In what’s being humorously called “No Man’s Skylanders,” Ubisoft revealed an intriguing new toys-to-life space game called Starlink: Battle for Atlas during their E3 press conference. It’s coming to Xbox…
Not long ago the strategy genre was struggling when it came to the final frontier. Fans of endlessly replayable strategy games and galactic empires frequently cite 1996’s Master of Orion II as the pinnacle of the sub-genre. Nearly two decades have gone by without much competition.
Fast-forward to 2017 and suddenly we have a myriad of excellent space games all vying for your star-faring gaze. If you want to smash spaceships together, you’ve got Homeworld Remastered. Fancy jumping into the cockpit and playing Choose Your Own Adventure in Space? Try Elite: Dangerous or Rebel Galaxy. Want to learn the actual real-world science behind the space program? Hello Kerbal Space Program! And I haven’t even mentioned Eve Online, which remains one of the most popular and successful Massively Multiplayer Online games without the word Warcraft in its title.
But what if you want to take a few steps back and guide an entire galactic empire to victory? The time has finally come for my beloved strategy genre, or “4X” (Explore, Expand, Exploit, Exterminate) to take its place among the stars.
Between 2015’s Galactic Civilizations III, last year’s Stellaris, and the recently released Endless Space 2, I’m officially declaring it the Golden Age of Space Strategy Games. But which one is right for you, O Conquistador of the Cosmos?
Galactic Civilizations III
The Galactic Civilizations series, published and developed by Stardock Entertainment, was one of the few games proudly carrying the torch of 4X space games through the dark ages of the 2000s. Galactic Civilizations III had a rocky launch two years ago but has since received some quality updates and well-received DLC.
Galactic Civilizations III is the most board game-like of the space strategy games in its visual style. Planetary maps and even space itself are represented by hex grids. You can dive into micromanaging adjacency bonuses on each planet, or let a governor run things and turn your attention to those pesky space orcs next door.
A short story-based campaign is included, which features humanity facing off against the Drengin Empire. The visuals boast some fairly high production values, with fully animated leaders and voice acting. It adds a rich amount of personality to each playthrough, whether in the campaign or through scenarios with dozens of potential players.
GalCiv 3’s best component is the ship builder. It features one of the most comprehensive spaceship creators since Spore, letting you resize pieces and slide them around to create unique designs. It’s easy to lose hours designing your dream vessels with the LEGO-like builder. Unfortunately the actual space combat is little more than watching ships pew-pew each other (a problem every space 4X game seems to suffer from).
Play Galactic Civilizations III If: You’re a galactic warlord who loves customizing and tinkering with spaceships.
If you’re coming from a Civilization background, Stellaris will feel completely alien, and not just because you can play as a fungus hive-mind if you want to. Stellaris is developed by Paradox, who carved out a successful niche with their Grand Strategy titles. Their games eschew standard turn-based gameplay for a real-time experience that demands constant attention as you fly through epochs of technological advancement, explore anomalies, and colonize distant star systems.
Stellaris has the weakest visual presentation but comes with a large amount of customization for building your own galactic race, from totalitarian lizards to honorable space-birds. Diplomacy comes down to your chosen ethics and technology choices, and combat largely relies on who can muster a bigger fleet to throw more spaceships at their opponent.
What makes Stellaris compelling is the emergent narratives that crop up, such as uplifting a young race on a promising planet only to have them rebel against you. Or catching a scientist being worshiped as a god in another planet, complete with pyramids.
If you haven’t played any of Paradox’s Grand Strategy games, Stellaris can be an intimidating game to get into, with a steep learning curve. But it’s a rewarding experience that is absolutely worth discovering for fans of space strategy games.
Play Stellaris If: Taking turns is for suckers and you want to shape the entire history of your galactic empire.
Endless Space 2
Hopefully you’ve already read my review and know that Endless Space 2 is a great game. It brings everything that made Amplitude Studios’ Endless Legend a breath of fresh air back where it belongs – in space!
Endless Space 2 may be the easiest game of the bunch to get into, even if you haven’t played Amplitude’s previous Endless games. It’s the most Civ-like of the bunch as each unit in your diverse population produces food, industry, science, and dust to empower your military, build structures, research new technology, and grease the right palms.
Unlike Civ choosing your empire doesn’t just provide a few bonuses, it completely changes the way you play, from space vampires who drain planets to a race of genetic clones and tree-people. Each faction has dramatically different play-styles, political affiliations, and narrative arcs. RPG-like quests demand you make choices that affect your entire empire, letting you customize your game both mechanically and narratively.
I’ve never played a game that let me enjoy politics as much as Endless Space 2. The political system is built into every area of the game, making politics an integral and compelling feature.
Play Endless Space 2 If: You want to run your galaxy with a hefty dose of resource management and RPG elements.
Available On: PC
The original Endless Space launched in 2012 as the debut title from indie developer Amplitude Studios. It posited the Civilization-in-Space concept that had been tackled several times before. Endless Space offered a simple yet effective interface and many interesting new gameplay mechanics to make it a very underrated turn-based strategy game.
Endless Space 2 is very much a direct sequel, building upon all the core gameplay features of the original. This time around, Amplitude has several more games under their belt – specifically the much more intriguing and innovative Endless Legend.
Endless Space 2 utilizes all the best elements of Endless Legend and stirs in a well-integrated political system to craft a fantastic follow-up that easily emerges from its Civilization shadow.
Amplitude Studios revealed the eighth and final faction for sci-fi strategy sequel Endless Space 2. The Unfallen are a race of peaceful tree-folk who prefer a slow and steady expansion…
The first new Mass Effect game in five years is out today in North America. Developed by BioWare and published by Electronic Arts, Mass Effect: Andromeda is available for PC (Origin), Xbox One, and PlayStation 4. A companion app is also available for iOS and Android.
“We’re very happy to welcome the fans back to the Mass Effect universe,” said Aaryn Flynn, VP and GM of BioWare. “The team’s vision for this epic new chapter was to take what our fans love about Mass Effect – great characters and combat – and add more emphasis on exploration while telling a different type of story. We’re following a group of characters who are just starting their heroic journey, and we can’t wait for our fans to discover more about them and this new galaxy.”
Mass Effect: Andromeda distances itself literally from the original trilogy through both time and space. A 600-year long journey thrusts your colony-seeking crew into an all-new galaxy far from our Milky Way. You play as one of the Ryder siblings, a brother or sister. Your Ryder is a Pathfinder, a leader and vanguard of the dangerous exploration missions you’ll undertake.
In addition to a single player campaign, Mass Effect: Andromeda will feature cooperative multiplayer, which play similarly to the multiplayer found in Mass Effect 3 and Dragon Age: Inquisition. Mass Effect: Andromeda also utilizes the Frostbite 3 engine, which is featured in all of EA’s games of the last few years such as Dragon Age: Inquisition and Battlefield 1.
Launch day reviews have been lukewarm, ranging from praise to harsh criticism. The title currently hovers around a mixed Metascore of 75 (stay tuned for our review).
Mass Effect: Andromeda is available in Standard Edition ($59.99), Deluxe Edition ($69.99), and Super Deluxe ($99.99). The Deluxe Edition grants access to additional digital goodies, such as armor, booster packs for multiplayer, and a pet space monkey. The Super Deluxe Edition is digital only and comes with everything in the Deluxe Edition, plus “a [multiplayer] Premium Pack coming your way every week, for 20 weeks.”
No Man’s Sky is one of the most controversial games in recent memory. Its launch last year was fraught with drama, both in technical execution and content delivered. Then, complete silence by the developers for several months. Last November, Hello Games released their first post-launch patch, The Foundation Update, which added planetary base building. The next big update just arrived, titled Pathfinder. The 1.2 patch adds planetary vehicles, base sharing, permadeath, new weapon mods, and more.
Three new moon-rover style vehicles called Exocraft have been added. They come in three different flavors, light, medium, and heavy, with the light Nomad able to glide over water. You can acquire Exocraft by hiring a Technician to your planetary base and completing their missions. Like spaceships, Exocraft can be equipped with scanners, mining lasers, weapons, and speed boosters.
Once you have your Exocraft you can also map out your own race courses using the new Race Initiator. Other players can attempt your course through the new base sharing feature. Custom built planetary bases are now available to upload and share via the Steam Workshop.
The Pathfinder update also doubles the customization options for your bases. Over 40 new parts have been added, as well as new textures and decals.
Starships have been given a big boost. Now you can finally own multiple starships in a large freighter. Ships have also been rebalanced into four different specializations: Fighter, Shuttle, Hauler, and Explorer. Each ship will then have a different class rating, from A to C, and the top-of-the-line S class. Weapons have also received a a similar specialization and class rebalance.
Other new updates include an overhaul to the game’s graphics, including better Ambient Lighting, Ambient Occlusion, and higher resolution textures. Support for the PS4 Pro has been added with 4K resolution. New weapon mods, a more hardcore Survival Mode with Permadeath, and an Instagram-like Photo mode with filters are all in this massive Pathfinder update.
What do we think? Is it enough to jump back into No Man’s Sky and give it another try, or has that proverbial starship already sailed on past?