• Crusader Kings III Available Now!

    The realm rejoices as Paradox Interactive announces the launch of Crusader Kings III, the latest entry in the publisher’s grand strategy role-playing game franchise. Advisors may now jockey for positions of influence and adversaries should save their schemes for another day, because on this day Crusader Kings III can be purchased on Steam, the Paradox Store, and other major online retailers.


    Real Strategy Requires Cunning

Novacat

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Space strategy games, aside from 4Xs, seem to be far and few between. I started playing with Homeworld, and I have played Hegemonia, Star Wolves, Nexus, and probably a few others I cannot recall off hand. When I first heard of Ancient Space, I was initially guarded, but, I liked what was said in the previews enough that I dropped the $20 to buy this on release date.

I was pleasantly suprised. The game was by no means perfect, but it was worth it.

The story is the strongest aspect of the game. It manages to avoid most of the worst abused cliches and only one guess I made ended up coming true. The story held my attention from start to end, and I will not get into the specifics for spoiler reasons. The NASA-style recordings brought back fond memories of the first Homeworld. If I were to criticize the story any, it is that, at times, it seems like you are sometimes kept out of the loop. When the words 'Balethean' and 'Scythe' were thrown around, the game assumed I already know what these things are, when I had no clue at all. It felt like there was some kind of prologue I missed. It all became clear later, but early on I was rather confused.

Now, unfortunately, one of the things that did not do so well was the reception towards the Ulysses. I never really grew attached to the ship. It seemed kind of... small, and was difficult to look at closely. Capital ships probably should not be Balethian size but their current size makes them difficult to watch.

To expand on this. The game has 'meh' aesthetics. The individual weapon sfx are pretty difficult to tell apart, and, from what I can tell, seem completely detached from the gameplay. You could see a dreadnought's heavy lasers visually impacting fighters and doing very little damage due to this gameplay-aesthetics seperation. This seems to be a step back from other space strategy games which tended to model weapons individually, and even give them individual tracking so that larger ships can target multiple enemies at a time. There are also a lack of distinct weapons. If you have played Freespace and/or Homeworld, then you would remember the Beam Cannons and Ion Cannons in those games

Going into Gameplay. It is passable, if rather simplistic. Each ship is divided based on size, S, M, L, XL, B, and each ship has a 'damage' rating towards those various sizes. I much preferred the 'Soft' way of balancing weapons, by altering their characteristics to make them good/poor versus certain targets rather than have arbitrary damage based on the target. To use an above example, an Ion Cannon/Beam Cannon was usually bad against fighters in the above mentioned games simply because they lacked the accuracy and tracking, if a fighter pilot was unlucky enough (or stupid enough) to wander into a beam, he was quite predictably obliterated, but such incidents were very, very rare. But memorable because it reminds you that the reason why Battleships are bad versus fighters is not because they cannot damage you, but because they cannot hit you.

Carriers and fighters I never quite got the hang of. Carriers ran into the problem in that you were spending 2 Replicants (I found Replicants to be my most scarce resource, even more irritating that there was usually very little I could do about it) to get a ship that is made completely obsolete by the Ulysses itself. They could only build S sized craft, cannot dock/repair its own fighters, had one mediocre ability, and mediocre firepower. Would rather have a Corsair, which are heavily armed and armored salvage corvettes.

The special abilities were interesting, although many of them seemed to lack SFX effects. You usually activated them and they just happened without any visual cue. A good example of this is the Offense Ulysses capture ship ability which I abused to great effect (Your Man of War? My Man of War). You never see any boarding pods. You just see the IFF signal of the targeted ship magically change from Red to Blue.

Now, onto the Campaign. The Campaign missions were varied and interesting. I liked that a lot of them had allies and NPCs, it really breathes life into a universe when there is someone else out there other than you and the enemy. The missions were varied, had varying difficulties. The only things I would criticize would be the lack of persistance and the way upgrades worked. The Titanium/Schematic upgrades were generally minor and, in the case of the Ulysses schematics, were rather imbalanced. +Armor upgrades were a lot more powerful than +1 damage bonus to a single damage type, and the most powerful upgrades of all were usually +Energy Income, since the energy income boosts are substantial and you are usually short on energy on time critical missions. While found artifacts were interesting and helpful, their lack of persistance was somewhat an immersion breaker, especially since many missions I usually could not even collect them until after the enemy was dispatched and the mission was over in all but name. It also would have been nice if Artifacts were tied to actual in-game objects, instead of being generic looking glowing orbs.

I kind of feel that artifacts could have probably replaced Titanium and Schematics as a source of upgrades for the Expedition.

I also feel that the Ulysses could have been a bit more... customizable. You are just given the option between Offensive and Defensive, with static abilities. I went with Offensive due to the fact that its improved across the board damage was way superior to Defense's superior armor, and the capture ability was just plain rediculous enabling you to instantly either turn or knock out the most dangerous enemy in a fight, and with two armor upgrades my Offense Ulysses was armored about as well as the stock defense one. More customization/upgrades would have probably improved my feelings towards the ship, especially if those customizations altered the visual appearance of the ship.

Also, last mission was kinda easy. Seems like after the first two systems, the enemy stopped pursuing me and I was able to leisurely complete the mission. I even built 2-3 massive defense networks to slow the enemy down and they never saw any use. The only thing that made the last mission somewhat difficult was the very low replicant limit. Which reminds me, I really preferred Homeworld 1's method of limiting by ship class as opposed to having replicants which are used for all ships. It actually encouraged you to have a varied fleet instead of focusing on spamming a couple of ship types.

Overall, I am fairly happy. Lots of room for improvement, but it started off on the right foot. Hope this game does well, it is a pity that space strategy games are so few and far between.
 

silveressa

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Aye for a new game by a new company it hit all the right points in storyline and over all concepts.

Could it have been better? Of course, (I agree with your review pretty much completely) but then again the first Homeworld was pretty rough around the edges compared to the smoother Cataclysm and HW 2 experiences.

Hopefully if AS sells well and shows enough profit margin at the end of year fiscal reports we'll see more games/expansions in the setting down the road, it's certainly a place I would enjoy experiencing more of. :)
 

Novacat

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I felt Homeworld was superior to Cataclysm and HW2. The latter games certainly had some good ideas but it also introduced a lot of bad ideas.