Review: Dawn of Andromeda08 May 2017 0
Review: Dawn of Andromeda
Released 03 May 2017
Dawn of Andromeda is not a very enjoyable game. A 4X real time strategy title with a nice yet slightly generic space sci-fi setting, Grey Wolf Entertainment's first game fails to execute proper staples of the genre at the same time it doesn't bring anything new to the table. It’s not inherently bad, it is just lacking; lacking functionality, lacking feedback, lacking gameplay -- lacking everything. It’s what an alpha version of in indie Stellaris would look like.
The game features a custom mode and a campaign, the latter composed of different scenarios entitled "Eras". Those act as missions set against a storied backdrop, but there is not a lot of variation; the missions only determine what events will happen at which point, while the overall galaxy and gameplay structure remains unchanged.
The custom mode, unlike the campaign, allows players to create a custom race, and gives them enough customisation options like appearance, traits, and ships to create an approximate version of whatever race they want. However, it does fall short on the civics department -- the whole concept of government revolves around an empire; there is no way to make a democracy, or choose between a parliament or a congress. The only government type revolves around you being a sole, eternal dictator, and even your quest log is called “Emperor’s Log”. While not a necessarily bad decision, it does restrict an elementary facet of your race, the politics -- every single race, regardless of their name, origin, or culture, plays the same and is ruled by an Emperor.
Once the race selection is done with and the proper game starts, the immediate objective is to find a planet with your sole expedition ship and settle a colony there for your empire to thrive. Usually, that would have been weighted in order to provide a nice start and a quick get-up, but not in Dawn of Andromeda. During my first playthrough session, I spent 40 minutes searching the galaxy for a suitable planet. Every planet I found was uncolonisable due to conditions or type, meaning I literally explored about 60% of the galaxy before finding some place to plop my civilization down. Due to the absurd amount of time spent -- 16 months in game, nearly one hour of real time gameplay doing nothing but clicking one ship among several different solar systems -- my society was in near shambles by the time they made planetfall. Happiness had nosedived, prosperity was down, and approval rates were Trump-like -- it made for a very rough start in an already not enjoyable session.
Making matters worse was the AI, which refused to follow simple commands. During my endless travels, I ran into dozens of other empires and independent characters, the latter of which you can hire for a fee. These mercenaries and travellers join your faction as commandable ships, and you can order them around like any other unit. However, they seem to have a life of their own. I hired about four of them, and would order them to survey all nearby systems to look for a colonisable planet for my race. When I would check back on then 20 seconds later, I would discover my orders had been cancelled and they were flying a new, completely made up string of commands. They not only would roam the galaxy at will and ignore all of my orders half a minute after it was given, they would also constantly follow each other and fly into the same sequence of star systems. I wanted to physically reach into the game and slap them till they hurt, but obviously, that wasn't possible.
And that is one of my biggest concerns regarding Dawn of Andromeda: not much is actually possible, so you don’t really have a lot of things to do. In an attempt to be simplistic, the game ends up being hollow, and there are very few active endeavours to engage in. Government policies are shallow and stale, providing zero choice in regards to politics. While the game urges you to pick five characters to make up a council, they are largely inconsequential -- I removed one of the councillors and neglected choosing a successor, and that vacancy made zero impact on my playthrough. All units do is move and attack, the latter option being changed to survey or colonise if the craft is a survey or colony ship, respectively. There are no tactical or strategic actions, no morale or logistic factors to be aware of, making Dawn of Andromeda remarkably simplistic. Some units have special abilities, but thanks to their singular purpose and limited effectivity, even they don’t play as heavy a role as they should.
The game presents very little in terms of moment to moment gameplay to keep one engaged, revolving around queuing orders and waiting for them to be completed. Travels and constructions take weeks to complete in-game, and you often do nothing in the meanwhile -- your choices often devolve into spending long stretches of time doing nothing while looking at the screen, or fast forwarding the game and risking not optimising your actions. Colonies and planets are slightly more interactive than units, with a few buildings and upgrade paths requiring you to engage in to see them flourish. That interactivity is slightly offset by the few options actually available: you basically get five points to distribute between seven categories in order to dictate what gets upgraded, and how fast. Like every other aspect of gameplay, the end result feels rather insubstantial, and the whole pace drags along to the point of apathy.
Even the game’s interface feels desolate, requiring several clicks to perform the simplest of functions. The UI is ugly, superficial, and unnecessarily obtuse to the point of being, quite frankly, useless. There is no way of knowing in a glance how many ships you have or where they are, let alone if you even *have* a ship somewhere. The interface is oversized and presents exactly zero useful information, making you constantly lost as to what the status of your empire is. Unbelievably, even zooming all the way out to the galaxy map shows you zero intel. You can’t see where your fleets are, so you don’t know where your ships are, which means you can’t really properly plan anything without constantly zooming in and out and memorising names a hundred times over. It is frustrating.
This 4X strategy is also in need of some serious balancing and adjustment to general gameplay, as simple controls like queueing orders with Shift+Click are inexistent. Events or menus do not pause the action, so navigating one of the dozens of lists will keep the game happening in the background. Not that it matters: I once got a mission to take out an outlaw who had escaped my empire, and after I found him despite absolutely zero clues of where he might be, my fleet chased the meliant for literally half the galaxy -- that was three cruisers chasing a fighter for roughly 10 minutes. No engagement happened, no cooldown, no evasive maneuvers -- simply system jump after system jump until the cruisers eventually caught up with him and killed him in five seconds. Describing combat as anti-climatic would be an hyperbole.
Despite all of the above, Dawn of Andromeda is not exactly a bad experience. It looks somewhat nice, like a cross of Stellaris and Sins of a Solar Empire, and it clearly tries to do it’s own thing. However, it fails at the basic task of being a 'game'. There isn’t a lot of things to do, and what there is is spoilt by a terrible interface and obscure gameplay system. Virtually every change it makes to the established basic formula feels like a decision that brought nothing to the table, while at the same time removing an essential piece of information. Most of it wounds up serving no purpose. Although it has officially launched, it still feels very much like an Early Access game. Given what I’ve seen so far, everyone’s better off playing Stellaris.