StarDrive 2 Review – How Many X’s Do You Need??
(slightly edited from version previously published on GamingPrecision.com)
Strategy games aren’t necessarily all the rage as they used to be. Games like Master of Orion, Civilization, and Sins Of A Solar Empire were all deep and engrossing games that tickled that fancy that many of us conquerors have of, well, conquering all. Zero Sum Games looks to nominate Star Drive 2 for the hallowed hall of 4X (eXplore, eXpand, eXploit, and eXterminate) strategy games.
Touted as a spiritual successor of Master Of Orion 2, Star Drive 2 takes the best part of the original Star Drive and attempts to improve upon its past formula. As one who spent countless hours on the first two Master of Orion games as well as Master of Magic for that matter, it would seem that ‘it’ factor is still missing within Star Drive 2.
As with other games in the genre, there are a number of alien species for you to either befriend or dominate as you explore systems, research new tech, and manage your empire’s resources. There is a great deal of different technology to research that will improve very aspect of your empire from ship modules to outfit your star fleet, to armor for your ground troops, to improvements to the production of your population, to defenses and weaponry for just about anything you can slap tech onto. Oh the decisions to make will boggle your strategic mind as you plan dozens of turns ahead for your next leap into the future in hopes that trouble doesn’t find you first in the form of the other aliens.
Oddly enough, building of structures and between turn actions really seemed to be a bit limited. Often times I would set a research and a ship/building goal and then simply advance dozens of turns until one was done. This could be just a personal forgetfulness of the nature of the genre, but a part of me remembered doing more between turns.
As you play, and fail if you’re out of practice, you learn NOT to forget the other X’s that Star Drive 2 provides a wealth of. Exploration is enjoyable and nerve-wracking as all kinds of derelict spacecraft, pirates, space creatures, asteroid fields, worm holes, and other galactic anomalies await you to either provide bonuses or yet another reason to cringe at your apparent lack of imperial DNA. Still, while this portion of the game is deep, so are many others in the genre.
So the universe is deadly, right? The races you encounter have all kinds of dispositions and clever little bonuses and boons that could harm and help their own efforts to conquer the universe as well. Randomization of their traits (good and bad) can be selected to keep each play session fresh if desired or their traditional traits can be kept. Again, this is par for course in my eyes.
Without a doubt, the best part of Star Drive 2’s galactic empire is the fun and well stocked ship customization. Even from the early stages of the game, there are a wealth of weapons, systems, and defenses that you can tinker around with to have satisfying diversity within your fleet. I spent quite a bit of time placing, shifting, and moving systems about the FTL style hull map for the ships. I wanted to keep making dozens of variations to support my imagination until I realized that fleet size is limited to the size of your empire (command points). I don’t quite remember such limitations of fleet size in Master of Orion but I’m certain the feature must provide some kind of balance to even the playing field against the other alien species you’ll encounter. As you go through the game and encounter more races, explore more, and even mod the game more, a wealth of options and potential is here that hardcore fans of the genre will undoubtedly enjoy. I’m certain the standard Star Trek or BSG fans will go hog wild with
Once in space battle, you get an exhilarating real time battle where loose commands can be issued along with positioning of each ship. Maybe I’ve been away from the genre for a bit too long but as the fleets got bigger, I found myself wishing for a few more simple commands like selecting a ship and then clicking on its target to focus on. Instead I was treated to confusing ‘range of attack’ bars and command menus that just didn’t seem to give much control over specific weapon systems. While not a must-have feature for this genre, it would have been something that could set it apart given the appealing ship creation.
Once the battle leaves the heavens and reaches the planetary surface, a square 2D turn based conflict is played out. Using customizable troops (where a max of 3 different weapons or equipment can be selected), you play out a pretty bland struggle against whatever foe you encounter. Considering that these often times determine the fate of your entire planet’s population, I would have like to see units like tanks or mechs or something of that nature to vary up the planetside combat but that’s not the case. Instead, it looks more like a scene out of Age of Wonders (which does combat much better in my opinion). This portion of the game isn’t bad but sure is a missed opportunity. Once again, this aspect of the game comes off as a bit ‘meh‘.
Another unique feature was the use of hero units that could be hired to lead specific colonies (with bonuses that help and harm the community depending on their own traits) or even pilot their own spacecraft. This kind of reminded me of a feature within Age of Wonders that I enjoyed quite a bit. The only problem was that in Age of Wonders, these units could be leveled up and equipped with artifacts and weapons found throughout exploration. In StarDrive 2, they provide bonuses, fight for you, and basically cost you a lot of money. Yet another missed opportunity in my eyes.
Star Drive 2 does manage to avoid the pitfall of bad strategy games which is to have a poor menu system that doesn’t allow for quick and easy monitoring of ALL of your colonies and resources. I found this portion of the game designed well enough that I could figure out how to find what I was looking for before I got frustrated. One feature that could have been used was a more streamlined fleet menu. Considering the space combat is a high point of the game, a better menu system of viewing and deploying them could have made the whole experience a bit more appealing.
When it’s all said and done, Star Drive 2 will probably be on the minds of 4X fans for a time, but it may just miss their hearts. There just doesn’t seem to be enough here to properly bump the likes of Master of Orion 2. Still, this does manage to sate that desire for a fresh approach on the 4X strategy genre.
Developer: Zero Sum Games
Publisher: Iceberg Interactive