by Marcus Mulkins
previewed on PC
What's new? Check out the shopping cart
As stated, this is an expansion set. Ergo, the price tag ($29.95 later, but $24.95 pre-order) is less than what you would expect to spend on a full-blown new game. However, this time around, you will certainly be getting your money's worth!
Numero Uno (and believe me, this is a biggie): EVERY race has its own, distinct Research tree. (I'll let you think on the ramifications of just that one item and get back to it later.) Second, the Terror Stars are back; bigger and badder than before. Back in the early GC, Terror Stars were just BMFs with mucho armour, shields, sensors, weapons, et al. Now they're back and this time around they go one better than the Death Star from Star Wars and can actually blow out a sun, destroying all of the planets at the same time. (Harrumph. Take _that_, Mr. Darth Vader!) Third, there's a new New Planetary Invasion screen that shows that particular planet - with its own unique mix of Planetary Improvements - being stomped back to the Stone Age.
In addition to all that, we get more of almost everything: more ships, more Planetary Improvements (sort of necessary when the Research tree differs for each race), more planetary systems (up to 22 x 22 stellar blocks = 484 blocks with up to a dozen stellar systems in each block = up to 5,000 or so stellar systems), more stuff, ranging from race portraits to additional ship components for custom ship design to additional race logos... just MORE of everything it seems - including editors up the wazoo. Map Editor, Scenario Editor, Tech Tree Editor... Now you can tweak to your heart's content until you get everything the way that you want it to be.
And naturally, as with most add-ons, we also get a humongous graphics overhaul. And, oddly enough, the way the code was written means that all that data actually needs less computer memory. This is what allows the gigantic expansion of the galaxy to Immense proportions. This in turn means that games can take months before you’ve fully explored the entire map. (Unless, of course, you opt to sleep at your keyboard and your all-nighters become several-day marathons.)
There are many other features that Stardock is quite proud about, but these are enough to give you a taste of what's in store for you when you dive into the game.
Finally, an approach to Research that almost makes total sense
In the past, one of my main gripes about space empire games was that if you closed your eyes and ignored the pretty pictures of the aliens, they would sort of blur together until you realized that functionally they were essentially clones of one another. That is, if you took a random sample of people, you'd find some that were geeks, some were macho jock types, some were financial geniuses, some were religious fundamentalists, etc. But despite there philosophical differences, underneath it all, they were all human. Same thing with the space empire games: some races were talented scientists, some talented diplomats, some religious fanatics, some militaristic warmongers, etc. The effect was that even though each had its own "unique" strength and weaknesses which their strategies would take into account, they tended to behave more or less the same.
With Stardock's introduction of a unique Research tree for each of the 12 major races, players of each major race MUST play in a unique manner because the tools - products of their Research, are unique. For instance, how would a race that has organic ship design be able to benefit from the metallic ship construction techniques employed by the Terrans? Given the unique perspective in Research, that race will look at the galaxy in a similarly unique manner. Like, a metal-rich planet wouldn't be as nearly as interesting as a Gaia-like botanical paradise. Accordingly, the two different races would be interested in distinctly different real estate to exploit.
The potential for perplexing situations is likely to be phenomenal. Being an empire building game, planets will be exchanged, frequently. What will the industrialized Terran player do with the slave pits that pass for factories on Dregnin planets? Level them and build from scratch, or try to adapt them to Human use? (In which case there will be an immediate moral crisis of an "enlightened" society inheriting umpteen million former slaves. What do you do with people bred to be nothing but slaves for over a thousand years? Release them into the wild to fend for themselves?)
The other part of my Research gripe - about not being able to research
multiple technologies at the same time - remains. I have described this in depth in my Lost Empire: Immortals article which can be read here..
Still, Stardock’s approach to Research is far and away the best one I’ve seen for empire games of any flavor.