In July 27th 2010 I made a post at SpaceSector.com about Star Ruler, a real-time 4x space strategy game developed by Blind Mind Studies. Today I’m writing its Review (for v18.104.22.168).
Star Ruler sets you on a vast galaxy
Star Ruler lets you set as many systems as you like. Well that’s just theoretically, in practice I tried to set 15.000 but the game became really slow and eventually crashed so you should stick to up to 5000 (the nominal amount is 150). You can also setup the number of opponents (0 to 10) and the difficulty level (0 to 5). You can also set random research (random links) on/off, although sincerely I’m not sure how random links work.
Planet screen lets you manage your buildings and ships
When everything is set you start your game and you’re presented with your homeworld. If you double-click on it you’re presented with a building queue that you use to manage your buildings and ships constructions. You can also see in this screen which structures are already present in the planet and some more bits of information about the planet economy like the amount of labor, minerals, metals, advanced parts, electronics, food, citizens mood, etc.
The economy in Star Ruler seems to be complex although it is quite hard to grasp what each material is for and derived from. For example you don’t know up front how much an item costs to build, or which materials it will consume, unless you actually issue an order to build it on the building queue (then you can see the amount of resources needed to build the item). That is odd. (This was fixed in V22.214.171.124)
The economy figures are not very intuitive, or at least there is not sufficient information about them on the tutorial to debrief us on the details. You know however that Metals are built from Ore if you have a Metal Mining Factory built on your planet, Electronics are made from Metals if you have an Electronics Factory. Metals and Electronics put together make Advanced Parts. The level of these facilities dictate their output and the level of their capacity.
Randomized but confusing Research and Tech Tree
Star Ruler offers quite a confusing tech tree. Techs, or research areas, are structured in a flat way with no apparent connections between them. You have research areas like General Sciences, Particle Physics, Energy Sciences, Economics, Ship Construction just to name a few, that all sounds nice. Many other research areas are locked, represented with a question mark however it is not evident how you unlock such research fields. To my best guess you unlock these if you focus your research on a certain research area on the “hunch” or “guess” options.
As said you can focus or direct your research to a particular field by making of what is called a “hunch” or “guess”. That will consume quite a lot of research time but is not evident what it will actually do or unlock. I tried making such specific research focus and the result was a link between two existing research fields. Another time however the result of such action was the unlock of a new research area.
But in the case of when there is a link between two already known techs what does that do? Will making a link between two techs unlocks a special tech after a certain amount of research? Will that make both techs cheaper, sincerely after what I’ve played I can’t still figure it out. Again Research is a very confusing part of the game and will take further time to understand, which is not a good thing. That is not to say that it is not well thought, it’s just that it is hard to grasp without much more play testing.
You can negotiate with other empires
In the Empire screen you can see your opponents. You can see which ones have sent you deals or treaties, that is marked with a scroll and a question mark. Alternatively you can send them treaties by clicking on the scroll without the question mark.
When you propose a treat the window below will appear. You can propose Peace, make a Trade Agreement, Share Research or Declare War. You can demand resources (Trade Resources) or demand a specific technology.
Diplomacy and Negotiations are a plain simple but effective feature of the game.
You can design ships
Star Ruler lets you design your ships using the “Blueprints” screen (that you can see in the image below). You start by setting a Hull type (standard or station). You then choose from a set of different options from Control, Support, Engines, Defense & Armor, Weapons and Subsystems.
The design screen has an assistant that gives instructions for advice or if something vital is missing (e.g. “Engines are Missing” or “Insufficient Life Support” – seen on image above). Right after you save your designs and can build them through the planet screen. The ship design screen seems solid and is a good SR feature.
Music, Sound and Graphics
SR music does a good job on setting the right atmosphere, the sound track is varied and appropriate. The sound is basic, but in this type of games that is acceptable. Graphics are sub-par, nothing really extraordinary. You have nice models for the built-in types of ships (scouts, cruisers, dreadnaughts, fighters, etc) however. The starmap and planets graphics are ok. So in summary SR aesthetics are fair.
Star Ruler provides all the ingredients for a fair 4x space strategy game but fails in many ways in providing solid, interesting and fun features. Everything in the SR world is somewhat flawed, starting from the User Interface. The 3D star map is flashy but not really very navigable, it is very easy to find yourself struggling to go from a particular point on the map to another and is very easy to lose your planets from sight and hard to find them again.
The Research is another area of the game that is not very well done since it is not easy to grasp how it works. This is a perfectly good example of how a probably good game design feature has been poorly executed. There are not enough tool tips to inform the player on how the “hunch” and “guess” works nor what links between research fields will do.
Taking into account that the game was developed by an Indie company we can’t really say that Star Ruler is a bad game but we can’t say it is good either. There are many other titles out there in the market that make far better than SR (Armada 2526, Sins of a Solar Empire, Galactic Civilizations 2, Sword of the Stars) so one has to ask if SR is really worth it. If you’re a hardcore fan of the genre probably you’ll want to give it a try but if you’re a fan but not a hardcore one probably it is not a good idea to enter in the Star Ruler Universe just yet and wait for a couple more patches.
You can buy Star Ruler at GamersGate (digital download).
[* Update: 23th June 2011]: Star Ruler has evolved a lot since its release. I wrote the review for V126.96.36.199 but the game is now on V
188.8.131.52.1.0.0. Many things have changed since the review has taken place, judging from the extensive changes described in the patches change logs. So please take the score below with a pinch of salt. Star Ruler may be far better than it was at the time I wrote this review. I also understand that the developers rushed out the game to cover expenses, it’s surely not easy to be an indie producer. So by all means try Star Ruler out. Check out the demo.
[* Update 28th September 2011]: Made a re-review of Star Ruler (v184.108.40.206). Have a look here.
– Huge Galaxies
– Ship Design is easy and intuitive
– Music is good setting the right atmosphere
– Confusing Research
– Not so easy to use and lacking User Interface
– Quirky building scheme, unknown upfront cost of ships or buildings (fixed in V220.127.116.11)
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