Review: Stars in Shadow + Legacies DLC31 Oct 2017 0
Review: Stars in Shadow + Legacies DLC
Released 19 Oct 2017
With the rising popularity of the space exploration and strategy genre, Stars in Shadow sets a unique course into the stars. Ashdar Games interpretation of the 4X market adopts traditional turn based strategy and transforms it into a compelling journey with distinct races and an engaging bird’s eye fleet combat.
To appreciate the identity of the game, think Masters of Orion, that age-old title that was claimed as a king of PC strategy gaming. Stars in Shadow pays homage to the former behemoth with similar map styles and citizen management, whilst providing its own modern take on the genre.
With the release of it's first DLC Legacies, S.i.S. provides us with a feat of ingenuity by incorporating a story arc into a 4X strategy title. As you play, the universe reveals its history and what effect it has had on the in-game worlds and its races. This DLC expands the storyline to include discovering more about The Great War, including additional storylines for their new races and Hyperlane restorers. If narratives set in space is your thing, then this game might be something to keep an eye on for future DLC story releases.
As for the vanilla gameplay features, the combat and military vessels are easily the best features of the title. There are many different technologies every race can get to make their combat feel unique; some may prefer lasers, others prefer missiles or projectiles. However, each race can research into other weaponry types -- they will just be weaker in that research field for most of the game due to the modifier researches. These different techs go into numerous different ship styles, ranging from basic frigates to battleships with different purposes. In the screenshot below, you will see the several types of destroyers and cruisers available. Each can be kitted for a specific purpose that provides different approaches for combat scenarios, whether that's destroyers for dishing out high damage against planets or ships, light cruisers as supportive vessels with point-defence for missiles and small craft, etc -- like most 4X space games, you can personalise the slots for different components of a ship’s design. Therefore, these different unit types and part swapping provides the player with a large degree of choice, which provides great fleet construction that is required for a great military campaign.
Of course, great fleet construction must be aided with just as strong combat. Stars and Shadow's fleet engagements are very different compared to other modern 4X battles. When fleet combat begins, a bird’s eye view perspective of your ships comes into play, and each of them has a range of spaces it can travel along with turn based fleet movement and combat elements. With this feature, the player must be aware of where to position their units, awareness of ranges from pirate bases, enemy ships, space forts, or planetary defences. Mistakes with fleet movement can be costly, as your support vessels might die too soon, your destroyers may be the first to die rather than frigates, etc. On a side note, you can watch your NPC allies engage in combat against other fleets. This is a handy tool when you and your allies are at war. It puts you into a spectate mode and will show you exactly what died, which aids in planning your next moves in military campaigns.
One of the other achievements this game has is the identity of its playable races. In the starting screen there are 8 different playable factions, each with their own unique traits. Some races are economic playthroughs, other science, other military, whilst the humans are a nomad race that are difficult to get going. Each empire suits a victory condition, which are Military, Council, or Alliance victories. A military campaign requires you to conquer all races, whereas a council playthrough needs a vote count to be reached by the different politicians voting to determine a supreme leader, whilst an alliance victory is to ally all races. Matching a races identity with one of these victory conditions is crucial to coming out on top: For example, playing as the Orthin or Phidi races are great races to play for alliance or council victories due to their friendly and non-military playstyles, whilst the Gremak are great for military games due to their slavery and military bonuses.
With the understanding that diplomacy plays a key role in two of the victories, just how good is Stars in Shadow diplomacy? Many 4X strategy games find themselves lacking when it comes to diplomacy due to negotiations, with AI being extremely unfavourable or near impossible to advance positive relations. In this game, you gain influence every turn, which you can use to spend on setting up embassies to boost relations, setting up trade or research deals, or buying alliances. This feature enforces tactical usage of the currency to ensure you make the right moves with the right races. During my playthrough, I spent enough influence with the Phidi and could ally myself with them. The benefits of that granted me access to mercenary fleets and planetary forces that would prove useful in a large war.
Despite its interesting way of enabling progress, the negative modifiers do not seem to do much in declining relations. With each race having their own play styles, they will look favourably or down on you. The Orthins looked down on me for having inferior technology, as they were the scientific race of the game and were much further ahead than I was. However, I was still able to ally them as I spent enough influence over time for it to not mean anything. This makes sense in a way as the alliance victory would not be viable if all the races were extremely stubborn based on their characteristics. But I cannot stop thinking this dumbs down diplomatic interaction.
Another feature I think the game excels at is the lack of micromanagement. Unlike its counterparts, empire micromanagement is nowhere near as frustrating as large empire management can be in games like Stellaris. This game adopts a similar city building style that we see in the Civillization series. When you colonise a planet, you are allocated a few building slots which you then build labs, mines, farms, factories to aid in your research, population growth and construction of ships. When the building cap is reached, the planet becomes a place to make units and to boost research or economic surplus in a turn. In a way this is a good thing, as you can concentrate on what your empire really needs rather than having to jump around and constantly check on how each planet is doing.
Just to clarify: this is not saying that all heavy micromanagement empire building games is bad, it is just this style works well with the small learning curve this game has.
Finally, I must mention an inconvenience this game has. In its current state, I have encountered a few errors that have required sending automatic bug reports to the developers followed by game restarts. Luckily there is an auto save feature that can get me back to just before the bug closed the game. Despite the inconvenience, the devs post frequent updates, so expect many of these issues to disappear soon.
Overall, Stars in Shadow is a nice indie alternative to the current mainstream space 4X titles. It incorporates age old successful gameplay features whilst also going that extra mile in terms of combat. This game has a nice learning curve and can be picked up by any player within a few hours of playing. However, the game is a little too simple and can feel stale in some aspects of gameplay. Other 4X titles like EUIV or Civ 5 took a few content updates post launch before they became the titles that we love today. Give the game a few more DLC’s and content updates, and Stars in Shadow could be well on its way to becoming one of the strongest 4X space titles on the market.