Space strategy games are making a big comeback in today’s gaming landscape. These games used to be a staple of PC gaming but gave up market share to consoles and their more action-orientated games. However, with PC gaming gaining momentum among gamers, these types of experiences now have the platform to thrive once more. Popularly known as 4X games or expand, exterminate, explore and exploit, StarDrive 2 embraces the genre and gives gamers a challenging strategy experience taking place in a massively deep universe. If you are, or ever have been, a fan of strategy games, StarDrive 2 has a lot to offer.
As mentioned above, StarDrive 2 is a space-strategy game that puts you in charge of leading one of nine different species to galactic dominance. Each species has different attributes with their respective strengths and weaknesses which give you some very important decisions at the beginning of the game. Each attribute corresponds to a different play style so knowing how you want to play the game will make the choice of species a little easier. There is a fair amount of balance between all the different species so no matter which one you choose, you’ll have a decent shot at winning the long game. You also have the ability to adjust the individual characteristics of each race if you find that the preset characteristics aren’t meeting your needs. You’ll be able to change how quickly your race breeds, what kind of warriors they are, how smart they are or even how friendly they appear. Attributes can be added or subtracted relatively easily which makes for an enriching experience.
Once you establish your race and start the game, you’ll have to start developing your home planet and start developing your research. Luckily, StarDrive 2 has an incredibly simple user interface which makes navigating your race easy and intuitive. All the menus are laid out nicely and it is fairly easy to access the information you need to manage your empire effectively. Selecting your research, building ships, constructing buildings or even diplomacy is all within one click of the main screen which is great. In addition to the well-designed interface, the game includes a narrated tutorial which you should definitely enable for your first game. It goes through the basics and gets you acquainted with the way the game works. Many 4x games have a shoddy tutorial, so having a good tutorial combined with a narrator makes it an even better experience. If you don’t want to listen to the tutorial, you can just click it off and start playing your game. Needless to say, starting your game and getting to know its controls is very easy.
As you start to develop your worlds and branch out, you will have to keep an eye on not only the big picture of universal expansion, but you will have to manage your worlds individually. Luckily, it is relatively easy to do with just keeping track of production, scientific endeavor and farming. You can adjust any individual sector and move the population around freely. This allows you to create specialized planets where one will just focus on discovery while another can focus on farming. The game will automatically set up freight routes, as long as you build freighters, so that takes a whole level of management away which makes this much easier for beginners. The system works well in general, but we did find that the game doesn’t keep your designated balances as the planets grow in population. You may start with placing two citizens in scientific research and one in production and farming, but if you return after several turns, the game defaults citizens in farming no matter what, even if you have a food trading route in place. This means that you have watch your planets as they grow, otherwise they can slow down your development behind your back.
Combat is an essential part to the genre, and it is very important in StarDrive 2. In addition, StarDrive 2 allows you to custom design your own starships. Each class has their own pre-designed hulls and outfits, but you can change and save your designs for later use. This feature provides you with a ton of options and limitless combinations to design the perfect fleet to engage your enemies. Once you enter an engagement, you’ll enter into the battlefield view which will give you a wide view of both your ships and the ships you are battling against. From here you can issue commands to your fleet and engage the enemy at will. Combat moves at a decent clip and most battles only take a few minutes to resolve. It is very well done and the effects look great on a well equipped PC. After you finished off the enemy ships, you can send in an invasion force should you be within range of an enemy planet. This brings up another battle screen, but the hand-to-hand combat phase more closely resembles at turn-based strategy. This stands in stark contrast to the action-orientated ship battles you just finished engaging with. While the hand-to-hand sections are a completely different speed and style than the ship battles, they do the job in a satisfactory manner nonetheless.
From a presentation perspective, StarDrive 2 delivers on all fronts. The game looks gorgeous especially if you have a little extra power under the hood. The effects look great with brightly colored laser blasts and awesome looking explosions. The sound direction is equally impressive which perfectly suits the game. When you take into consideration the minimal, yet intuitive menu system, you have a beautifully presented game. As you may have experienced, many 4X games don’t always present well, but StarDrive 2 does a fantastic job and it is a welcomed sight in a normally unwelcoming genre.
The biggest issue with the game is the over aggressive enemy AI which you will undoubtedly encounter. Even if you put the game on easy, the AI will still colonize worlds at an alarming pace. It seems the difficulty setting refers more to whether the AI will attack you or not. However, they will still colonize every system they can get their hands on, even if the planet they are colonizing is not worth colonizing. This tactic tends to box you into battle and leaves you little room to play the game how you want. In games like Civilization, when you play the game on easy, the enemy AI will often not expand quickly to give you a chance to learn how to play and see what mechanics are more important than others. In StarDrive 2, you will have to engage the enemy no matter what which doesn’t always fit everyone’s play style.
StarDrive 2 does feature an interesting gameplay mode called “Battle Mode”. This mode allows you to just focus on ship-to-ship battles all taking place during a loosely designed story. Each battle you complete will earn you money which can be used to further upgrade your ships. This mode is a great way to learn what all the technology does and how to properly implement it. It also gives you a chance to practice your battle skills without having to play the main campaign. It is a quick and easy way to get right into the thick of it and it really supports the well-polished ship battle mechanic. It isn’t enough to stand on its own, but it is certainly worth some time, especially in the beginning.
When you take a step back and look at StarDrive 2, you can see that this game is a mix of beautiful presentation with a blend of finished and unfinished gameplay elements. On one hand you have a great tutorial, nicely laid out menu system and a general welcoming atmosphere for those not so familiar with 4X games. On the other, you have some inconsistent gameplay mechanics which sometimes feel not completely finished. The difference between polished and unfinished can be jarring at times which breaks the immersion factor. The overly aggressive AI rarely change expansion tactics even on the easiest of difficulties which only serves to complicate matters. While these issues hurt the game, there is plenty here to support this game being a great strategy experience. As you can tell, there is a lot of back and forth, but we feel there is more good than bad here.
Overall, we recommend you check out StarDrive 2 if you are looking for a fun 4X game. Sure, there are some issues which get in the way, but this certainly isn’t anything that couldn’t be fixed in a balance update or two which leaves you with a sense of hope for the future. We really enjoyed our time with the game and it brings us back to our days of grand PC space 4X games. If you have some time and you want something fun, we say check out StarDrive 2 and see if you can conquer the galaxy!
This review is based on a review copy of the PC version of Stardrive 2 developed by Zero Sum Games published by Iceberg Interactive
- Overly Aggressive AI
- Not Enough Guidance for Long Game Decisions