Sunday, September 07, 2008

Sword of the Stars Collector’s Edition Review

Sword of the Stars Collector’s Edition, developed by Kerberos Productions and published by Lighthouse Interactive.
The Good: It’s still a good game
The Not So Good: Absolutely no reason to get this if you have the original (and especially the expansion)
What say you? An uncomplicated turn-based strategy game only for those who missed out the first time around: 6/8

Collector's Editions, or Game of the Year Editions, or Editor's Choice Editions, are made for one primary reason: to make more money on an old game. This particular old game is Sword of the Stars, which I reviewed and said it was good. Just to show you how many space strategy games I have reviewed, I initially thought Sword of the Stars was Lost Empire when I first received the Collector’s Edition before I played it again. I guess reviewing Sword of the Stars almost two years ago didn’t help my memory. As is my official policy, I will talk about the improvements made in the Collector's Edition (which includes the expansion I never reviewed) and leave the basics of the game up to my old review. Sound good? Too bad!

I didn't notice anything significantly different in the graphics or the sound, other than adding graphics associated with the new race the Born of Blood expansion provided. So there you go.

The upgrades contained within the Sword of the Stars Collector’s Edition come in two flavors: the improvements made by the Born of Blood expansion, and the goodies that come exclusively with the Collector’s Edition. First, the collectability of the Collector’s Edition: you get a bonus CD with artwork, music, interviews, trailers, and background on the races in addition to a book based on the game’s storyline. The book takes up enough room in the case to eliminate a paper manual, so there is a feature that has gone digital. I’m not the type of person that gets suckered in by shiny trinkets like a bonus CD, so there is nothing appealing about what the Collector’s Edition brings to the table. The extras are only mildly entertaining, giving some insight into the game and giving a look at some concept art that you could have found on the Internet if you looked hard enough. I would think that only the most fanatical fan of the series would think about paying for the extras contained herein. While the features are nice and all, it’s certainly not enough content to justify getting this Collector’s Edition if you already have the original and the expansion.

Now, for the included expansion. Since you can go back and read my review of Sword of the Stars, I won’t rehash the gameplay basics, but here is a short summary. Sword of the Stars is a turn-based strategy game that streamlines much of the game by relying on a semi-random technology tree and ship designs with three components plus weapons, set in a 3-D environment with a number of races that have subtle differences. It’s a pretty good game for beginners, as it strips away a lot of the inherent complexity that a lot of strategy games contain. Born of Blood adds several new features, most prominently a new race: the Zuul (There is no Dana, only Zuul). The Zuul are unique in that they need to constantly drill tunnels between planets for speedy travel, much like the humans’ randomly-placed nodes system but with more micromanagement. The Zuul also can enslave opposing races to boost production. The races in Sword of the Stars are basically the same with some minor differences: this makes it easy to switch between races during successive games, but also eliminates the potential for variety. Playing the Zuul is the same as playing any of the other races, except you have to worry about maintaining the travel paths and you can get slaves to boost production: not a drastic change. The rest of the additions are “minor” at best: new weapons and technologies, enhanced diplomacy, better trade, more graphs, and five new galaxy shapes. Unless you really know what you are doing, you probably won’t notice the improvements that Born of Blood brings to the table. These changes do improve the game as a whole, but it isn’t anything beyond what a good patch would accomplish. The new weapons and technologies are OK but don’t alter the gameplay. You can interact more explicitly with the AI, giving specific targets and using a number of icons designed (I think) for multiplayer between people with different native languages. You can also set up trade routes (that can be raided) to make additional cash. The expansion by itself doesn’t add anything dramatically different to the gameplay experience and it’s not on the same level as Twlight of the Arnor or In Nomine.

While Sword of the Stars is a solid and entertaining game, the Collector’s Edition won’t appeal to anyone who has experienced the game before. The bonus CD doesn’t contain any earth-shattering content, the book is OK, and the expansion only makes typical improvements to the gameplay that you might find in any profit-driven expansion. The score for this game assumes that you do not have the original, since, by themselves, both the expansion and Collector’s Editions are content-light. There are not enough reasons to get the expansion, and no reason to get the Collector’s Edition if you already have the game. But if you are new to the series and you are looking for a straightforward introduction into the world of strategy, then you could do a lot worse than the Collector’s Edition of Sword of the Stars.