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Death To The Slow! StarDrive Preview

Platform: PC Games
Category: Real Time Strategy, Strategy
Official PageSteam Store Page

Recently, I've been taking a look at StarDrive, the new pausable real-time 4X game from Iceberg and [insert]

StarDrive, is, in many senses, a real spiritual successor to the original Master of Orion (one of the first space 4X games)... in both good and bad ways. For a start, the early game is slow. Not slow as in “Endless Space takes 20 turns to get industry going on a planet” slow, more “It's been an hour, and I've colonised a total of three planets... barely” slow. Until you upgrade them, ships warp slowly, move relatively slowly, and if you're invaded, and don't have ships on system defence, you're a bit boned. So it's definitely not for the impatient. However, it does have some interesting features, and hidden charms.

A good example of this came up when I'd destroyed a group of the drones that plague good systems like a bad case of termites. It's a massive undertaking, needing around 25-30 basic fighters to do properly (IE – without losing too many ships, and without needing to resupply more than once), but, unlike the other times I'd done it (which just freed up a generally nice planet for me), something different happened...

...A whole new tech tree unlocked. Sure, it's not a big tech tree by any means (none of them are right now, and I'm kind of hoping it expands by release), but it has Secrets of the Ancient Races... gamechangers, things like shields that are twice as efficient as the equivalent tech level, better engines, better guns... and possibly more, I don't know yet. Why don't I know yet? Because I've been playing three games of StarDrive, for three days, and have barely gotten to the mid early game. I'm genuinely not joking when I say it's slow. It's a bad thing if you're impatient, but, unlike Sins of a Solar Empire (another game this lightly cribs from), it leaves you more time to plan your next move.

Ship design is also interesting, in that your ship designs are a template, and the flavour comes across more in the proportion of what weapons, systems, and kit you can stick in a template. Fighters are mostly the same the galaxy over, but the next step up, Freighters, has a few surprises. For example, the Pollops (a relatively peaceful race) don't let you put weapons on their barges, but Humans, Vulffen, Opteris and Kulrathi (the more war like races) do, giving you an option for bigger guns earlier in the game than the more peaceful species. There's also boarding ships, and ground combat. Lemme talk about those for a bit.

Ground combat is tile based, and every turn, the soldiers move and act. It's mostly done automatically, but you can also use your soldiers to explore tombs and ruins on planets (I still haven't found the “Away Team” option, so I'm either assuming that's still soldiers, or isn't implemented yet). However, those tiles are also the basis of your building efforts. Worlds have both inhabitable and uninhabitable squares, and range from Terran (all habitable) to Barren (Every square needs a Biosphere to put colonists or buildings down). There are also volcanic and gas giant planets, which are currently uninhabitable by anybody.

Overall, I'm impressed with some areas, like diplomacy, but the ship and military interface will need a lot of work if there's to be any decent multiplayer, as, right now, there's only click selecting and ctrl+num creation of fleets, which is itself wonky because it requires a lot of fiddling to set up a fleet group. The diplomacy and espionage, by contrast, is almost fully formed, and each race's character shows in their interactions. For example, while many races will quite happily take on an alliance for gifts, the Kulrathi (the japanese space-bears you've probably heard about by now) will only consider treaties and alliances on their own merits, while being respectful to the Vulffen (yes, space-wolves... what of it?) is just going to sour relations with them... be aggressive instead, and they'll roll over... well, so long as you're in a position of strength.

In conclusion, I can say that I'm cautiously optimistic about StarDrive... It has a lot of potential, and a fair amount of that shines through, but, while I'm reassured the dev team is working on it pretty heavily, there's less than a month till release, and, while it's playable, it's a bit tedious in places to be enjoyable.


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