Sword of the Stars review

  • Breakneck turn-based game
  • Online play (first of its kind)
  • Just-the-facts interface
  • Missing interface options, summary screens
  • Shallow real-time combat options
  • Patchtacular

You've always meant to try a turn-based strategy game, but in light of customary distractions (school, job, sex life... anything that plays like Doom), you've avoided the genre like Homer Simpson fleeing an athletic trainer. Turn-based games are for spreadsheet sissies, you say, secretly wishing they'd make one accessible enough to fit your fidgety lifestyle. Your clandestine wishes have indeed come true: Sword of the Stars is the best candidate in years to make "you go, I go" interstellar empire building accessible to hurry-up junkies like you and rest of the twitchy masses. If you're patient enough for some patching, that is.

Four races jostle for control of a variable sized galaxy - you pick a side (human, bug, reptile, or aquatic, each with unique travel perks), then vault between glowing stars to colonize planets, research geek tech, make a fortune and spend your boodle on a killer fleet. With economics and diplomacy abstracted (you can trade or ally, but that's about it), the play's focused squarely on chewing up systems and shoving your cosmic blade up your opponents' derriere. In other words, beat it, legislative wonks. Battleship buffs, step right up.

When enemy fleets get cozy, you can auto-resolve combat or hash out the pyrotechnics in real-time. Ships come in small, medium and large; they're custom-designed in the builder by mucking with engines, armor and weapons loadouts. Real-time 3D battles occur in space (on a more or less "flat" plane) with both sides prowling around before letting loose with munitions like lasers and torpedoes or wielding special stealth tech like cloaking devices. Ships sections are targeted with clicks (though a selection-feedback system's nonexistent) and in a twist, damage flares up visually instead of numbers or dwindling bars. This seems more intuitive to us but it may infuriate others. The option for either would have been nice; we're sorry to not see something that simple implemented.

Tactically speaking, skirmish mechanics are limited (attack, defend, retreat) and each battle's largely pre-determined according to ship design - a trifle disappointing considering this is part of the team responsible for Homeworld: Cataclysm. With more nuanced, feedback-friendly tactical combat, Sword of the Stars could have been a shoe-in.

What's more, for all its no-frills luster, some of Sword's other foibles are just plain weird: order-issue response delays in tactical combat, no summary planetary build-queue screen (you have to click idiotically on each planet instead), and a reticent travel system that lets you deploy ships for long treks without warning about inadequate fuel, thus marooning ships mid-hop (and the list goes on). A patch promises to fix these and other hiccups, but - brace for the broken record - Sword of the Stars still seems a bit rushed. Any time a post-release patch purports to make major interface changes and add critical features, something's up.

On the other hand, your only recent alternative for turn-based space strategy is Galactic Civilizations II, a relative brute of a game feature-wise (though it sorely lacks multiplayer). If the prospect of spending a dozen minutes or more mulling over a turn threatens to make you wet yourself, skip that one and pick up Sword of the Stars instead. It's a snap to learn and a breeze to play, whether tackling one of its half-dozen goal-driven scenarios or wrangling with a few friends online.

More Info

Release date: Aug 22 2006 - PC (US)
Aug 22 2006 - PC (UK)
Available Platforms: PC
Genre: Strategy
Published by: Destineer
Developed by: Kerberos Productions
ESRB Rating:
Everyone 10+: Fantasy Violence


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