« | Home | »

Review – Sword of the Stars

posted on September 5th, 2006 by golden jew

Ship Design

With the expanded tech tree, ship design has even more options. One error I had in my original review is claiming (incorrectly) that cruisers and dreadnoughts get more sections than destroyers. This is not true, the difference is many destroyer missions can fit in a command mission of the larger ships, and the larger ships have many, many more weapons in each section and much higher hitpoints.

Ship design is just plain fun. Ships can be highly specialized for certain missions, based on the sections and weapon loadouts you choose. Additionally, you have the option of applying “specials” to each section, such as reflective coatings, special armor plating, more efficient fuel drives, etc. Ship design can be somewhat elementary against the AI, but can lead to some very interesting matchups against humans. Much of the matchups are also dependent on the techs your enemies both got in their tree and have researched. An opponent who has gotten (and builds) heavily into kinetic armors, for example, would require you to avoid the use of mass drivers. However, in accordance with SOTS’s “discover yourself” attitude, you’ll need to be observant in battle to notice the ricocheting bullets (and probably the fact that your ass is getting kicked) should you run into a bad matchup.

Ship design also becomes a function of play style: do you favor a few ridiculously armed, state of the art dreadnoughts, or a piranha like horde of destroyers? This also depends on the circumstances. You may find your empire is too widespread to support a few key small fleets, and hordes of destroyers are necessary to properly garrison. The net result is a very robust, flexible, changeable game, where your and your opponent’s race, play styles, tech tree (based on your tree for the game), and tech tree choices allow for many, many possibilities.

Tactical Combat

I remember space being a lot more black.

I’m still bitter about the lack of control in the Z-axis, but I loved Homeworld and all that it represented. As predicted, the introduction of cruisers and dreadnoughts changes combat a great deal, and it’s not the guppy slug-fest of the demo. Cruisers change things quite a bit: they are more durable than destroyers, but are still vulnerable to a rapid ass kicking if you’re not careful. On the other hand, dreadnoughts are just insane. Bristling with weapons, and only destroyed if all three sections go down (as opposed to the requirement of 2 with the smaller ships), these behemoths are death stars of pain.

One interesting aspect is the ratio of command points (the number of ships you can field) vs. effectiveness. For example, a cruiser costs 3x the command points of a destroyer, but is 5-6x more effective. However, it costs 10x more to maintain. Dreadnoughts cost 3x the command points of a cruiser, but can take out as many as 30 destroyers potentially (or a substantial number of cruisers).

Command points only influence the number of ships in combat a time: you can bring as many to battle as you want, and they fly in to reinforce as needed. One risk you run with a piranha approach, however, is not being able to organize your ravening hordes of destroyers properly again the larger class ships once the battle begins and reinforcements fly in. Destroyers need to roll in large packs in order to be able to damage dreads and cruisers, and when they are trickling in groups of 2-3, it’s hard to re-establish that critical mass needed for success.

An extreme example of this is when your opponent (or you) can position several ships at the reinforcement point: then ships fly in to their immediate doom as a dreadnought and cruisers open their guns up every time a new ship flies in. In this manner one can lose dozens and dozens of destroyers without inflicting any return damage – a bad, bad thing.

Some of the combat AI can be frustrating, but much of this has been fixed in the newest patch. Unfortunately, thanks to Direct 2 Drive, I haven’t experienced this, so I can’t comment on it. The good news is Kerebros has shown themselves to be a very engaged and very good developer in terms of post game support, so I believe that continued formation/combat AI enhancements will continue to roll out.

Conclusion/Final Thoughts

Non-stop excitement!

Sword of the Stars has me more excited about the 4X genre than I’ve been in some time. The core game is really about the tech tree, ship design, and ship combat. SOTS has captured most of the elements of Homeworld’s combat engine, but added in the customization and design aspect to really hit a home run in terms of gameplay.

Those looking for diplomatic options and colony building should probably look at Galactic Civilization 2 – those two aspects are not a part of what SOTS is about. Those who find the actual strategic design and implementation of their war machines to be their favorite part of these games will find this game to be right in their alley.

Kerebros has done an amazing job in creating a game that not only plays well, looks good, and is fun, but they’ve shattered the mold by creating their randomized tech tree. This is such a fantastic and well executed change because it prevents the ability to pre-plan and over analyze the tech tree that is so prevalent in these types of games. Obviously, there are still certain techs that, when they appear, are must-haves. But the sheer variety is such a refreshing change from the often cookie-cutter tech tree build of other games, and I would anticipate that the rest of the genre will experiment with more random tech trees.

The real challenge for Kerebros now is to build a worthy sequel. With the first title’s emphasis on gameplay, and not scenarios, it will be interesting to see what Kerebros comes up with – hopefully a combination of new techs, ships, weapons, and other goodies to keep the variety strong. Or perhaps they’ll cop out and build a scenario heavy expansion. Hopefully, fans will find that this is the start of a fantastic new franchise and will be slugging it out in pseudo 3-D combat for years to come.

3 Comments

  1. Stefan said on September 6, 2006:

    Inertia-less ships? So when they are in motion, they don’t tend to stay in motion? And when they’re at rest, they don’t stay that way either?

    Damn, that’d be annoying.

  2. Cathexis said on September 7, 2006:

    The game models thrust pretty accurately so it takes time to have anything happen with the heavier stuff.  Liir ships start fast, stop fast, and get to their max speed very quickly, thereby bypassing much of the need to overcome the inertia that a dreadnought has.  

  3. Elethiomel said on January 16, 2007:

    Technically, according to game lore, they have an inertialess *drive*, not inertialess ships. How? They use so-called "stutterwarp" (or "flickerwarp" for later in the tech tree) where they teleport a tiny, tiny distance, but do so many, many times per second. So once the drive is cycled up, they go merrily on their way – without really moving.

Leave a Reply