by Sergio Brinkhuis
previewed on PC
Slow but steady
When Zero Sum Games announced StarDrive 2 would be turn-based, my interest in the game was immediately reinvigorated. While the original oozed potential, its real-time gameplay did not mesh well with its desire to be a 4X game. The reason for it was simple: when enemy factions harass your borders almost constantly, there is no time to work on your economy. As a result, a major part of the 4X gameplay was forced into the background.
In StarDrive 2, you get to take whatever time you need to manage your empire while still fighting out combat in real time. But that is not all that is being changed, not by a long shot. We got an inside look at Gamescom from game designer Daniel DiCicco.
In fact, I think it’s fair to say that the entire game is undergoing a major transformation. For one thing, the economical layer is modeled to very closely resemble Master of Orion 2 and that’s a good thing. Managing the planet’s research, food and production output is done in exactly the same way, heroes that you hire can be assigned to govern, there is ground combat and plenty of room for diplomacy.
Zooming into the latter part, StarDrive 2 is well on its way to become the new standard in how diplomacy works in strategy games. Almost everything you would expect to be tradable can be put on the table and your trading partner will give you hints as to how close you are to offering something he would accept. Personality traits such as “hoarder” or “greedy” will give you some idea of how costly it is to get what you want. There might be a bit of learning curve to figure out how to deal with each of these personalities but tooltips pop up everywhere to help you along. These are all good features, but the addition I loved most was the “tolerance” bar. Tolerance builds up over time, is an indicator of your relationships with each individual race and can best be explained as leverage. Some trades are only available if you have enough tolerance and when the trade is completed, the tolerance level goes down accordingly. It’s a great way to impose a limit on trading activity, taking the wind out of people looking for ways to abuse the diplomacy system and adding a new layer of strategy.
Research is also getting an overhaul. There are six research areas, five of which are available to everyone and the sixth is race specific. At any given time, three techs are available for research in every area, but you can only pick one. Upon completion of the chosen tech, the other two become unavailable. It is still possible to obtain the others, but only through trade, spying or accidental discovery as you explore the map.
Hold on, that sounds too easy. That is because it often is. You see, exploration has its hazards. You may stumble upon a derelict ship overrun by giant space spiders which stand in your way of finding treasure. The game will usually offer you two or more options for dealing with such situations. In the case of the derelict ship, you can fly away or board and fight. I was pleasantly surprised to see you can actually participate in the boarding action. Here the game morphs into the shape of a turn-based tactical game where hired heroes - accompanied by generic soldiers - do battle with whatever lives on board of the ship. It’s a small but fun feature that makes exploration much more interesting and adds a lot of personality to boot.
A simple but effective spy system does much the same to further create that sense of immersion. After assigning spies to spy on a particular enemy - in our case a potted plant with eyes - you start building up points. Once you have gathered enough, these can be spent to gain for instance information on the location of the enemy fleets for a certain amount of time.
The list of new features and improvements goes on and on. The game interface has received a complete overhaul and no longer looks cluttered but both tidy and modern instead. The previously unappealing ground combat has gotten a major upgrade, giving you much more control over what is happening, leaving only you to blame when the assault fails.
Many of the good things from the original, such as the awesome designed races and the modular ship building, make their return too. The complete package feels more mature, more polished and infinitely more playable. After the thirty minutes demonstration, the game now resides high on my list of games to watch.