromanagement than in some of the other 4X games I?ve played. In the preview version I played, the economics flowed very smoothly and I was never at a loss for funds. This does not appear to give the player an undo advantage over the AI, though because I didn?t get a chance to play the multiplayer game, I am not sure how it would work out.

When combat occurs the player has the choice of letting the computer handle the situation or of taking an active role in the battle. Battles are fairly intense affairs and unless the player has an overwhelming advantage he will need to pay attention to tactics. Ships do not turn on a dime and the battles remind me of the battles one might see on Babylon 5 or the re-imagined Battlestar Galactica.

Opening Credits.

Setting up the Game.

Innovation

While much of Sword of the Stars does seem to be pretty standard 4X fare, there are a few small innovations that caught my eye. First, as mentioned above the minimal economics just seems to work and work well. The player colonizes a world and then over time its infrastructure and terraforming increase until it is a viable member of your galactic empire. There is no need to specifically build shipyards as it appears every world can build ships. The player can tweak a few small things about his economics, like Research vs. Savings, but all in all the game handles a majority of the minutiae. 

Shipbuilding is very nice and very easy. Ships come in three sizes which should be familiar to most folks: Dreadnaughts, Cruisers, and Destroyers. All ships have three sections: Command, Mission, and Engine. To build one the player scrolls through the various options, adding has he goes, until he has the ship that he wants. The player also has the option of building Defense units that are essentially orbiting satellites. Once they are built they are deployed around that system with little fuss. 

Another thing that caught my eye is that when I created a new size of ship, like Cruiser for instance, the previous ship size does not become totally obsolete. I found that some technologies only worked on the smaller ships so my initial cruisers were big gunboats, supporting the destroyer squadron leaders. This is a more accurate representation of the balanced fleet idea often missing in many such games.

The squadron leader option allows the player to create a pre-formed squadron based on command points. This system also allows reinforcements for those ships that exceed the command point limit to wait in the wings until one ship blows up or withdrawals from battle.

Also, the galaxy maps for this game are pretty awesome and what the player chooses in setup IS what he get when the game starts. In many games, if you choose a Spiral Galaxy for instance you get some sort of star layout that has very little to do with a spiral or galaxy. It is as if the game says ?ah nice choice, too bad I do not want to do that, how about a nice blob galaxy.? In SotS, I really did get the map I asked for and this was a very pleasant surprise. In one cluster map I tried, I had several clusters with real space between the various star clusters. That meant I could conquer my ?home? cluster and then move through the vastness of space to the next one. It felt like a real galaxy.

Woot! Some Speed Upgrades for the Humans.

Building Defenses.

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