by Sergio Brinkhuis
reviewed on PC
Sword of the Stars is one of the few turn based 4X strategy games left on the market. Catering to genre-veterans, the game was enthusiastically embraced when it was first released in 2006. Due to its complexity however, less seasoned 4X players were somewhat overwhelmed, causing the game to end up serving only a niche group of hardcore fans. Fortunately a game can still be very successful serving just a niche market, as developer Kerberos and publisher Lighthouse Interactive prove with releasing a second expansion pack called A Murder of Crows.
Murder of Crows introduces a sixth race called the Morrigi. Long thought extinct, the Morrigi have been brooding on plans to take back their rightful place as masters of the universe. Seemingly emerging from out of nowhere, their bird-shaped ships come packed with weapons and technologies that none of the other races possess or know how to combat. Perceptive fans may recognize the Morrigi as one of the minor races from the original game which I thought was a nice touch from the developers.
In true Sword of the Stars style, the Morrigi have a unique way of travel. Using their Grav Flock drive system, they are able to travel faster as their fleets grow bigger. That sounds fairly straightforward but there is more to it than that. Only ships equipped with a Gravboat hull count towards the efficiency of the Grav Flock speed. On the positive side, even when just a single one of these ships is part of the fleet, the entire fleet reaps its benefits.
The technology tree for all races has been updated with new technologies that can be researched by your scientists. Besides new weapons, several technologies can be evolved further than before, but the new Xeno-Cultural and Drone tech trees really steal the show. I especially liked the Drone tech-tree that focuses primarily on your empires’ efficiency, reducing costs and enhancing output, making it one of the most useful additions to the game.
New is also the possibility to trade technology with other races. Not all tech can be traded however, some advances remain unique to each faction. In addition, received technology still needs to be researched and can’t be used straight off the bat. The addition of spies enables you to acquire an overview of the technology that other factions have researched. This not only gives you some idea of what to ask for but also tells you what to expect from them in battle.
One of the few complaints people had about the original Sword of the Stars was the lack of depth in colony management. A Murder of Crows strives to strengthen this by introducing some simple but interesting gameplay mechanics. Inhabitants of conquered or colonized planets for instance, will not necessarily be happy with the way you run your empire just because you own the planet that they are on. Citizens that have become loyal subjects receive the status of Imperial Citizens and are far more likely to support you in times of crisis. Imperials are also more productive and pay more taxes.
Non-imperials on the other hand, will use every sign of weakness to riot and declare independence. Managing their morale adds a whole new dimension to the speed at which you expand your empire. I have more than once seen my substantial empire spiral into near-complete destruction due to insufficient funds, causing numerous planets to choose their own destiny. Researching technologies along the Xeno-Tech tree helps to keep your population under control.
Hard on the wallet
Sword of the Stars was never an easy game and A Murder of Crows does not change that in any way. For 4X fans however, the game has a lot to offer and Kerberos has worked tirelessly to please its fans. Expanding the Sword of the Stars universe for the second time is no easy feat but the developers have pulled it off very well indeed. That is not to say you should all run out now and buy the game.
Expansion packs are often something of a letdown for me. More often than not, shelling out the twenty bucks for some minor additions to something that has already cost me fifty a year earlier is just not worth it. As it stands, A Murder of Crows scores better than the average expansion. The new technology trees, improved upon colony management and the arrival of the Morrigi as a playable faction are a rewarding package.
Oddly enough the game costs as much as $25, an amount for which I just can’t seem to find justification. A Murder of Crows is a good expansion pack, but in the end it -is- just that, an expansion pack, and primarily consists of more of the same.
No Pros and Cons at this time