Thursday, July 25, 2019

Interstellar Space: Genesis Gameplay Initial Impressions

These are early impressions of Interstellar Space: Genesis, a turn-based space 4X strategy game.
The game includes robust game customization, including randomized tech trees and custom factions. The most striking thing is very slow initial production (your first colony ship can take upwards of 70 turns), so you must invest in exploration and upgrading your starting world first. It takes about 100 turns before things really get going production-wise.  Production at a colony can be allocated between improving infrastructure (which improves production), planet quality, and construction of buildings and ships. Outposts can be built at asteroid belts (for production, trade, or research bonuses) or dead stars (for strategic resources, research, and income). Systems can be surveys using ships or remote exploration, a neat game mechanic where you designate an area of the map and after several turns, the area is explored more thoroughly. The research tree can be randomized, and additional techs in the same group and level are more expensive (requiring you to pick and choose, another neat mechanic). There are also space culture upgrades (like a culture tech tree in Civ), which is the primary way of getting ships early in the game. Straightforward diplomatic options are available with other factions. The budget is easy: just allocate a percentage of your income to research and space culture, and the rest goes into your coffers. Tax rate can also be increased, at the detriment to production. Custom ships can be designed, and there is combat between opposing ships. Leaders can be assigned to planets or ships, and they occasionally make requests. Random events also pop up every once in a while. The interface is good, providing a list of targets for expansion and your ships, and including extensive tool-tips, although sometimes things don’t update (like ship locations / destinations when changing orders during a turn). Interstellar Space: Genesis has a number of unique gameplay features and is recommended so far to fans of 4X games.

Friday, April 26, 2019

Imperator: Rome Gameplay Review

I'm playing Imperator: Rome, a real-time grand strategy game by Paradox Interactive.

Starting in 304 BC, you can start with any nation from England to India. This is a more military-focused game than other Paradox titles, as you are trying to constantly expand, thanks to easy-to-obtain casus belli. The interface has a lot of statistics, but features such as the macro builder and robust tool-tips ease the process of gathering information. The detailed map contains a ton of cities, grouped into provinces, each of which produces taxes, research, or manpower depending on the number of citizens, freemen, tribesmen, and slaves present. Each group of cities can have a governor that can dictate a policy direction. Characters in the game can also hold office in the government, or lead troops. There are a lot of Crusader Kings-like events dealing with characters that add flavor to the game, and individuals can be bribed, imprisoned, recruited from other lands, or revolt against you in a civil war (bringing their own troops against you). Each province can have a number of trade routes; each good provides a specific bonus (access to a military unit, population increases, happiness, et cetera) and income. Power points (slowly accumulated over time) can be spent on new inventions, religious omens (various bonuses), diplomatic actions like casus belli, or military tradition (more bonuses!). Diplomatic options are plentiful, though you can only ally with nations of the same size. There are several land types to recruit, and mercenaries can be an option in nations with a lot of income but not a lot of manpower. Units can be automated to assist in especially spread-out countries, or ordered to build roads, construct border forts, or reorganize (faster reinforcement rate for a cost). Despite the expansion-heavy focus of the game, aggressive expansion penalties with make the AI unite against you if you expand too far too fast. The AI provides a good opponent that will sign appropriate treaties and declare war reasonably, and barbarians can be a nuisance in large nations. Imperator: Rome is a more streamlined grand strategy experience that incorporates the better aspects of Europa Universalis and Crusader Kings.

Monday, April 08, 2019

Steel Division 2 Beta 2 Gameplay Preview

I'm playing the second beta of Steel Division 2, a real-time strategy game by Eugen Systems.

The game has moved the action to the Eastern Front of World War II. More customization options are available for battlegroups (choosing phase availability for each unit, and how unit recruitment points are allocated in each phase). Maps now feature capture points, the ownership of which is determined by the dynamic frontline, and defensive structures are available for the assault-heavy breakthrough mode. In addition, there are commander units that add experience to nearby units and leaders, and radio-equipped artillerists to assist indirect fire. The release version of the game will include 18 divisions to make battlegroups from, 25 maps, and a dynamic campaign. The game is scheduled for release on May 2nd.

Thursday, April 04, 2019

ISLANDERS Gameplay Review

I'm playing ISLANDERS, a city building strategy game by GrizzlyGames.

The game features procedurally generated islands where you must place complimentary buildings near each other. Appropriate buildings near each other earn points, which are used to level up and unlock another set of structures. Failure to accumulate enough points results in starting over with a new island. The difficulty results from limited space to place buildings, and having to decide which structures to place; the randomized islands give a lot of replay value and extend the life of the game beyond a one-time puzzle. ISLANDERS is a simple but challenging strategy game.

Tuesday, April 02, 2019

Tropico 6 Gameplay Review

I'm playing Tropico 6, a city management simulation by Limbic Entertainment and Kalypso Media.

This iteration of the series features missions with a set of mandatory and optional objectives, sandbox maps (including randomly generated ones), and cooperative and competitive multiplayer. The interface is improved, as the combination of map overlays and a comprehensive almanac makes finding information fairly straightforward and efficient. The quantity of buildings has been expanded, with many options available to provide housing, resource collection and processing, mass transit, citizen services like hospitals and churches, research, tourist destinations, and military outposts. Citizen detail is high, as individual walking paths are needs are tracked. Different political factions and foreign powers will frequently offer objectives to improve relations and earn a reward, giving you intermediate objectives, even in the sandbox mode. The broker offers missions to increase your Swiss bank account, the funds of which can be used to instantly research new buildings or provide other nefarious benefits like improved relations or ignoring ultimatums and demands. Research can be done to unlock new edicts to issue or alternate work modes, while the constitution sets country-wide policies. Raids from pirates or commandos can provide new citizens, loot, or annoy foreign countries, and specific trade routes can provide bonuses to income. While the brand new features (multi-island maps, raids, mass transit, revamped research and Swiss bank account usage) aren’t groundbreaking, this is the most refined Tropico experience available.

Thursday, March 28, 2019

Warparty Gameplay Review

I'm playing Warparty, a real-time strategy game by Warcave and Crazy Monkey Studios.

The game features three campaigns, one for each of the slightly different stone-age factions, skirmishes against the AI on only eight maps, a survival mode, and online multiplayer. Worker units are used to collect food and crystal, used to recruit new units, build structures, or perform upgrades. Power is used primarily to cast a limited variety of spells (and, in the case of one faction, to recruit units). Wild dinosaurs can be hunted for food, or recruited by one of the factions. Faction-wide upgrades are given with battle experience, while settlement and unit upgrades can be researched with crystal. The skirmish AI provides an actual challenge (without cheating), as it is very efficient at collecting resources and will attack vulnerable positions. Warparty is a solid real-time strategy game that only really differentiates itself thanks to its setting, though it does feature above-average skirmish AI.

Tuesday, March 12, 2019

Production Line Gameplay Review

I'm playing Production Line, a car factory management simulation by Positech Games.

The game features varied map dimensions (plus a simple level editor) with sandbox (AI competition that will research new components), scenario (with objectives), and freeplay modes. Cars are made by progressing through production slots in a specific order; each station takes a different amount of time to complete, so minimizing waits will maximize efficiency and profits. Many research options are available: new car components, car body designs, and individualized production slots (to break up a single process into multiple steps) give you a ton of strategic options. In addition, parts and power can be produced in-house to increase profits, in addition to late-game marketing and varying your builds. While the basics of factory construction are the same every time, the sheer amount of research options and semi-random order in which AI competitors start using specific parts (so they are “expected” to be included in your vehicles) make the focus of each playthrough slightly different. Production Line is a satisfying management title with steadily increasing difficulty and complexity.

Monday, March 04, 2019

DiRT Rally 2.0 Gameplay Review

I'm playing DiRT Rally 2.0, a racing simulation by Codemasters.

The game features career modes for both rally and rallycross, plus daily and weekly online challenges. These community events use money earned in the career mode to purchase additional vehicles, so new players are prevented from participating in any events that do not use the lone car unlocked from the outset. Money can also be used to upgrade cars and hire additional staff to improve repair times. Custom events and championships can be created using any track and vehicle without unlocking them. DiRT Rally 2.0 has a fine selection of vehicles across multiple classes, and features six locations for rally and eight rallycross tracks. Each location has six tracks (plus their mirrors), which is less content than the procedurally generated (but overall lower quality) rally courses from DiRT 4. The handling is improved, and tracks become worn during the course of a rally (though my novice driving ability can’t feel a tangible difference). More tire options are available, but the damage model is still very forgiving. DiRT Rally 2.0 is definitely geared towards experienced players, and if you prefer better handling over the randomized tracks of DiRT 4, this may be the better simulation for you.

Thursday, February 21, 2019

Bannermen Gameplay Review

I'm playing Bannermen, a real-time strategy game by Pathos Interactive and 2tainment.

The campaign is typical for a strategy game (defend against waves of enemies, attack enemy bases, use only hero units against a lot of foes, stealth) with nothing innovative. The skirmish mode only has a handful of maps and only one faction, though online play is available. The interface needs the ability to repeat build queues, and building descriptions would be useful. Workers collect the two resources (wood and gold) automatically once assigned; there is a unit limit per building and a resource quantity limit, so expanding out to a second or third base is a necessity. Numerous houses must be constructed to increase the population cap, though there is a hard cap of 200; after this point, researched upgrades will improve units. Spells can be cast by heroes or on the map by building a temple on an appropriate location. Creep locations can be raided by your hero to level up, but these are ultimately unnecessary since combat happens so quickly that spells can only be used once or twice. The AI is extremely inert and rarely attacks your position in skirmish games. Defenses are strong (and cheap) enough that any army that is below the 200-unit threshold will be repelled, and since everything takes so long to build, you really need to ensure that your first assault is your last. Bannermen has interesting streamlined resource collection, but shortcomings in the AI, campaign, skirmish mode, and repetitive gameplay mechanics lose the battle overall.

Tuesday, February 19, 2019

SNOW Gameplay Review

I'm playing SNOW, an open-world winter sports game by Poppermost and Crytek.

The game is free-to-play, but not really: the free version acts more like a demo, with access only to the tutorial mountain and the main peak for one week. The Ultimate Edition unlocks everything for $20, including custom outfits and all 13 locations. The settings consist of an impressively large mountain and a smaller village, but are filled out with tiny stunt-focused areas; one additional large mountain to explore would be appreciated. There are a number of events to play (time trial, freestyle, half pipe), but they are focused on experienced players and cannot be customized in any way. Multiplayer is also available, but only takes place on the large mountain and events can’t be played with others. Both skiing and snowboarding are available, although the controls (typical for an action sports game) are identical. Mountains can be customized with props like jumps and rails in free roam mode. There are noticeable bugs in the game (input occasionally not accepted in menus, crashes to the desktop, clipping through the terrain, and server issues where progress will be lost). While SNOW can be enjoyable, it is ultimately buried under an avalanche of shortcomings, including having only one large mountain, the lack of custom events, limited multiplayer, and bugs that should have been fixed in over five years on early access.

Monday, February 11, 2019

Evolution Gameplay Review

I'm playing Evolution, a board game adaptation by North Star Games.

The game features a very interesting campaign mode with variations on AI strategy and card availability. The interface is good, with animations that do not slow the game pace down, easy-to-read values for population and body size, and tooltips for cards. The board game itself is fantastic, offering a good combination of strategy and luck as you use cards to create new creatures, give them varied attributes, increase their population (to earn more points), and increase their body size (to deter predators). The AI also offers a nice challenge, and online human opponents are also available. Evolution is about as good as a board game adaptation can be, with formidable AI, a decent interface, online play, and an intriguing campaign.

Wednesday, January 23, 2019

Jon Shafer’s At the Gates Gameplay Review

I'm playing Jon Shafer’s At the Gates, a turn-based 4X strategy game by Conifer Games.

In this single-player game, the goal is to build a thriving kingdom that can succeed the Roman Empire. The random map generator is fantastic, offering up realistic terrain (mountain ranges, rain shadow, coastal areas) and granting a limited selection of surrounding resources. The resources that are immediately available will drive early production, and the remainder must be traded for. The art style is striking, and while the tool-tips are fantastic, the interface lacks several features, such as a list of all buildings and clans, plus easy switching between the settlement and research views. The first difference between At the Gates and traditional 4X games is the use of towns and citizens. First, there is only one settlement that can train workers in new jobs and research new professions. This significantly reduces tedious city micromanagement (especially late-game) while making decisions more important. A single clan of workers can undertake one job, which either takes place on the map or in the settlement itself. Professions fall under several categories: honor (military and hunters), agriculture (farmers and gatherers), livestock (ranchers), metalworking (miners and smiths), crafting (wood cutters and stone carvers), or discovery (explorers and traders). Clans can have preferred jobs and personality traits that can make them clash with others.

Resource locations on the map deplete over time, until permanent stone structures to collect food, wood, or minerals are built. Because of this, the settlement location can be moved until it is established as a kingdom in a lasting location. Areas outside the borders can only be foraged, but borders can be expanded with watchtowers. A caravan arrives three times a year so that goods can be swapped for others. Seasons significantly impact resource income; makes sure all the foragers and explorers are inside the settlement once winter strikes! Research involves unlocking and improving jobs for your clans. Some are better than others (crafting stone blocks is a must, for example), but the research choices are largely determined by what resources are available nearby (no reason to research beekeeping if there are no bees). Diplomatic options are extremely basic: only alliances and wars are available, with limited gifting options to adjust relationship levels. The environment provides the strongest foe, as the AI is very passive and easy to defeat with a strong economy. At the Gates is a truly unique 4X game that is a couple of minor improvements (interface, diplomacy, AI) away from being phenomenal.

Monday, January 14, 2019

Chieftain Gameplay Review

I'm playing Chieftain, a 4X strategy game by Splout Ltd..

Utilizing randomly generated terrain, the game is turn-based on the map with real-time battles. Different races give varied bonuses and drawbacks. Resources can only be collected in specific tile types: gold from towns and villages (which can only be founded on fields or plains), food from farms (again, only on fields or plains), wood from lumberyards (only on forest), and iron from mines (each nation start with one mine and there are no neutral locations to capture). Builders can construct new farms and lumberyards, while settlers establish villages. An army can consist of five different units (each unit is a group of 30 individuals). There is only one unit allowed per hex, which means you can block opponents from accessing parts of the map (and vice versa). Units cannot be told to guard their location and skip every turn until attacked. The real-time battles have some minor adjustments in stance and formation, but usually just involve moving towards the enemy. Diplomatic options are extremely basic (just declare war or sign treaties). Because you cannot change the terrain (turn forests into plains, for example) or trade resources, success in Chieftain is primarily determined by the luck of the map generator instead of skill. Because all nations start in very close proximity to each other, the number of available tiles to scavenge is very low, meaning you will likely be short one or two resources and can’t do anything about it other than invade adjacent nations and hope your army is superior. Due to the rigid nature of the map tiles, Chieftain lacks the flexibility to allow the strategy to overcome the luck of starting positions.

Monday, January 07, 2019

Medieval Kingdom Wars Gameplay Review

I'm playing Medieval Kingdom Wars, a real-time grand strategy game by Reverie World Studios.

The game features a campaign mode where you select a lord from one of the European countries during the Middle Ages. In addition, there is an online skirmish battle mode and a story-based tutorial. On the map of Europe, you will expand your lord’s territory by attacking nearby hostile factions. Units can be recruited from your various villages; towns can contain a number of upgradable buildings that produce resources or units. Income is earned from both taxes and buildings, and structures can be built by using silver from the main map screen or resources collected in the city screen. Trade goods produced in each town can be used to conduct research and unlock new abilities, while simple diplomatic options to increase or decrease relations are available. Battles are played out in real-time, involving up to 30 units (a single unit can be one peice of siege equipment or a large group of infantry). Additional units can be constructed by building new structures (if they aren’t already present, or if you are storming an enemy town) and paid for by resources collected from the surrounding area. Each unit can have a researched special ability with a variety of formations and stances. Combat relies on countering unit types (blunt weapons for heavily armored opponents, slashing or piercing weapons for light armor) and constructing walls to keep invaders at bay, although wall construction is completely automated once the command is given. The AI is generally effective at using appropriate units and attacking weak points in defenses. Medieval Kingdom Wars is a mostly effective mix of chaotic real-time strategy battles and grand strategy, serving as a streamlined combination of both genres.

Wednesday, January 02, 2019

Inclement Gameplay Review

I'm playing Inclement, a farm management strategy game by Killed Pixel Games.

Operating a farm in northern Europe in the 1800’s, the side-scrolling game features retro graphics with a hard-to-read font. Each area on the farm can be selected to clear, plant fields, or construct buildings; these produce more or better grain, raise animals, or produce oil. Buildings can also be upgraded to increase their abilities. Grain is sold through town, where additional workers are hired. The game features very small profit margins, which results in a fairly static build order in order to turn a profit. The difficulty comes from figuring out which buildings need to be placed before expanding to the next level (such as hiring an additional worker) in order to not go bankrupt. Because of the inflexible “correct” build order, Inclement is enjoyable for really only one successful playthrough, but it does offer some fun, light management gameplay.