The year of the turn
Looking at the release calendar, there is no denying that 2014 is going to be a strong year for turn-based strategy and tactics. Things started off well with Blackguards and we have such illustrious titles as Jagged Alliance: Flashback, Endless Legend and Galactic Civilizations to look forward to. Unsurprisingly, Indie studios are leading the charge and one of these studios is L3O whose 4X strategy title Horizon launched on Steam early February.
Horizon isnít looking to innovate as much as it is trying to emulate. It feels a little more like Galactic Civilizations than Master of Orion, but there is no doubt in my mind that its creators have spent hours upon hours playing both these classics to find out what made them tick. Sadly, the title falls short, delivering the toc but failing on the tick.
Explore & Expand
Let us start with what Horizon does well. The strategic layer is solid. Exploring the galaxy is intriguing, and remains especially exciting during the first few play-throughs. The race to find and colonize habitable planets before the AI does is always a thrilling experience and Horizon adds to this Easter egg hunt by offering up the occasional gem deposits that boost industry, vistas that attract tourists and traces of ancient civilizations that can be dug up to uncover new technologies.
Usually, it does not take long for your digital adversaries to come and knock at your door to introduce themselves. Contact with them is possible for as long as they are in range of your communications arrays and diplomacy generally works well as long as you arenít actually expecting to be able to - trade - anything, you can only gift or demand. When you desperately need that ground-breaking new technology from an ally, it feels a little awkward to Ďdemandí anything, but most of your allies will be inclined to give into your demands. Similarly strange is the AIís shiftiness when it comes to declaring war and requesting peace. They may declare one turn, and then come begging for an armistice agreement a single turn later.
Colony building is a breeze. Colonies can be improved in seven different areas, ranging from trade to planetary defence. There is no research involved in any of these areas, you simply upgrade your industrial facilities and any production bonuses that you have gained through research will automatically be applied. The size of the planet restricts the number of buildings that can be built, and each type of building can be upgraded only a handful of times.
The ease at which you can upgrade helps keep the pace but it unfortunately also means that your planets will feel flat and uninteresting. Once you have some semblance of an economy going, and research points arrive by the bucket load, there really is very little to do on your planets.
One of the very 4X space games with turn-based battles on the market.
Lacklustre combat mechanics.