Astra Exodus Review30 Jan 2020 1
Astra Exodus Review
Released 30 Jan 2020
Space is the one place I’ll never get tired of. From your Mass Effects and Stellaris-es, to your Star Wars, Star Treks and Stargates, the final frontier makes for one hell of a setting. The freedom of sci-fi makes it a prime target for game developers interested in genres like RPGS or our obvious favourite, Strategy.
Astra Exodus is the latest sci-fi game published by Slitherine, and it comes off very much as a single player indie version of Stellaris, with some added Galactic Civilizations DNA. It takes place in a completely self-contained universe with 2D presentation, and is a game that allows players to build their own stellar empire with any of several races or follow the struggle of the human Terran Federation to find out more about their forgotten past.
The latter represents the game’s story campaign, which chronicles the events after humans fled Earth and founded Terra – the eponymous ‘Exodus’. Starting with a briefing from an admiral and progressing through the Expeditionary Fleet’s efforts to curb local pirates, wage wars, and investigate planets, the story mode provides a straightforward tale that acts as a testing bed for the game’s sandbox mode. This is helpful, given Astra Exodus’ lack-lustre tutorial.
The gameplay itself is typical 4X fare, with tech trees for research, build queues for production, and diplomacy screens for getting frustrated at fake virtual people. All in all, the design is competent and even mildly charming, with every single menu featuring a character drawing to represent a head of department or adviser related to that specific function (which also doubles as a suggestion box of what to do next).
As expected of any strategy title with a broad scope, players are free to colonise planets, trade, and explore during the turn-based portion of the game, but fights are treated differently. Combat – both planetary and in space – take place in a top-down real time interface. This is considerably more involved than Stellaris’ minimal 'right click once and you’re done' approach. Thanks to the variety of units available – cruisers, frigates, destroyers, battleships, space marines, mechs, armour etc., - army and fleet composition tends to be rather engaging if you like customizing and organizing strike forces.
The game also features a substantial number of research options, with multiple tabs that are not immediately obvious (nor labelled) but which cover every classic sci-fi branch. The colony management screen is also rather interesting, boasting a nice design with a spinning 3D planet before covering all that with a huge boxy number of building options ranging new units, to buildings and production focuses.
While it sounds a bit daunting to learn yet another 4X, Astra Exodus helps make the game more manageable with tooltips for most buttons. They’re not everywhere you need them to be; Research and Build Queues, for example, don’t give you any hint when you encounter an unknown icon. There is a good number of tooltips that help you come to grasps with plenty of other facets of Astra Exodus.
Once you have grasped the basics of the campaign (or before then, if you are bored by humans), you can jump into a Sandbox mode that foregoes the missions, lore, and structure in favour of an open-ended, classic grand strategy romp. The playable races seem inspired by a number of sources, like Star Wars’ Chiss, Mass Effect’s Asari, Guardians of the Galaxy’s Groot people, to name but a few. Sandbox mode allows you to configure every facet from the galaxy to create your perfect playing mode.
Given the indie status of the title, the sandbox options come off as surprisingly comprehensive. From basics like enemy difficulty and map size to events’ frequency and threat level, the sandbox mode even lets you customize a race’s name, details, traits, and picture – a fantastic amount of freedom which is integral to the genre nowadays. Meanwhile, the indie 2D graphics can be either a boon or a curse depending on your preference, but little touches like blinking stars and a slight parallax effect when moving around the star map serve to sufficiently heighten the game’s production values -- a lesson a lot of less experienced developers have yet to learn.
The biggest issue with Astra Exodus, surprisingly, is the writing. Aside from the intro and a couple of mission briefings, the game has the most egregious writing style we’ve seen recently. Tooltips, race descriptions and dialogue not only contain frequent typos and bad grammar, but the very syntax of sentences is lax: rogue commas, run-on sentences and incorrect punctuation abound. Some of the text reads like fan-fiction, making some of the loading screen tips honestly hard to understand. It is a minor concern in an otherwise competent and functional game, but it is such a consistent problem that it does ends up detracting from the experience.
In the end, Astra Exodus is a capable 4X game. It is much better than other similar titles out there and it is definitely worth a shot if you want something more straightforward than Stellaris or GalCiv. It as a very well-executed game, so if you are not put out by the 2D graphics and the cartoony, anime-like illustrations then give it a try.