Ok, this is definitely not the same game I reviewed 1 year ago.
Star Ruler, the 4X real-time space strategy game developed by Blind Mind Studios, has gone Gold. Well, not officially to my knowledge, but v1.1 (current game version) is probably what Star Ruler could (or should) have been 1 year ago when it was first released to the public. Well, ok, life is hard for an Indie studio, but when I write game reviews I do not take into account who makes them I’m afraid. Anyway it’s always better to have a better game later than never.
I thought this was the perfect timing to do a Star Ruler’s (re)review since it seems to have reached a stable version and is now being sold in a box set following the Blind Mind Studios publishing agreement with Iceberg Interactive.
Most of my previous review content still stands so I decided to write this article focusing on the major differences of v1.1 (very positive I can already advance) from the original version.
So, what’s different?
First of all the tutorial has been greatly overhauled. The result is a very informative, fun and humorous tutorial. One of the best I’ve seen to date. All the mechanics are very well explained while at the same time BMS manages to provide us with a fun story line that doesn’t bores us to death while we learn how to play the game.
Ok, let’s get this straight right now; Star Ruler’s ship design is probably the best I’ve seen in space games to date. I’m not exaggerating. It was already good when SR first came out but now it feels complete. You really enjoy picking, designing and scaling all those elements and fit them all into your fully customizable spaceships. It’s almost a game in itself, and it is pure fun. You can tell that a great deal of attention was devoted to this feature. The feedback, the information, the retrofit update system, the blueprints (that’s what SR calls the designs) export / import feature for later use in other games, nothing has been left out and the result shows. One guy I talked with in the SR’s multiplayer lobby humorously said to me that he spends 90% of his SR time doing ship design. Excellent job BMS!
SR now let’s you customize your race when starting a new game. You can choose your color, ship looks (from 2 options) and race portrait (from 4 available). You can also choose your flag and create your own background story. But that’s not all. Besides customizing your profile you are now offered the possibility to choose from a set of race traits that act as bonus/penalty modifiers from a range of areas. Some examples of these areas are Biology, Society and Mentality. These traits customization is already a classic feature in 4x space strategy games and I’m glad the devs have spent some effort on this one because every bit of detail counts to the overall immersion factor.
Diplomacy has a few shortcomings still though. By the time I made the first review it was basic, but by then, and still today, diplomacy options lack depth. For instance you can’t effectively forge alliances with other races, bribe the AI to attack a 3rd party or check history records of friendship/hate with the AIs. So, you’re not told how other races feel about you. Visually the diplomacy screen has been overhauled but functionally I didn’t notice any improvements.
One area where you really notice BMS’s work was in the user interface. Now it’s much easier to access all the information you need. Examples: available resources amount, costs to build stuff, ETA for new tech, tech ratio. One major improvement is that now you can create quick links to any object in the main window. SR calls it to “Pin” an object. By pressing “P” or hitting the “Pin” button you can create these shortcuts to fleets, planets and star systems. This is a very handy feature to have (if not essential) when the scale of the world and the fleets are large, which is the case in SR.
Planet management has been polished and now you know how many resources a certain structure or ship takes to build :) I think the user interface has also been cleaned up and I did not notice any annoyance at all. Clean and crisp.
Planets now may possess “conditions”. These conditions are special bonuses (or penalties) that make that planet unique. Some examples are: rich ore deposits, high velocity winds, dense flora, and I could notice that there were plenty more. These conditions can be exploited. For instance if a planet is rich in ore maybe it’s a good decision to tell your governor to develop the planet into a Metal powerhouse (if you want to automate that planet management of course). The decision to incorporate these planet conditions in the game is a very good plus for SR.
Economy is now much more comprehensible. Much of it comes from the great tutorial but also from the overhauled user interface. You don’t feel overwhelmed so quickly now. You can monitor the amount of resources you possess at any time and you can also glimpse on what each planet’s local economy holds. Planets have local economies but they contribute to a global empire economy basket with surplus from planets being allowed to be transferred to the global empire treasury, if you happen to have spaceports in those planets.
Fleet management seems to have suffered a major improvement also. It’s very easy and intuitive to create and manage fleets now. There are also tactical options you can choose from, like ship formations and ordering ships to hold position, guard or engage at will for example. Selecting ships is also very easy and effective. The use of CTRL, SHIFT and drag makes it very easy to select ships and it’s very easy to assign orders also. Combat is fun to play and watch. Ships get damaged and can be repaired by special ships and individual components can be compromised, destroyed or disabled.
In spite of all these positive aspects sometimes spaceships move a bit erratically to say the least. If you see your ships coming backwards (in the opposing direction they should) don’t worry, it’s supposed to be that way. It has something to do with ship deceleration but you can disable that in the Options menu if you find it awkward. But ship’s movement is far from perfect though. Sometimes you choose a fleet, order it to move, or order it to orbit an object, or guard, and then the fleet’s ships start to come back and forth, up and down, constantly moving in awkward patterns. I guess there’s some work still to be done with how fleet formations work because there’s where the problem seems to be.
Ships need to refuel in SR but the way the mechanic works is great. Ships that get out of fuel head autonomously to the nearest planet, refuel, and then get back to formation automatically. Thank god they implemented it this way.
Research, even after all the improvements it is still a bit obscure unfortunately. That or I’m really missing something. But not all is bad about it, far from it. Research in SR has considerable depth and will undoubtedly make you think and force you to make constant decisions. You can tell that the devs wanted to innovate the concept by introducing non-linear mechanics to the way you do research. By introducing the hunch/guess system the intention was to insert some elements of surprise and unpredictability.
Maybe you decide to bet in a hunch because you think it can reveal a technology field early on, but those bets are expensive and you can lose all your effort. In summary, the research system is not very intuitive but I guess the devs deserve the credit for having tried to innovate it, even if not everything has come out the way they intended to. Today I chatted with a few chaps in the SR’s multiplayer lobby and nobody there was 100% sure of how hunches, guesses or links work. It’s definitely not just me having these doubts.
SR now features social and economic policies (called civil acts management). This is a nice new feature that contributes to an even deeper array of choices. At times you may decide to bet on producing more metals with penalty on other resources, or decide to make a tax break to raise morale (that causes an economy boost) at the cost of more goods and luxuries consumption.
In terms of graphics nothing noticeable seems to have changed. Ship models are nice but are very look-alike. There are only two model sets (from what I could understand). Maybe mods will bring much more models. And from what I could tell all races, even Remnant races have the same ship’s look & feel. You can’t also distinguish your ship design mounts, or modules in the ship models. Well, Indie studio with low budget for Art, I can understand that :)
There are other cool new features included in this release of SR. Pirates and Remnant ships. I think they are new, at least I don’t recall having seen them in the original version. Remnant ships are powerful ancient ships that were left out to guard long-time uninhabited systems. Possibly there are treasures or other bonuses involved in their defeat but that remained unknown to me because I didn’t manage to beat them, even with a very powerful armada (I thought I had at least). This is a very important aspect in space strategy games, the ability to make the player curious.
Playing Star Ruler v1.1 was a very different experience from the first version released to the public that I played, in a positive way as you could already grasp. I still felt some shortcomings playing, some oddities and awkward behavior here and there but nothing too serious compared to what I’ve seen before. All those major and less major improvements the game suffered made it substantially better but UI improvements where probably what made the trick in the end.
You now feel that you’re in control, playing a complete, complex and enjoyable game. The lack of beauty in ship models is compensated a bit by a very satisfying universe full of astonishing beautiful stars and planets, with good textures, by the way. Research is still a bit difficult to grasp fully but you can tell devs made an effort to improve it. Now techs have links between them so that you don’t feel lost for example. Diplomacy is a bit weak, or maybe the right word is light, but it functions well. You can make peace, make deals for resources and tech points, trade maps and share research. It’s enough but could have been much better nonetheless.
Ship design is complex but elegant; it’s time consuming but a pleasure. AAA publishers and studios should have a look at how these guys have made it and learn how it is done right.
The game is also fully moddable. Check here for a list of mods that people in the forums are saying great things about.
I’m not adept of direct comparisons, but to help you understand better what I felt playing the game Star Ruler felt to me like playing Sins of a Solar Empire in a larger scale with deeper strategy elements. And you, the hardcore 4X space gamer need to try it out. Star Ruler is finally ready for you.
For you the not so-much-4X or RTS lovers I think you’d still find SR very interesting. You can always have a look at the demo if you have doubts still.
- Huge galaxies in 3D
- Ship design is brilliant. The best I remember seeing to date
- Good User Interface. Keeps you in control of everything
- Good level of depth with smooth learning curve
- Music is good setting the right atmosphere
- Research system is not very intuitive
- Diplomacy options can be a bit “light” for hardcore fans
- Ships movement is odd and awkward at times
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