Dawn of Andromeda (Review)

Source: Review Copy
Price: £22.99
Where To Get It: Steam, Humble Store

Real Time Strategy in space has always been a tough proposition. Mainly because space is big, and the early game of any such endeavour can, done “realistically”, have all the fun of watching paint dry, while the mid to late game can be plagued with doing a thing wrong, then not realising for a good hour (or until it’s too late, whichever comes sooner.) Dawn of Andromeda, sadly, is no different in this, despite a potentially interesting main campaign.

Pictured: an interesting *description*

Let’s talk about that campaign narrative a little, because honestly, it’s a feature I see very little of in the old 4X (eXpand, eXplore, eXploit, eXterminate) genre these days, and one involving multiple alien races in a grand tapestry of war, tragedy, and shenanigans? Sign me u-

Oh. Oh wait. I can’t find that mercenary I just hired and sent to kill a bounty for my current best friends, the Sython (Who the Terran Empire totally isn’t going to go to a long, expensive war with several times over the next few millennia before somebody else screws it all up.) Wait, I found him again, and… Wait, I lost a survey ship? When did I? Oh, while I was watching this guy half a galaxy away. Meanwhile, I’m debating which of the more far flung colony worlds I should try expanding to, in the hope I can actually defend them.

Space is not only big, but also rather sparse. This is something I’m not actually that fond of being reminded of in space opera games, for some reason.

What I’m getting at here, folks, is that Dawn of Andromeda is not the friendliest of games. There are three game speeds (not counting pause), and while they’re marked “Slow”, “Normal”, and “Fast”, I have different names for them: “Can actually see a fight happening”, “Can watch bars slowly tick up”, and “The speed I go at while I’m waiting for things to happen.” Pause is pretty much my default state while I try to work out what the hell is going on with my scouts and survey ships and, in one particular case, watching a bounty slowly, but surely, escape the guy I’d just hired to take it.

Meanwhile, there’s a lot to take in, adding to the “A lot of the time you will be paused.” Understanding an alien race enough to talk to them is a research project, taking time away from your research. Adding to a world’s power requires an infrastructure investment, which will cost you some money a turn until it’s done. You have an approval rating, which will cause rebellions if it’s low, and goes up and down based on… Factors. Decent living conditions help, as does an assigned councillor who isn’t an asshole. It’s not very colour blind friendly, to the point where, zoomed in to a point where I have two ships chasing each other in my field of view, I can’t actually see the things without straining my eyes (Drag selecting will only select the ship I directly control.)

It tries to help, really it does. It has “Zoom in here” icons in the planet tables, fleet tables, anomaly tables… But the main screen is a mess. The UI isn’t the friendliest. Ships can chase each other for a long time without fights happening, and ships attacking from the front will move toward said fast ship, then tail along behind it, losing it like the other poor bastards chasing it in the first place. Providing you have the foresight (and opportunity) to pull such a maneuver off in the first place.

Gripping [YAWN] Space combat. [YAWN] Honest!

I’m sure the game has some interesting things in it. I’m sure it has something, some potential. But I’m finding frustration in even the easiest of scenarios (Where I am informed, and tentatively agree, that even finding the alien worlds may well eat up the whole 2 years allotted for “survival”), boredom from the sparse universe, and quickly realising that it amounts to “Build lots of ships, point them at whatever enemy while holding your own worlds safe”, despite its other trappings. As I am occasionally forced to say, the game resists being played.

The Mad Welshman accepts that Space is big. But surely it’s more interesting than this?

The Long Journey Home (Review)

Source: Review Copy
Price: £33.99 (Soundtrack £1.99)
Where To Get It: Steam, GOG, Humble Store

I’d like a moment of silence for the crew of the ISS [Insert whichever one you chose here] . They pushed the boundaries of mankind, of science, but, in the end, they could not prevail against…

…And this is basically going to be the beginning to many a story of The Long Journey Home, which, in true science fiction traditions, begins with a jump drive going wrong, and being cast into an unfriendly, but definitely populated galaxy. One way or another, humanity is going to learn about the galactic community.

As it turns out, the Galactic Community doesn’t appreciate Galactic Pranksters. Not even the decadent bits.

In any case, the game is very simple in its controls, with most of the movement done with the mouse (Left click to thrust, Right click for retros when they’re available, and both for JUMP DRIVE. Be warned, hold it down until you’re actually gone), and some keyboard keys… Y’know, occasionally. Like tab to go into the ship interface, q to charge your weapons and shields or turn them off, and space to fire ’em off. So the game’s fairly accessible, with the caveat that, until (or, more likely, unless) you find or buy some upgrades, it’s very newtonian in its movement, fairly realistic, so everything steers like a god-damn barge. Nonetheless, the space elements themselves, once you get used to it, are just fine. Even space combat can be very interesting, if nail biting.

And then there’s the lander game. Hoo boy. This, folks, is your core method for getting resources, and often for exploring. You orbit a world, and if you see words like “Vulcanism: Severe”, “Temperature: Extreme”, “Gravity: High”, or “Convection: Moderate”, you sigh and prepare for your lander to get damaged. Or, y’know, go somewhere else, but you might also see the words “[That Resource you need right damn now]”, “Ruins”, or “Biotics”, all of which imply a chance for gain. Let’s lay out how this might go. On “Gravity: High” or above, you’re going to fall like a bat out of hell, and even with burning from the moment you’re allowed to, you might still slam into the planet. You’re going to be burning a lot of fuel just on staying afloat, and you’re going to need more to escape. Meanwhile, with “Convection: Moderate” , the winds will occasionally start blowing in one direction or another, and, unless you have something to lessen the pain, believe me, the winds are going to have their say more often than you will. “Temperature: Severe/Extreme” , meanwhile, means that, without good heat shields, you’re basically going to be taking damage for as long as you’re down there. In the case of a world with convection and high gravity, with gases to harvest and a ruin, the odds are high you’ll be wasting a lot of fuel trying to suck up those gases, as you have to be flying above a gas vent to get those sweet, sweet fuel chemicals.

This isn’t to say worlds aren’t interesting a fair amount of the time. But not pictured was the two or three minutes wrestling with the wind so I could SODDING LAND.

You might have gathered that I don’t like the lander game much, and Explorer Mode (the easier mode introduced since the game released) only tones down a fair bit of it. Gas Giants remain trading fuel for damage. The dread “Sector full of Pulsar Systems” (High radiation damage periodically while you’re in the system) will still happen… Just less often. And the aliens will give you somewhat of a break, but certain races will still declare you their Ever-Mortal-Enemy for not doing certain jobs for them. Which leads us nicely on to what I feel the best part of the game is: The aliens.

There’s a fair few of them, from the hyper-feudal walking beards, the Meorcl, to the cheery, rugged gate explorers, the Reeve. The nigh lawless and decadent Ilitza, to the calm and lawful Logos… There’s a fair few, and each has their own character, wants, dislikes, and threats. One of my favourites, perhaps, was the Cueddhaest, who are both cheerily trying to explain their faith to my meatsack crew, while trying (badly) to disguise their revulsion at our fleshy, not-rocky forms. “They’re still taaaaaaalking, brother!” , I heard one disclaim, and his calmer, more open friend, over our equally more open comm channel, states in reply “Well, hopefully they’ll stop soon.”

Charming, friends. Real charming. In the end, it’s the aliens that draw me in, and the lander game that repels me. The worlds and events are somewhere in between, ranging from space mysteries, to things you are likely to screw up on and piss somebody off if you don’t have the right item, or the right gossip, or the right… something to deal with it. The game very much banks on you replaying the game to get through it well, maybe even get home with all the crew intact, and nobody having been truly pissed off (the best of all possible endings.) Am I okay with that?

Yeah, I’m okay with that. Not everybody will be though, so my own advice is to read, not just this review, but a fair few more, to get a better picture of the game before making a purchase. It’s certainly got its interesting points, but to play fuel conservatively is to play moderately slowly, carefully, and cautiously, and I know not everybody has that time.

There is a very good reason not to get into space combat until you have better kit. Namely, that you’re crap at it.

The Mad Welshman was the main engineer behind the Jump drive. He still, to this day, blames those stupid shield engineers for what happened.

StarCrawlers (Review)

Source: Birthday Gift
Price: £14.99 (£18.99 for game and soundtrack)
Where To Get It: Steam, GOG

Being touched by knowledge of the Eldritch Thingumawotsits from The Dark Between The Stars is, it turns out, rather rough. But it does have its upsides. Being able to drain the shields of your enemies, smite them with pure Void… Yup, definitely has its compensations.

The bosses can get quite inventive, including this feller and his robo-dawgies. Git!

And this, funnily enough, is one of the things I like about StarCrawlers: Every class has its ups and downs, and, more importantly, its own flavour. So the temptation to have a save game in each class, so as to explore the story of the game from several perspectives, is definitely tempting. Even if I’m not actually the biggest fan of the Void Psyker due to the whole “Not so hot portrayal of mental health and occult stuff” being a roadblock for me.

In any case, StarCrawlers is a turn based, step based roleplaying game set in a corporate space opera universe, where everything moves when you do, your actions in combat have time costs that need to be considered, but it’s perfectly okay, because time doesn’t move on until you’ve had a cup of tea, a nice think, and then held down the mouse button, selected “MURDER THESE DAMN ENEMIES ALREADY”, and moved on. It does interesting things, like being able to look around while you explore, which you’ll need, as not everything is at eye level. I’ve found security panels and credsticks in some odd places, from next to desks, near the floor, and even, in a couple of cases, just lying, in a planter. Okay, not the security panel, but yeah, the game wants you to look around, and it demonstrates this by hiding things so that looking around nets you maximum loot. It’s also a fairly colourblind friendly game, and the UI is pretty clear.

If you don’t like the psychic darkside, then how about the power… To kill a droid from 200 yards away… WITH MIND BULLETS?!?

So, is there anything bad about the game? Well, apart from the characterisation of the Void Psyker, which is, tbqh, a hackneyed stereotype I’d really rather see less of, my main “complaints” are more like “niggles.” For optimal play, you will want a hacker and an engineer in your party, so as to, respectively, hack terminals and security panels, and fix shit that’s broken. The plot missions require a few level ups to get to, but this is actually okay because the generation of the levels keeps to a theme, and occasionally goes interesting places like the inside of mining asteroids and the like, while still making sure that secret doors aren’t blocked off, that once you know an area’s “theme”, you can quickly find security trip-lasers, secret door buttons, and, of course, the things likely to contain loot.

There’s a lot to StarCrawlers, but thankfully, it’s pretty accessible, from the Black Market to the faction system that can lead to assassins being sent after you by a corporation you’ve pissed off (In my runs, nearly always Chimera Corp, the Umbrella of the spaceways, but you might end up pissing off someone like Horizon Robotics or The Workers Union instead), it has an interesting universe, good sounds, good music, and clear visuals. I’d heartily recommend it to RPG fans, as it’s a good example of making a genre that occasionally gets bogged down in grogginess accessible to folks of all types.

“You don’t think it’s too subtle, Marty, you don’t think people are going to drive down and not see the door?”

The Mad Welshman inspires many a space psychic, being formed of the pure Dark Between The Genres.

EVERSPACE (Review)

Source: Birthday prezzie
Price: £22.99
Where To Get It: SteamGOG

I do love me my first person space shooting games, and I do love me my procedural generation, so EVERSPACE (Capitals intended) continues to ring my bell in a most pleasing manner… With one exception: The story.

“Ye’re a Clone, ‘Arry!”
“You what?”
“A CLONE, ‘ARRY!”

More accurately, the fact that, once I’ve missed the story, that’s it, boom, it’s gone, it’s done, and you won’t see it again. I don’t mind so much that you don’t get new story until you reach the next sector, because honestly, the story is interesting, and takes a few twists and turns. Suffice to say, the strangeness of multiple pilots piloting what appears to be the same ship was indeed, as many players had speculated, that you are a clone. And that’s not a spoiler, because a) It was p. obvious, and b) It gets revealed in Sector 2. Of 7. And is foreshadowed from the start.

It’s kind of hard to write the release review at this point, because my opinion remains largely unchanged: The voice acting is excellent, while remaining down to earth (I especially like HIVE, the fussy, very snarky core of the AETERNA system of the ship you fly), the different ships definitely make for a different gameplay experience, and the dying while levelling up over time mechanic, that we’ve now seen in multiple games this month, let alone this year, remains a fairly decent way of lengthening play while not making it feel like grind (Even though that’s exactly what it is.) The handling is good, the music and sound design pleasing…

This screenshot, taken just moments before death, shows you a Bad Idea: Taking on an Okkar Corvette before you’re *damn good and ready*

… I am, however, the first to admit it’s not for everbody. You don’t get to keep money between runs, so unlocking your first other ship (From your two choices of the Scout or the Gunship) can feel extremely annoying, some of the achievements seem a little forced (No, really, what do I have against floodlights, of all things?), and, of course, space shooters in general are a genre that doesn’t have a great history accessibility wise, being hard to simplify and requiring a little bit of twitch to the old reflexes. Still, it’s got a lot going for it, and having a different ship does make for a somewhat different experience.

The scout, for example, can cloak, and begins with a charged sniping weapon and a beam laser, relying on speed, cloaking, and the limited automatic lock-on of the beam laser to win the day, while the Gunship has a top turret, heavier weapon loadouts, more armour… And begins with no shields, making it a battle of attrition until you get some. There are also skills that don’t depend on a ship, and it’s these I tend to prioritise while playing because… Honestly, who doesn’t want more credits, better resources, and the knowledge beforehand that if they go that way, they’ll encounter a terrifying black hole, and if they go that way, they’ll encounter an Okkar warship?

The Gunship remains my favourite.

Any which way, if you like space flight shooting type games, don’t mind the fact that you (currently) only get the story once, and will be seeing the early sectors a fair bit, then EVERSPACE is definitely worth a go. The story gets very interesting, fairly quickly, it has both 1st and 3rd person modes, an action cam for when you want to take ROCKING SCREENSHOTS, and the ship design is well worth a look.

“I think I’m getting the hang of thi-” is, perhaps, The Mad Welshman’s most common set of last words. TMWr1-46, 58-64, and 128-209 have all said such words before rejoining the star-stuff Carl Sagan said we’re all made of.

Endless Space 2 (Review)

Source: Cashmoneys
Price: £34.99
Where To Get It: Steam, Humble Store

Endless Space 2 is big. I mean really big. I mean, you may think it’s a long walk down to the chemist’s, but that’s peanuts compared to Endless Space 2!

Joking reference aside, Endless Space 2 is, as far as turn based strategy where you eXpand, eXplore, eXploit and eXterminate other alien races, most often while playing an alien race yourself, actually quite good. Even if I’m somewhat salty about Amplitude following the current “stance” of “Who even plays hotseat?” (Hi! I do! And so do quite a few of my friends!)

Making this clear right now… The Sophons are totally not my… Adorkable, irresponsible, space babies. Nope.

So let’s get that out the way right now: Multiplayer is online only, none of the playing-with-yourself or risk free theorycrafting shenanigans you’d be used to in some other… Well, quite a few other strategy games, up till relatively recently. If that’s a turnoff, I understand. Let’s get on to the good stuff.

In Endless Space 2, there are eight races, and they all play somewhat differently. This has pretty much been the charm of Amplitude games since the studio arose in 2011, and it’s a skill they’ve been steadily honing through their company life. The Unfallen, for example, with their “branch” system of colonising, are extremely interesting. They can only colonise in lines from the homeworld, and instead of sending a ship full of people, they send a ship that lures space-vines from the homeworld, entangling a system, and then they send the first colonists through the space-vines. On the upside, this means they can stretch out a web of influence, and colonise systems quickly once they have the technology to actually live on the bloody things. On the downside, if somebody happens to conquer a system along that branch, whether there were nice treemen living there or not, everything further down the branch is lost, and, unlike every other faction except the Vodyani, if you lose your homeworld, that’s it. Game over. Caput.

But interest comes in many flavours. A returning faction from the first game, the Sophons, are my dear little science babies, not because they have a different colonisation method, or because they’re game breaking, but because they have accepted that Science is a verb, a noun, a preposition, and… Look, they really like science… Often to their own detriment. And I love them for it, which leads nicely into the narrative end of things.

And it definitely isn’t because they acknowledge as objective fact that Science is a Verb.

Endless Space 2 has race specific questlines. The Sophons, for example, have found themselves in the unenviable position of having created the universe’s first (known) Super-AI, called ENFER, have plugged it into everything they can, and now have to answer a very difficult question: How the heck do we keep it happy? Everybody has their thing, and nobody is very nice. The United Empire, under very Stalinist propaganda, are influence wielding warmongers, the Riftborn just want to live, their perfect, ordered universe having been destroyed by our chaotic, quantum-fuckery filled one (Which, if you think about it, is very much Cosmic Horror), the Horatio (A race of clones) want to make things perfect (IE – All Horatio, because Horatio is perfection), the Cravers are perfectly happy being hungry murderbugs designed to devour entire planets (or are they?) , and…

…Look, there’s a lot of stories here. Not just the eight racial stories, but the stories of individual heroes, the universe (The fallout of a war between two ideologically opposed Super Races who appear to have killed each other, but may not actually be dead, is one familiar to science fiction fans, but is excellently implied), and even of specific worlds, come together in a well written and engaging universe that’s well worth looking at on its own. The UI is mostly friendly and clear (The research “circle” is a little confusing at first, as is how to get to ground force management), the ships have real polish and difference to them, and the music… Electronic heaven, whether its somewhat ambient, as in the title screen, or the more “Ohcrap, things are happening” of the combat tuneage.

Both ground and space combat, for returning Endless players, has had some improvement, with extra choices and tactics at the beginning, but remains “You make choices about range and tactics, then watch the pretty lights and explosions.” Or don’t.

Essentially, if you want to eXplore space, eXpand into new worlds, and eXploit and eXterminate new civilisations, Endless Space 2 is another good one to go for. Like Master of Orion 2016, its difficulty is fairly adjustable, and, as noted, my main bitch with the game is the same one I have with this genre all over in recent years… I just want to have a chill time smashing spaceships and aliens together, by myself, and nobody’s letting me.

The Mad Welshman can’t actually pick a favourite faction. They’re all moustache twirley in their own way, and he loves them all equal- AHAHA SCIENCE FOR THE WIN, YOU CAN’T OUTFIGHT ME IF I OUT-TECH YOU EVERYWHERE!