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Armada 2526 – New 4x space strategy game – First Impressions

By on December 24th, 2009 1:41 am

Armada 2526 is a new 4x space strategy game released last 24th of November. It was developed by Ntronium Games and published by Matrix Games. The founder of Ntronium games is Bob Smith who was the project director and lead designer of Medieval 2 Total War, as for the other preceding Total War Games: Rome Total War, Shogun: Total War, and … Armada 2525, the preceding 1991 oldy). The game is talked about as being Master of Orion meets Total War. Impressing combination right? Let’s see if words turn into facts.

I bought Armada 2526 through Impulse (digital copy) 2 days ago. No waiting or searching for where to buy the game, through impulse you can buy a digital copy only and download it right away or get a digital copy plus the Box for the ones interested in obtaining the physical stuff. Some minutes of downloading and some more of installing and that’s it, I’m ready and thrilled to be launching my fresh new 4x space strategy game.

Introductions made let’s talk about the game.

Start a new game

You may wish to start by the tutorial to understand the basic features. From there you have the option to play the built-in scenario that introduces the game 12 races or you can customize your own game.

Starmap, Stars, Planets, Comet clouds and Asteroid fields

I’ll take some time addressing this part of the game because I think it really deserves it. The star systems and planets have been carefully crafted to offer the player the right balance between abstraction and complexity. This will certainly help the player enhance its gaming experience specially during the eXploration phase.

Armada 2526 - Star map
Armada 2526 – Star map

The starmap is 2D, very similar in style to Master of Orion (first check for MOO inspiration). Star systems can be of several shapes and sizes. Stars can be Red Dwarfs, White, Blue, Yellow, Orange, Red Giants and White Giants which determines how likely the chance is of finding planets, and specially ideal planets for colonization. White and Red Giant stars have the lowest chance of holding planets suitable for life while the yellow ones have the maximum probability of holding ideal planets.  There are even binary systems and neutron stars that have their own special characteristics and uses.

Armada 2526 - Different kinds of star systems
Armada 2526 – Different kinds of star systems

Each star usually contains one main planet (and only one) that may be categorized as: Ideal, Habitable, Barren, Icy, Irradiated or Dead (I only found those types yet). This planet categorization tells how suitable a planet is for population growth with Ideal obviously being the best suitable. Some of these types requires technology to allow its colonization. I say that a star usually contains a main planet because some times they don’t contain a planet at all (although you might still build a space station on those with suitable technology).

Another aspects of the planetary system, besides the quality of its main planet, is its mineral abundance that is categorized from Poor, Normal to Rich. The richer the planetary system (which is illustrated has having additional background planets) the more money can be made from mining and taxes. Again the resemblance with the Master of Orion mineral classification here is sound (another check to the list). In addition to planetary system mineral abundance there are two other aspects that help fully categorize a planetary system: the presence of a Oort cloud (cloud of comets) and of an Asteroid Belt. These last two features provide additional chance for further mining and reduction on production costs.

Already feeling your eXploration desire kicking in :)

Population, Production, Fleets and Defenses

When clicking in one of your star systems you are presented with the production screen. You can build structures, space ships and defenses (missile bases and militia). Nothing really original here, very similar to the Master of Orion (I and II) scheme.

Armada 2526 - Production Screen
Armada 2526 – Production Screen

In addition to managing production you can also easily consult all kinds of  stats in the production screen like Income, Expenses, Happiness, Population Growth, etc.

Armada 2526 - Planet Stats Screen (detail view)
Armada 2526 – Planet Stats Screen (detail view)

Two important aspects to note in the production scheme, that make it different from other titles like GalCiv2 or Master of Orion 2, is the notion of construction slots (that are dependent on population) and the notion of buildings improvement dependencies.

With respect to construction slots you may be already thinking, well but GalCiv2 provides planet construction slots already. Yes its true but Armada 2526 takes this idea into a new level. In Armada 2526 you can only use the slots to construct more things if you have enough population. This makes sense since you should only be allowed to build more structures if you have enough labor to build and operate them. One thing that annoyed me in GalCiv2 was the ability to build everything you wanted irrespective of the population present in the planet. I know that some of that could be attributed to industry automation but anyway it didn’t feel natural.

The other production aspect where Armada 2526 innovates from previous 4x titles is the buildings improvement dependencies. To build more advanced structures you need to evolve your workshop and to build more advanced spaceships you need to evolve the shipyard. This approach is in line with the Total War games where you need to enhance your main construction structures (normally the townhouse) before being allowed to build more advanced elements. For example to build Cruisers you need to have at least a small orbital shipyard and to build a mine complex you need to have to turn your little workshop into a heavy industry.

Research

To unlock new ship designs, new buildings, new defences and to acquire new abilities and bonuses you need to do research, and to do that you need to construct research labs. Each basic research lab present on a planet produces 1 research point. The research points can be distributed among 7 different fields or areas: Weapons, Shields, Hyperspace, Construction, Information, Bio and Psychic. There is a special additional area named skunk works which is a special project that gives you additional research options later in the game. There is nothing new here, for what I could tell all 12 races share the same tech tree with some differences on the ship models. The tree is static, always the same with no random factor.

Armada 2526 - Research Screen
Armada 2526 – Research Screen

On point I have to make in the research topic is that its link with production is not always intuitive. As I said above to unlock more advanced structures the player needs to research certain technologies however is not always clear what needs to be constructed in order to unlock a certain thing. For instance to build the mining complex one needs to research advanced mining first however to actually build the mining complex the player needs to upgrade the workshop to light industry and then to heavy industry. The research screen should be revised to include more information on the dependencies between research and production.

Diplomacy

Diplomacy in Armada 2526 provides all the usual features found on other 4x titles: goods exchange (ships, maps, money and colonies) and the negotiation of treaties (trade, non-aggression, etc). But an interesting and innovative feature of Armada 2526 is the tone in which the player may negotiate the deals.

Armada 2526 - Diplomacy Screen
Armada 2526 – Diplomacy Screen

For instance the player may propose a non-aggression treaty that may be asked humbly, firmly with threat of trouble or aggressively with threat of declaration of war. I have not tried all of these options yet but they sound quite interesting while providing an additional flavor and complex factor to negotiations.

Battles

In space battles is where Armada 2526 makes a big leap from its Master of Orion 2 and Galactic Civilizations predecessors. Although it’s true that this is not truly innovative, since Sins of a Solar Empire and Sword of the Stars already provide 3D real-time battles, Armada does however turn its focus more into tactics and formation rather than click & hit classic battle style. You can still choose targets but not to the individual ship level.

Armada 2526 - 3D Battles: Spaceship perspective
Armada 2526 – 3D Battles: Spaceship perspective

The player is allowed to pause the map at any time to switch formations or to make small adjustments to the fighting sequence. The player can switch between three view modes: global perspective (which gives an overview perspective from above), the ship perspective (nice to see and rotate through your ship) and ship sight perspective (which allows you to see the battle through an individual ship’s eyes).

User Interface

The user interface is perhaps the weakest element of the game. Although quite ok in providing the basic functions it fails here and there on providing the overall picture to the player. For instance the mini map is not very helpful, it basically shows the map in miniature but does not provide very useful information like borders, ships or other stats. One thing that I really miss is the notion of borders with your neighbours. It’s not so easy to grasp the reach of your empire. Galactic Civilizations 2 mini map was much better accomplishing all this.

Another aspect where the user interface stands short is that it’s not so easy to see where your planets and fleets are. The planets glow, the graphical feature that signals your colony, is particularly distracting. You don’t have an immediate feel of which are your planets and which are not and at the same time it’s not so easy to see which of the planets have ship garrisons and even when you learn how to spot that you still cannot tell the number of ships present on the planet without having to double-click the planet and then check the fleets tab to see what ships are actually there.

The cursor zoom is a nice innovative feature however it fails to give enough information. For instance the cursor zoom over your planet will show you that you have a particular type of ship stationed there but it does not give you the number of ships. Small details like this should be revised in future game evolutions because they really help the player get in touch with its empire.

The diplomacy, research and production screens are ok, nothing too fancy but ok. My troubles are more with the overall star map and mini map for the reasons I already pointed out.

Bottom line

I didn’t have enough time yet to check the game AI nor to grasp the overall game balance, full-scale war, advanced building and research, that I will leave for a full review to conduct later. However what I can tell you now is that Armada 2526 is successful on delivering the goods to be recognized as a respected member of the 4x space strategy games genre. If it can overshadow the Master of Orion and Galactic Civilizations legacy it’s still a bit early to tell. A certain degree of that goal is dependent on the developers willingness to evolve and support the game and work with the community in order to turn Armada 2526 an exceptional game.

If you are a fan of 4x space strategy games then you need to get your hands on Armada 2526. If you’re not a fan of this type of games I still strongly recommend you try Armada 2526 if you’re willing to give a shot on this type of games, after all it is the state of the art.

You can find more information on the game in Ntronium games (developer), in the official forum, or in Matrix Games (publisher).

You can buy the game in the Matrix Game store or GamersGate.

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9 Comments


  1. Lobo7922 says:

    Hi, big fan of 4X Games here, i try this one, but I had a problem, when I jump in to the battle, the game crash, I believe this is because I’m using with Windows 7

  2. Adam Solo says:

    @ Lobo7922
    Yes, that is a known issue for some people with some nVidia cards. Checkout this official game forum thread: http://ntronium.com/simplemachinesforum/index.php?topic=383.0

    The work around is to go into the graphics settings menu and set the sliders for texture effects and shadows to lowest. Devs seem to be working on this issue and promise to fix it in the next patch 1.02 in February, or in the next one.

  3. Poker News says:

    I really like your writing style, and I’m hoping for more stories like this one.

  4. Used Games says:

    I am a hard core fan of 4x games but when I tried this game , I encountered a problem. My game was crushing down as and when I jump in the battle. I am using windows XP only. Cant able to figure out the problem

  5. Adam Solo says:

    @Used Games
    You have to go to “Options” -> “Graphics” and put “Shadows Quality” to the minimum. That worked for me.

  6. infinityxxi says:

    thnx for sharing :) cool post

  7. Admiral S3 says:

    After tinkering with this title for a while, I have decided this is everything Master of Orion 3 should have been, but never was. Deffinatly a winner in my book.

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