StarDrive 2 proves that the right indie developer with the right genre can accomplish astounding things. In this case, we have a 4X release which manages to balance micromanagement with speed while still offering even experienced players a true challenge.
Aiming for scale above all, the game offers massive tech trees, up to a hundred systems of multiple planets, anomalies and asteroid fields, multiple ship classes and nine races. The technology itself offers some surprisingly high tier choices from the opening turns, notably cloning to help boost your population, all off which significantly impact how you shape your planets. Just about everything game can be tailored and edited, from the layout and equipment of ship classes, to the strengths and weaknesses of the races themselves. Balanced by an attributes system, you can build an empire of space samurai bears who are terrible spies but excellent engineers and ground combatants. Yes, there’s ground combat in this turn-based 4X space sim, allowing for small groups of soldiers to make boarding actions or investigate derelict vessels Aliens style.
The game does little to hold your hand, and to even win on the easier difficulties you need to keep track of events. Constantly upgrading your ships is a priority from the start, laying down listening posts in space and guarding security-breaching wormholes are elements which reward a fast start. This said you need to balance your focus and trying to expand too rapidly can easily backfire. The game rewards careful planning and tactical thinking, a breath of fresh air to be sure after Civ V’s walk in the park.
Sadly, several problems do plague this title causing a surprising number of issues. Foremost is the optimisation, leaving players waiting behind loading screens for up to several minutes at a time, and an incredibly lengthy start-up sequence. This hindrance isn’t helped by a bare-bones options menu which leaves few ways to modify or control the game’s visuals. In addition, the combat itself is simplistic to say the least, with the real meat and tactical edge lying in how you tailored and outfitted your troops. Ground combat in particular proves to be problematic of this front, and pales in comparison to turn-based classics such as XCOM. Thankfully however, its strengths are refined enough to allow enthusiasts to overlook these shortcomings.
Stardrive 2 is the game Sid Meier’s Starships should have been, utterly eclipsing Firaxis’ own project. Vast, complex, challenging and with no end of surprises even for veterans of the 4X genre, it is a flawed gem but a gem nonetheless. Sword of the Stars starved fans, welcome to your new time vampire.
INFO: STARDRIVE 2 / DEVELOPER: ZERO SUM GAMES / PUBLISHER: ICEBERG INTERACTIVE / PLATFORM: PC / RELEASE DATE: OUT NOW