Crying Suns Review10 Dec 2019 0
Crying Suns Review
Released 19 Sep 2019
My wife and many other people I know found Edge of Tomorrow (otherwise known as Live.Die.Repeat) rubbish, but I really enjoyed it. Tom Cruise starts from the same place over and over, trying to understand and eventually solve the time-loop he’s found himself in. While roguelikes don’t count amongst my most-played genres, they appeal to me for similar reasons. There’s a strange kind of attraction to learning through doing (or rather, dying), in revealing the world in snippets and pieced together battles from past runs.
Crying Suns is a sci-fi roguelike game with a real-time tactical layer. It’s set in a surprisingly rich universe, and half the joy is learning new things about it as you travel through each run. An empire that lasted hundreds of years and spanned countless systems thanks to the reliance autonomous AI beings known as ‘OMNI’ has suddenly collapsed after the machines were all mysteriously turned off. You are Admiral Idaho, or at least, his clone - you must take a ship and a crew and travel to the Empire’s heartland to find out what happened - to the OMNIs but also, your original self. Every time you die, another clone is reborn, although you and your crew will remember everything that’s happened before.
The meat-and-potatoes of this experience is travelling from system-to-system, and sector-to-sector. Much like FTL you start at one end of a connected network of systems, and much travel to the ‘exit’ at the far end in order to proceed to the next Sector. Each Chapter of the story has a number of sectors within it, and at the end of the last sector is a larger gateway that will allow you to travel to another cluster. You have boss fights at the end of each Sector and Cluster.
In-between, you’re travelling to different systems and resolving randomly generated encounters. Maybe you’ll find a civilian ship or colony, and you’ll need to make some kind of choice. Maybe you’ll just face a battle on your hands… there’s a pleasing variety of things that can happen to you, including launching expeditions down to planets. Anomalies represent encounters with added risk - you’ll either get a much worse, or a much better outcome than you would normally.
Combat is a lot more fun in Crying Suns than it is in something like FTL. Each combat takes place on a hex-grid, with you and your combatants at either end. Most of the action is done by squadrons - you can deploy Drones, Fighters or Frigates that form a chain of counters, and there’s a fourth special type called ‘Cruiser’ which acts as mobile artillery. Aside from that your ship will have main weapons it can deploy, either to whittle away at the opposing capital ship’s health, or by helping your squadrons by targeting enemy units. These combat encounters can be quite tense - you’ve got to balance offensive and defensive operations as you defend your ship from direct attacks, while also trying to attack the enemy ship. Doing it with cannons alone can take a while, but leaving yourself exposed will see you destroyed just as quick.
All this exploring, poking around and fighting comes at a cost and you must manage your resources carefully. It costs 1 point of Neo-N (Fuel) to move anywhere - to a new planet, system or Sector. If you run out, you fail. You can get some minor replenishment at the Sun of each system, otherwise you find it or buy it in shops. It means you may not be able to fully explore each system you come across, and choices that involve spending Neo-N can be quite tense. Scrap is the game’s currency used for buying new squadrons, weapons and ship upgrades. You’ll also need it to repair damage and heal officers - something that can happen often if you’re not careful.
One way to replenish resources is to launch expeditions to planets you come across. These are essentially a chain of skill-checks that can net you everything from scrap and Neo-N, to new weapons, or squadrons. You must pick one of your key officers to send on the expedition with a minimum of three (optimum, 10) Commandos. Depending on that officer’s skill set you will be given the following information:
- What chance there is of your officer becoming injured or dieing.
- What percentage (min-max range) of resources you will be able to extract.
- How many (min-max range) Commandos might be killed during this mission.
If you attempt to do an expedition with less than 10 commandos, the odds get far worse. Once an expedition launched, you’re essentially just watching a line travel across a map. Every so often there’s a skill check, and depending your ship upgrades you get so many chances to retreat early (with penalties), otherwise the expedition ends when the group reaches the extraction zone.
For all its compelling design and visual wonder, Crying Suns falls behind in other areas in terms of the best the genre has to offer. Other recent releases in this space have done more to make the expected repetition a bit more palatable, or at least interesting. Pathway, for example, has a lot of low-level mechanics such as loot and money that carry over through runs, so that your team gets better funded, and equipped the longer you play the game.
Crying Suns' progression is broken up into a couple of layers. Within a Chapter, nothing really carries over from run-to-run other than the experiences you’ve gained as a player, which can inform your choices in the next run. This isn’t bad in itself, but I for example struggled a bit to actually reach the boss at the end of the first Chapter. Replaying those early sectors over and over got quite stale quite quickly. So much of Crying Suns run can be down to RNG that you may just end up getting unlucky, which basically means a wasted run.
Once you complete a chapter though, you can start a new run at the beginning of the next chapter. The ship you completed that chapter with as well gets slightly better base stats (we think, it’s not 100% clear), and you can unlock new ships to use as you complete chapters. This incentivises going back through past chapters with other ships to level them up, but it can depend on your preference. I personally would like to see more significant persistence between runs.
But these are just minor niggles more than actual flaws. Crying Suns is still an excellent tactical rogue-like, elevated by the fact that you have so much more control in battle encounters and are presented a range of meaningful choices in how to spec your ship. The art style is wonderful, and the world a genuine pleasure to explore, provided you don’t get held up in the same section for too long. It’s less mechanically ground-breaking than perhaps it could be, but fans of FTP and rogue-likes at large can certainly add another highlight to their list.