Armada 2526 is a 4x turn-based space strategy game, developed by Ntronium Games and published by Matrix Games. In December 2009 I wrote a first impressions “Armada 2526 – New 4x space strategy game – First Impressions” here at SpaceSector.com. At the time the game was at version 1.01 and I still stand for most of what I wrote back then. I invite you to read the first impressions before you read this review to have the full background about the game.
Since then Ntronium Games has released a new Armada 2526 patch (v1.02), that brought some nice new features and overall improvements to the game that undoubtedly contributed to a more finished and solid product. So the scope of this review will be to give a more in-depth overview of the points that I did not grasp in the first impressions, after many more hours of game play, and I will also concentrate in providing you with information about the races, AI aspects, game setup customization, victory conditions, game balance, v1.02 enhancements, overall conclusions and game score.
Armada 2526 Scope
Armada 2526 follows on the footsteps of games like Master of Orion 2, the Space Empires series, Galactic Civilizations, Sword of the Stars, StarTrek: Birth of the Federation and many other sci-fi TBS titles. In this sense Armada 2526 provides the traditional 4x TBS space strategy gaming experience.
The Races are diverse and charismatic, but there is no central game story
Armada 2526 offers 12 races for the player to choose from. There is no race customization option so you’ll have to make your pick according to your liking since each of them has its own specific traits, victory conditions and gameplay styles. In spite of having no race customization the races are sufficiently distinct, charismatic and in a sufficient number to give you more than enough options to choose from. Each race will play quite differently due to their distinct traits and pursuits for victory however they all share the same technology tree and are allowed to build the same buildings and most of the available spaceships.
The story in Armada 2526 is … well there is no story in fact, only a background story for each race. And although this might be ok and even pleasant to the hardcore fans of the genre, in the sense that people may come up with their own stories, this may shun the less core fans or other gamers that are novice to the genre. So the game has no intro cinematic or background story, the player is thrown into the galaxy where he is expected to start writing his own tale from that point forward.
Game setup customization is rich and flexible
When you start your game you have the option to choose to play the tutorial, play a scenario or chose to customize your own game. If it is your first game you definitely should start from the tutorial. After that you probably will choose to generate your own custom game. Customizing a game is simple and Armada 2526 does a very good job at providing you with lots of options. You may choose the amount of stars in the galaxy or the way they are distributed. You can set your galaxy size, the map type (condensed or disperse), the enemy races, the number of turns you would like to play and the difficulty level.
Victory conditions variability add depth and re-playability
In Armada 2526 you win if you eliminate all your rivals or if you get the best score (victory points) when the number of turns you set at the beginning run out (you may continue to play after that point if you want to). Each race has its own traits, both negative and positive, but most importantly they have different victory conditions which lead to a different path to victory and ultimately a different style of play. This is good because at the same time that this variety of victory conditions provides more gameplay options it also increases the game re-playability value which is a rather important feature every good game should always aim for.
For example playing with the Human race you get an unrest penalty and a psychic and hyperspace research fields penalty however you get a general research bonus. You earn victory points if your population is happy enough and if you accomplished glorious victories during your game.
If you play with the Unn Pirates you get radically different traits and victory conditions. When playing with the Unn you get extremely low population penalty and suffer from high unrest and low-income, however you get more money from loot and have biological immunity. You win with the Unn if you can get lots of money from booty and if you can achieve a decent amount of population.
The AI does the job
Generally speaking Armada’s AI plays well. Rival races really do well on wars and are good at the negotiating table, however at times the races do behave a bit erratically. For example, the races sometimes reject extremely favorable deals and are very reluctant to accept some types of deals (like trade offers) or some times just start doing very repetitive behaviour stating demands that the player keeps refusing over and over. During war the AI sometimes tends to create too many ships of one kind, like transports ships, colony ships or small ships.
With the intent to reduce high-micromanagement stress the game offers very nice automation options to the player. If you want you can set colony management to automatic and set the development policy you’d like to set up for that system from that point forward (you can change the automation policy at any time). For instance you may set a system to develop the military (that will create more war ships), to develop defenses (that will create more troops, missile bases and starbases), to develop research, improve income, increase population or just use a balanced development.
So in conclusion, although there are some minor deficiencies the AI in general does a very nice job and is quite coherent. For instance the AI races seldom attack you with no clear reason, and will trade favorably with you if they like you and attack and reject deals if they don’t like you.
The Music helps set the right atmosphere
The sound effects of Armada 2526 are not spectacular but the music is very good. Some scores are even brilliant and really help set the mood, especially during the exploration and expansion phases were you don’t know what lies beyond and which systems you expect to find.
The User Interface is ok but fails to provide enough control
Information is control and this is probably one of the aspects where Armada 2526 falls short. But this is not saying that the User Interface is bad, far from it. The UI is successful in providing basic functionality like colony management, research management, feature rich charts, good diplomacy screens and good system overview, however the UI does have its weaknesses.
When Armada 526 was first released (v1.01) it had serious problems regarding the UI (that you can read more about it in “Armada 2526 – New 4x space strategy game – First Impressions“). There were lots of information shortcomings. For instance not knowing which fleets are stationed in a planet, not knowing enough details about each building (which are the dependencies and which are the improvements), not knowing what the diplomacy indicators meant or how they are affected (the manual was also poor at explaining this). Some of this issues were solved in v1.02 (the version released in early March 2010) while others were not yet sufficiently addressed.
There are also some basic functionalities missing in Armada 2526 like a planet list screen to present the player with all explored systems details: the planets that are colonized, not colonized, its mineral abundance, presence of asteroid fields, etc. This is a key feature that is missing, in my opinion, since it becomes essential at some point to provide this information to the player so that he does not lose track of things, especially during the exploration and expansion phases of the game.
Another poor UI functionality is the fleets list management screen. The fleets list really provides … well the list of ships, but does not categorizes or merges them in sufficiently meaningful ways. For example you cannot sort the fleets list by type or by colony. So what happens is that at late games, when you have dozens or hundreds of ships, you tend to lose control of them. I speak by gaming experience, I tend to forget completely about the fleets list functionality in my games and this is not a good thing.
A word about patch v1.02
As said above Ntronium Games released a new patch for Armada 2526 in early March 2010. Among other fine-tune enhancements and fixes the patch provides a new automatic population transport system that alleviates the burden of having to micromanage population immigration between systems. This was a nice improvement in my opinion. It works well and relieves the player from unnecessary boring tasks of relocating population almost every other turn.
Some research and economy tweaks were also performed, like an option at game start-up to set the research speed (to solve the issue of research techs running out too quickly) or an option to reduce or eliminate the bureaucracy effect completely (a found annoyance by many players).
But one of the most important features introduced by this patch was the overall improvement of information about the game, mostly done via tool-tips improvement which now includes a way to see the number of ships stationed in a designated area just by pointing the mouse cursor to it, among other information additions: the amount of discount on production an asteroid mining enterprise employs or the amount of pollution a technology complex produces among many other pieces of information. For a complete list of patch features please check the Ntronium Forums v1.023 Full Changes List.
Armada 2526 is a very solid game, it is well designed and provides a good gaming experience to the player. However it may not be for everybody, and in fact this is in line with the actual Ntronium philosophy which in its own words “targets the discerning minority of hardcore strategy fans, rather than the mass market”. Armada 2526 is coherent with this motto, its non-linear sandbox mechanics allows (or forces) the player to make up their own stories and reduce the amount of micromanagement generally needed to accomplish some tasks. The game also puts gameplay before graphics, which are nothing too fancy but just ok.
Another good aspect about Armada 2526 resides on the high-involvement of the player during the development process and the continuous improvement of the game by its developers. The Armada 2526 game forums are very active with vibrant game discussions. The developers are always willing to hear the player and most of the changes introduced by patch v1.02 were in fact in response to many suggestions and bugs reported by the community.
So in summary, if you’re a hardcore fan of Sci-Fi TBS (in the line of Master of Orion 2, Galactic Civilizations 2 or StarTrek: Birth of the Federation) or simply a fan of 4x strategy games in general this is the right game for you to try next. If you’re a fan of strategy games in general you may also like Armada 2526, but chances are that if you’re not into this type of games probably, this is not the right title for you unless you want to start being a fan :)
|Space Sector score: 8.0
– Variable victory conditions provide different gameplay styles and enhance re-playability
– Automation options relieve the player from boring micromanagement tasks
– Music is very good, setting the right atmosphere
– Races are distinct and charismatic
– AI is strong with only minor deficiencies
– Customer support is great, developer is continuously evolving the game
– User Interface has some control shortcomings (even after patch v1.02)
– Some aspects about diplomacy are not streamlined and are a bit confusing
– Lack of campaign and central story may be ok for hardcore fans but bad for casual players
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