StarDrive: Trust Me, Stuff DID Happen, I Just Don’t Have Pics to Back it Up…
So I have a disclaimer to hit y’all up with at beginning of this thing…as much as I love Fraps, sometimes it pisses me off. Why? Because I hit the screenshot button in Fraps for this session of the game as soon as I got to the menu, noticed through the flashing frame rate indicator that it had indeed begun taking screenshots, and started my game. I then didn’t even think of it because I typically trust Fraps to keep going once it starts. HOWEVER, this time…it stopped with the screenshot you see above.
Therefore, and I apologize for this, but this installment of my StarDrive review will be almost entirely text with no screenshots at all. I didn’t want to go back to previous saves to get them because that felt…disingenuous? Something like that. I do assure you though, things DID happen, you’ll just have to trust me that they happened as I describe here. Maybe next time I’ll balance it all out with an screenshot-only review or something. ;) That said, please enjoy the wall of text that is part two of my StarDrive review…
I have to be honest right off the bat…I wasn’t entirely thrilled with returning to StarDrive. I think, because I’d set the AI to “EVERYONE!” in the first game, I felt like I had little to nothing to do, which isn’t a good thing in a game. This time, I turned much of the AI off however (except freighters, because BORED NOW ZZZZZZ) and tried to make the game more interactive.
When last we left the Cordrazine empire, it was being threatened by the Opteris, and for no reason I might add. I began building bigger fleets (like, around twenty ships each) to hopefully better prepared. I also switched around my research queue to be much more militaristic, research hulls, weapons and so on. I also changed the governors on the few colonies I had to military production, so I could pound those ships out as quickly as possible. Soon enough I had two pretty big fleets, which was good because soon after meeting the Vulfen, they declared war on me, which was an unpleasant surprise.
On the map, I could see at least one Vulfen fleet, and then I saw some systems down that way light up with red exclamation marks, noting that enemy fleets had been spotted there. They were basically headed riiiiiight for me. AWESOME, I thought. While I was building my fleets, a hyperspace flux blessedly occured, preventing warp travel for a time. This was perfect, as it gave me extra time to build my fleets. During this buildup, some other stuff happened diplomatically. The Pollops stole some money through a spy while the Draylok offered a trade treaty, which I totally accepted. I also researched research bases, shipyards and planetary shielding, which I was happy to see being built on my colonies once researched.
Once I had two fairly good sized fleets — and the flux dissipated — I sent them toward the Vulfen forces, and they immediately came in contact with a conveniently-named “Invasion Fleet” — that was nice of ’em to label themselves as such — and immediately gave contact. The Vulfen put up a good fight, but in the end they got slaughtered, which was nice to see. Once that fleet was wiped out, I sent both fleets heading toward Vulfen space while beginning to build a third.
Eventually, the Kulrathi offered me an alliance, which I totally accepted, and then used that to have them declare war on the Vulfen! HAHAHA. I could see in the diplomacy screen that the Vulfen’s military strength was dwindling, but it wasn’t until I got to their one system (that I knew about anyway) that I saw how inferior it actually was. I mean, they had more ships than I did, and seemed to be able to build new ones fairly quickly, but the quality of those ships was such that the only thing that slowed my fleet down was running out of ammo. Even after slaughtering their fleets and bombarding their two known planets, they wouldn’t accept peace. FIIIIIIINE. I sent my fleets home to rearm, and planned to hit ’em again.
Now, during this time I ran out of money (whoops!) and lost my two colonies to a rebellion. THAT wasn’t fun, but the good part is that suddenly my income was much higher, which let me build more ships! Yay, more ships! I figured once the war was over, I’d try and retake those planets if I was able (or if they weren’t taken first, for example). I TOTALLY forgot to set a higher tax for all this military buildup, but now I really didn’t have to since I only had one planet to manage. Wheeeee!
After my ships refueled, many of them returned to the Vulfen system to keep attacking. On their own. Without me telling them. THAT was damned annoying. First, I gave no orders to do such a thing, as I said. Second, they didn’t stick together as a fleet, but flew back one by one as they were rearmed. What the heck is the point of even HAVING a fleet if they don’t freaking stick together. This fleet AI really needs some work, I tell ya. First, if you tell a fleet to protect the empire, the ships all go off willy nilly in their own directions to who knows where, and THEN they pull a stunt like this. Suffice it to say, I was damned pissed off at whichever admirals were in charge of these fleets.
Speaking of AI, on the other end of things, I’m really digging the diplomatic AI. It sends reasonable requests, and responds to my requests as I’d expect them to, given their demeanor. Example, the Vulfen wouldn’t accept peace at any damned price, even after I’d slaughters both their fleets and their planets. This seemed in line with their demeanor. So far the diplomatic action and the combat are the best part of this game. The empire building stuff…booooring. That isn’t great, sadly.
Anyway, what happened next is I had to manually send my fleets to a staging system not far from the Vulfen folk. While I was there, the Kulrathi declared war on the Opteris. ACK. Normally this might be okay, but there was a small Opteris fleet RIGHT IN THE SYSTEM I WAS HANGING OUT IN. They had energy weapons too, which packed a niiiiiiiiice punch. I was able to take them out, but I lost a bunch of ships in the process. While I was rebuilding my fleets, I sent out some colony ships to build two new colonies, as the extra money and research would be nice. However, as I was about to send my fleets back into Vulfen space, a massive fleet of Opteris ships JUMPED INTO MY FREAKING HOME SYSTEM. AAAACK!
I ordered all ships back there at once, but in the end it was too late. The shields held for a while, but the Opteris bombarded all of my facilities on Caldron III. Fortunately they didn’t land any troops so the population remained, though diminished. I was able to fight off the Opteris around Caldron III and slaughter them, and when I checked Caldrom III, the populace had already begun to rebuild.
Tired of two wars, I sought a peace treaty with the Opteris, to which they accepted, thankfully. This left me with a shattered empire, smaller fleets, and the need to rebuild. During this time I’d researched a bunch of technologies, which led to a new class of corvettes, the Litflakker II. In the ship screen, I ordered all Litflakker Is to be refitted, and left the game there.
So that installment was more fun, thanks to all the war and stuff. I have to say though, as fun as this session was, it did expose some larger flaws in the game that I can’t help notice the more I play it. First, even with wars happening around me, I still didn’t feel that connected to the game. I think it’s lonely nature of the universe. For some reason, in small and larger universes in this game, to me the game still feels fairly barren, as if there’s not really much life in this universe. Sure, there’s a random event here or there, and there’s the Remnant, but where are space monsters or space plagues or other things that make a space universe feel more alive? There also isn’t much in the way of stellar geography such as nebulae to add some flavor to the universe, you know?
This leaves the space one plays in feeling kind of flat, even when it’s full of ships buzzing around. Speaking of, this is one of the other problems I’m finding with the game. It allows you to take personal control of a ship and fly it around yourself, which in theory seems like a cool idea, but in practice is ALL kinds of crazy. With a bunch if ships around, I never felt like I could keep track of any one target for too long, even with that target selected, due to the chaotic nature of all the ships fluttering about. It felt too chaotic to be enjoyable, honestly, so I just gave up on the idea and controlled my ships as one would in a more traditional game.
This all makes me feel like either I’m missing something about the game, or the game is missing something in general. While it’s competent, certainly, and has some of the soul that games like Endless Space lack, it still feels incomplete. Like, part of the game, combat and diplomacy, are fun, funny enterprises, the actual process of empire building feels…rote, like there’s no discovery. It’s hard to explain, but it’s leaving me with a lack of excitement in playing this game, even with war all around me.
I’ll continue to play this game, and I’ll continue to hope it gets better, but right now, I’m not fully sold on it yet. Stay tuned for my next entry, which either better have a ton of screenshots, or might be a video entry. I’m not sure yet. I’ve hope you’ve enjoyed my unfocused ramblings — boy, screenshots really do help keep me focused huh? — and hope you have a great day!