From the Archive: War Amongst the Stars

By Joe Robinson 20 Jul 2017 0

Welcome to another edition of From the Archive, where we talk about strategy games that existed prior to the birth of Strategy Gamer. Tied together by a core theme, we will be bringing you older content from our sister websites and beyond  to allow you to rediscover old gems while we work on exciting, new content for you on the latest upcoming releases.

In today's entry, we're looking at that most wonderful and sometimes under-served genre – space-strategy games. Having grown up with Star Wars as my first real experience with science-fiction, I've always loved fleet battles. Whether it's the action and spectacle of it all, or the tactics and calculations as you try and make best use of the assets you have, there's a majesty to space battles that you don't really find in any other type of conflict. As a genre, at best it can be described as under-served. While there are plenty of strategy games that feature space combat as part of their make up (Distant Worlds, Stellaris etc...), there are fewer games that focus on just the action.

It's no surprise then that we're quite excited by the prospect of upcoming space-strategy game Battlestar Galactica: Deadlock. Developer Black Lab Games held an AMA yesterday on Reddit (It was 3am this morning here in the UK, but late evening in the US), which you should read if you want to pick up try and pick up some various tid-bits on the game. FUN FACT: There will be 21 different types of ships in the game, and they're also willing to do DLC if the game sells well and they can get permission from Universal to do so (but no mod support, unfortunately).

Since there's still no release date, it's hard to tell when this game is going to be coming out, but in the mean we thought we'd highlight some similar games you can take a look at while you wait.

Star Hammer: The Vanguard Prophecy (PC, PS4)

This was Black Lab's original 3D game, and much of what they learned with Star Hammer has fed into Deadlock – having seen the newer game up close and spent a fair few hours with the original, you'll see similarities in the design, if not the aesthetics.

HAmmertime

Star Hammer, as Alex rightly pointed out in his review, was a under-stated gem of a game. There wasn't much to it, but it featured a deceptively simple combat engine that was both robust and actually quite pretty:

Star Hammer: The Vanguard Prophecy, published by Slitherine, has ships. A gritty, granular turn-based smorgasbord of ships and is one of 2015’s better strategy titles. The preamble was necessary to paint a picture of Star Hammer. It feels very much like a good old tabletop naval game. Dreadnoughts, their imposing form dominating any fleet formation, thundering with elephantine grace across the map, guarded by nimbler vessels and defense craft. Broadsides thither and yon. Loosed salvos of ship-to-ship missiles and countermeasures zipping and popping in the expanse. Star Hammer is as much comfort food gaming for wannabe Woodwards as armchair Adamas.

(...) Star Hammer: The Vanguard Prophecy is a quiet gem. Earnest narrative setup bolstering layered tactical combat, it’s a solid strategy serving with fine controls and breadth of options. With greater crew development, multiplayer and a touch more ambition in the sound department, it’d be a Victory. There’s no shame, however, in sailing Royal Sovereign.

There have been far worse attempts at a space-combat game, and Black Lab's only 'crime' was not being able to expand Star Hammer's scope. The campaign's story is compelling and has some pretty cool branching paths, but perhaps not enough to see you through a complete second run. The skirmish maps are great for just letting loose with the full arsenal available in the game, but you can only play as the humans. 

Combined with a lack of multiplayer, this is simply a game a with a very definitive life-span, and it's not as long as we'd maybe want it to be. But with it, Black Labs proved they could make a competent, engaging space-strategy game that blends the spectacle of real-time action with the planning and chaos of turns, and we're very confident Deadlock will be an improvement in every way.

Battlefleet Gothic: Armada (PC)

Along with Homeworld, Battlefleet Gothic: Armada was a game that gamers drew comparisons with to Star Hammer, and while the two are essentially the same type of game, their approaches couldn't be different.

ArmadaMain

Developed by Tindalos Interactive, Armada was a homage to the original (and now defunct) tabletop board Battlefleet Gothic. Rather than do a turn-based game though, which fans were probably expecting, they decided to make it full real-time with a 'pseudo-pause' function that slowed down the game to near-bullet time to allow you to assess the situation and assign orders.

There was a fair bit of controversy over that, but no-one can deny Armada was and is a visual spectacle, as Alex alluded to in his review:

Armada delivers a full broadside of 40k bombast better than any other Games Workshop video game, and that's probably due to its lavish naval trappings. It's Jutland with space-demons. Tsushima with star-elves. Anyone who posits the lack of z-axial movement as a deficit is kidding themselves, primarily because even the great Homeworld never mechanically benefited from its three-dimensionality. 

(...) No secrets here: Battlefleet Gothic: Armada is damn good. 

The most surprising thing I found when playing it myself was how short the matches were – 15 minutes can be considered a long engagement in Armada, allowing you to get a lot done in a relatively short session. The campaign is definitely the best element, although the multiplayer seems to have been neglected recently, with many players reporting faction imbalance. Content wise, there hasn't been a DLC drop since early 2016, and the last Patch was 1.8 last November.

Despite what is actually a pretty compelling RTS experience, it seems development of Armada may have been abandoned. Still worth picking up, though, if you find it at a good price.

This article discusses a game developed and published by members of the Slitherine Group, and the author is a full-time employee of Wargamer Ltd. For more information, please consult the About Us page.

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