by Matthijs Knebel
reviewed on PC
A change of strategy
I have a confession to make - Dawn of Andromeda is my first 4X Space Strategy game. I usually play RPG and FPS games, games with tons of action. When I need a break from those, I play the crap out of more traditional RTS games and while those come close, Dawn of Andromeda was mostly a new experience to me. The game asks you to think more and any action in the game is less noticeable than say StarCraft. So when I started the game I didn’t know what to expect but the great graphics immediately hit me and I loved how the music complemented the setting. My expectations were raised.
Normally I would skip tutorials and start playing right away, but as I lacked experience with the genre I thought it necessary to follow it through. I was a bit disappointed that it was mostly pictures and text with very little gameplay in between. It did not do much to help me find my feet. Like most gamers, learning how to play the game works better for me when I actually get to play the game while it provides hints on what is expected of the player in certain situations.
Two months in the life…
The goal of the first level was to survive for two months and, much to my surprise, I actually did. I took my scout – one of Dawn of Andromeda’s many spaceships – and set out to discover new areas, races and planets. The first time I crossed paths with another sentient being, nothing really happened. A notification told me that I had met a new race and that was it. They were not friends nor enemies. Planets I discovered were uninhabitable except for a few, and other than watching them float around in space, there’s nothing you can do with them until you have better colonization technology but the game does not tell you so. In the meantime, my mining spaceship was retrieving minerals for me. I was mining an asteroid but it might as well have been a black hole. When mining, it is never mentioned what kind of minerals are obtained or what the use of these minerals are. This lack of feedback is a problem throughout the game. You are never quite sure of what you are doing, or if you are doing it right.
Still, my empire was slowly growing. I now had two planets and a small army of ten spaceships. My researchers produced new technologies at a good pace and money started flowing in. A bit of time passed and then suddenly a victory screen had appeared and I was unceremoniously thrown back to the menu to start a new game. Apparently I had survived for two months but the way this was presented was very confusing, especially since there had been no notifications that I was close to fulfilling the mission requirements.
It felt like I was doing something wrong even though I won the game. Wanting to understand, I started the same mission again. Now everything became clearer. I started building more scouts to discover more, and faster. At that moment the game still felt pretty difficult. I had a decent army and 4 planets but I had no gold left. So what do you do when you have no gold but you have an army? You go all in. I scouted the whole map, found out that my enemy only had two planets and started a war to get some sense of action. An easy victory right? Not really. My army got completely destroyed and I lost the game. Still, after many more hours than should be necessary, I finally understood enough to adjust my strategies so that I could start winning some games.
Even with some experience under my belt, the game feels overly difficult. One of the main problems is a lack of balance. The starting money for instance, runs out fairly quick and when you do it is pretty hard to set up a new revenue stream. There is barely enough to scrape by during peacetime but when you are at war it’s like someone took the plug out of the bathtub it runs out so fast. I tried different strategies; from building an army as quickly as I could and defeat my enemies before my money ran dry, to just investing it all for an hour and wait for my reserves to build up before starting a war. The first was more successful but either strategy means you’re likely bankrupt by the time the enemy comes back for the sequel.
Between the lack of balance and the lack of feedback, it feels like Dawn of Andromeda left Early Access too early. The game just doesn’t feel like it is done which is doubly disappointing because I can see its potential. There are some good ideas, like the reputation system that is tied - among other things - into mini quests that keep you entertained when things are peaceful. Still, there is little depth and there are definitely a few rough edges that need to be smoothed out before one could call this a ‘good’ game. If the above gives you the impression that it is a bad game, it is not. It’s playable and there is some fun to be had, but it’s just not where it should be as a full release.
Good graphics, entertaining mini-quests
Little depth, feels unfinished