Sword of the Stars 2: Enhanced Edition
AMD Radeon HD 4650
Sword of the Stars (SotS) is a 4x space series previously published under Lighthouse Interactive and, in its current iterations, under Paradox Interactive. Inspired by a mix between the Homeworld series and other 4x turn-based strategy games, it has been commonly referred to as "Total War in Space", due to its blending of RTS and Turn-Based Empire-building Strategy.
The release of SotS2 was supposed to be then a moment of revolution for the genre, as many expected it to succeed where its predecessor had failed, finally perfecting upon the formula it sought to achieve. However, it too fell far short of the lofty ambitions it proclaimed, instead succumbing to a myriad of game-breaking bugs - so much so that Paradox Interactive actually apologized to its customers, promising atonement for the unfinished game. And here it is, SotS2: Enhanced Edition, named possibly in the hope that it would have the same effect as Witcher: Enhanced Edition (where the release of it raised the rating of the game by a substantial amount due to the increased polish). Has it then succeeded in its goal, and delivered upon its fans what they wanted? Well, close... but not quite.
17 turns - more than enough for your entire empire to crumble.
Sword of the Stars 2: Enhanced Edition features a varieties of maps, ranging from huge to simply mind-bogglingly astronomical in scale. A large selection of races are also available to choose from in your quest to dominate the galaxy, such as the insect-like Hivers, the bird-like Morrigi and of course, the Imperialist Humans. Along with the Enhanced Edition comes an interesting new race, the Loa, a race of sentient AIs that are based around technology instead of biology. However, as interesting as the races were, it was ultimately frustrating that I knew next to nothing about them at first glance, other than their central themes as gleaned from their visages in the portraits. Rather, one must slowly go search up the races to learn about them, rather than say, a simply tooltip at the race selection screen. Unlike various other 4x games, SotS2 does not seem to recognize the incredible importance that the identity of one's chosen race until the game actually begins, leading me to even believe at a point that all races were fundamentally the same.
Fortunately, I was proved wrong as the game began and the various elements of it were revealed to me, albeit at a torturously slow pace. Mechanics in the game are very much based around the ideas of fleets and missions, where groups of custom-designed ships are designated into fleets, and each fleet is given a specific mission to complete, where upon its completion it would return to its current home base. I did like how this promoted realism, giving you the sense that you were giving orders as an individual rather than as an omniscient all-commanding being, but it does possess the sort of complexity that ultimately does not add to the gameplay. The mission mechanic similarly sacrifices ease of gameplay, as it does not allow the mix of different missions to be completed, closing off a lot of options, such as having a mixed fleet that would travel to a location to do both colonization and construction work. Rather, a fleet can only be commanded to do either one of the two options. Sadly, the cost of realism in this case is much too high. The tech tree holds more promise, it boasts a semi-randomized spread of technologies that allow races to develop in different, interesting ways. Even in the area of combat, one could choose to specialize in say lasers or plasma weaponry, or even become a race that utilizes all sorts of weapons but master none of them. I have to admit that the complexity of the tech tree is very much warranted in the case of a hardcore 4x empire-building game.
It is a lie - they died from a mix between the planet's fumes and their own anger within a few decades.
However, what of the centrepiece of SotS? Its fame comes mainly from its attempt to combine both turn-based strategy and Homeworld-like RTS, so does it succeed? Sadly, no. It may fall slightly short in the former goal, but sadly, it falls vastly short in the latter. Cursed with a horribly unintuitive UI, an unforgivably wonky camera, and ultimately uninspired graphics and animation, the RTS is worse than bad, it is dull. Furthermore, all long-term strategic considerations are thrown out of the window by a foolish design decision to limit battles to twelve minutes. Imagine if the Total War series limited battles to that amount of time. What would be the point of springing an elaborate trap? Eventually, all my tactics boiled down to grouping my entire battle force and ordering them to charge the enemy, overwhelming them hopefully with the force of numbers. All of these small details add up to one answer: SotS2 does not deliver, even in its Enhanced Edition form.
Ultimately, the game attempts to be a hardcore 4x space-sim with RTS elements, aping the system of Total War games, except with an ambitious amount of realism and immersion. However, it not only goes off the deep end by not having a tutorial and explaining the game properly, but also leads to frustration due to vexing design decisions. Even if it was released in its current edition during its initial run, it would still have been as it is... at most, decent.
- Deep, hardcore: Extremely complex and had potential for incredible immersion
- These lasers look pixelated: Graphics are outdated
- RTF...M?: Lack of tutorial and sheer learning curve drives most players away
- BUT WHY: Horrible design choices plague those who remain.
- This system is not suited to our needs: Want a good space 4x game? Look to this instead.