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Distant Worlds Legends Preview

By on October 25th, 2011 7:42 pm

Distant Worlds Legends is the second expansion pack of the 4x real-time space strategy game, Distant Worlds.

Matrix Games and Code Force announced Legends last September 2011. The list of additions to Return of the Shakturi (DW’s first expansion) is very promising so I decided to write this Legends’ preview to try and condensate these changes and present them in a nice wrapper for you guys, so that you know a bit more about what to expect in November 2011, current Legends’ release date target.

So, what’ll be new in Legends?

The major additions and changes to Return of the Shakturi, that I could take note of, are:

– Leaders / characters
– Influence spheres
– New ships models (around 600!) with better graphics
– Ability to track where your ships are heading (ship vectors overlay)
– Potential colonies, scenic and research locations shown on main map (more overlays)
– Expanded technology tree (e.g. cutting lasers, new planetary facilities, wonders)
– Race-specific events and victory conditions
– Improved fleet management and automation, including fleet postures
– Improved modding support, including full race and character modding
– Improved refueling system (more intelligent fuel management)
– Improved diplomacy system with refueling and mining rights and immigration policies
– Improved performance, memory usage decrease and sharper graphics

Wow! Where to begin.

The major new addition of Legends is no doubt the new character system. Legends brings Leaders, Admirals, Generals, Ambassadors, Governors, Agents and Scientists to scene. All of them with their own skills and traits with the opportunity to advance and improve them along the way. The character you start with, in the beginning of your games is your leader. Leaders have effects that are empire-wide, that is, they influence your entire empire, every planet, base, etc. Some factions are more likely to get certain types of characters than others. Characters can be lost along the way though due to violent events, accidents or retirement.

Each character has some skills. Next to each of these skills there’s a progress bar (0% in the example below), that measures progress towards the next level in that skill. You can increase skills (or acquire new ones) through experience in areas related to those skills. Characters also have traits. Your characters may start with one or more traits and may acquire more based on their experiences. You may start with additional characters. For example Randul Shokia (seen below) is a special scientist character.

Randul provides bonus to research, in the research base you decide to put him in. In the example above he adds bonuses to all types of research fields. If you assign Randul to a particular Energy Research station with a +15% bonus to Energy Research, his +34% would add on top of that to give you a combined +49% bonus to Energy Research at that location. Besides skills Randul also has a special trait. Randul is methodical which means that your empire is less likely to suffer critical research failures (critical research is a new feature in Legends, which can give you a spontaneous crash program or a boost in a research area). He gives more reliability to your research in that sense.

One feature I found particularly interesting in the character’s system is that some characters remain mysterious until you actually use them and find out about their abilities. In the example below Kweeki Woppit has known traits but unknown skills. This is an interesting touch in my opinion since it adds an element of surprise and gets the player a little curious (two essentials elements in 4X strategy games) of what to expect from their characters.

Kweeki is a Colony Governor. You can assign Colony Governors to a particular colony and their bonuses apply only to that colony. Similarly, Fleet Admirals are assigned to a particular Fleet or Base, Troop Generals to a particular Fleet or Colony, and so on.

You can assign more than one character to a particular location and bonus from them will add up, though they may not be purely additive. In Erik Rutins’ own words (one of DW’s main developers) «(…) if for example you have a Fleet Admiral who is great at combat and another Fleet Admiral who excels at Fighter Operations, assigning both to a fleet that has Capital Ships as well as Carriers can lead to better results than just having one or the other. However, since you generally will have fewer exceptional Fleet Admirals than fleets, you have to weigh the benefits of having one exceptional fleet against the flexibility of having two fleets that are each pretty good».

Another important aspect in Legends is that the devs state they’ve implemented a better memory management method. This should allow for better performance and memory usage decrease. They also state that this has allowed them to remove the compression mechanism they were using previously, on many of the ship and planet graphics. The result is that Legends should look better, or at least sharper from what I was lead to believe (less blurriness that you could spot in RotS here and there).

In addition to sharper graphics Legends shall also feature 22 new high resolution ship sets (added to the existing ones from Distant Worlds and Distant Worlds: Return of the Shakturi), all obtained from one of Distant Worlds’ players and modders, artist Martin Wood. Here’s an example of some of the new Teekan ships.

That’s approximately 600 new ship/base images right there in Legends! (if you didn’t use Martin Wood’s mod before that is). This was one of the weakest points in Return of the Shakturi in my opinion, and now that seems to have been properly addressed. Big plus! Don’t know if planets and ruins have also been worked at or not though. We’ll have to see.

Legends also brings spheres of influence, or borders. The actual use for them is still a bit unclear to me. My best guess is that they tell how likely foreign colonies are to flip (turn to other empires) if they are inside an empire’s influence sphere. In that regard I think they serve as cultural/influence borders but I’m not sure of their full scope. In Erik’s own words «Spheres of influence are not quite the same as the way we think of borders here on our planet. They project from your colonies and define the space that you could control. Systems within your sphere of influence that you have at least explored are considered under your control. Borders in space are enforced within each controlled system but not in the deep space between systems. Also, building a mining station (for example) outside of your sphere of influence does not give you control over that system (though colonizing it does)». 

An interesting feature would be for these influence spheres to represent a race’s space territorial dominance. Aggressive races would tend to get annoyed if their space was trespassed or if other race’s colonies or mining stations are built inside their influence zones, but I’m just speculating here. It would be cool to have that kind of territoriality though, although I now that theme is a bit controversial and would not be appreciated by some.

In addition to all this Legends will feature new faction-specific victory conditions that can completely change how a faction plays, to faction-specific special events and resource bonuses. In the example below the Ugnari have 4 particular victory conditions: two of them (as examples) are to get 25% most trade and 25% most mining stations.

Another aspect where Legends devs invested a bit was on a new UI system that provides overlay information directly on the main map. At the choice of the player it shall now be possible to switch on/off layers for ship vectors, i.e. see where ships are going, potential colonies, scenic and research locations all in the main map with no need for more actions and clicks through secondary screens. This is a brilliant new addition that could be exploited for even more overlays that may be considered useful in the future.

Potential colonies shown directly in the main map are a particularly interesting feature to have in my opinion since they’ll surely help late game expansion, where there are simply too many planets to look in the expansion planner and what you simply need is a quick way to see where are the potential worlds for suitable colonies in favorable strategic locations. I was very happy to see these new overlays. The UI accessibility was already very good in RotS, now it will be brought to the next level.

Besides all that has been described already there are more things new in Legends. Examples are the expanded technology tree, the improved fleet management and automation (including fleet postures), the improved modding support (including full race and character modding), the improved refueling system (more intelligent fuel management is also a big plus) and the improved diplomacy system with refueling and mining rights and immigration policies (which should provide even richer diplomatic experiences).

Bottom Line

This preview is by no means thorough. Believe it or not, it is more a sneak peak on major changes. Legends adds much more stuff (judging from what I could understand in the game forums, from what I didn’t have access to and others I couldn’t find in detail in my digging). The preview was based on information provided by the devs and the DW’s community on matrix games’ distant world forums. If you want to get more information on Legends, or Distant Worlds in general, that’s the place I suggest you have a look at. I’m sure I missed a lot of things but judging from the changes featured in this preview alone it’s amazing the amount of new things this new expansion will bring, on top of so much RotS already offered.

I am really looking forward for Legends. And if you’re a 4X space strategy game lover, as I am, I think you cannot afford to miss this one either. I think they’re making history here. In my opinion Distant Worlds Legends shows enough potential to be running for the best 4X space strategy game ever made. That’s a very controversial and bold statement to throw I know, but I’m totally convinced that Legends may be that good.

\Edit (23/11/2011): Legends is out! Get it here.

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  1. Lordxorn says:

    This expansion definitely brings DW up to par with the other 4x greats, and I in my humble opinion is the best modern one to date.

    • Adam Solo says:

      I know many of us share at some degree the complex that MoO2 is and will forever be the best 4X space strategy game. However MoO2 is 15 years old, and while I know that’s not really an argument I think it is time we accept the fact that upcoming titles may start to be good enough to compete for the throne.

      Although I know and recognize that MoO2’s simplicity, atmosphere and the elegance are probably unsurpassed, we have to recognize that that’s not the only thing that makes a 4X space strategy games great.

      And I’m curious, what are the other “4X greats” that you were thinking of when you say that Legends will come to par with? :)

    • Lordxorn says:

      When I say greats of course there never really was a follow up that was on par with moo2, so please bear with me.

      I loved Imperium Galactica II, Lost Empires: Immortals, Ascendancy, Reach for the Stars, Emperor of the Fading Suns, Space Empires Series, GalCiv Series. However the polish in a majority of the games aforementioned were not quite up to the level MOO2 was in its day, however I enjoyed the different approaches.

  2. Jean Larrieux says:

    My favorite 4x game of all time is Star Trek birth of the federation. Never had a chance to try MoO2 in its prime… i downloaded a version to my windows 7 machine but having to jump through hoops to play it is a major turn off (the outdated graphics are not big helpers either). I got distant worl and return of the shakturi (not too impressed, but definitely decent).

    I also played Sins of a Solar empire, Galactic civilization 2 (all expansion packs), Sword of the Stars. All very good game but again, to me, nothing compares to Birth of the federation

    • Adam Solo says:

      Star Trek Birth of the Federation is also one of my all time favorites. MicroProse (also behind MoO2) sure knew how to make great games.

      By the way, there is a non-commercial game being developed right now that intends to be BotF’s spiritual successor called Star Trek Supremacy. It is being developed almost single handedly by Mike Strobel. You can know all about Supremacy here and you can download the last available alpha version here. It’s already playable from my last check although not finished.

      Supremacy has better graphics and performance, you have a small preview here. Hope this helps you get a taste back from BotF :)

    • Lordxorn says:

      I agree BOF was good, but still not on the level of MOO2, and CIV that made you “HAVE TO PLAY JUST ONE MORE TURN!”

  3. Jean Larrieux says:

    Thanks man!!!

  4. Ermdog says:

    MOO2 is by far my favorite, followed up by Sins of a Solar Empire. I remember about a year ago how much I wanted to play MOO2 on my PC but couldn’t because it wasn’t compatible with my current computer. I went on a mission to find another “modern” MOO2 game out there, and I discovered GalCiv2. A great game that had the potential to surpass MOO2, but failed on some points. I’m still waiting for one that surpass the 15 yr old MOO2

    • Adam Solo says:

      You can get MoO1, MoO2 and MoO3 at or at very low prices. I’m not completely sure but I think they make them fully compatible with today’s computer specs (windows versions and the like).

      Yes, at a time GalCiv2 was the closest thing to MoO2 you could get. Then, in my opinion, Armada 2526 took that title. Now, in a slightly different way I think Distant Worlds RotS has the title. Title being “modern MoO2″ or ” successor aspirant”.

      I’m still waiting here also. Keep your eye on Legends though. With the new Character system (similar to MoO2’s) we may be close to find a worthy MoO2 successor.

  5. Bill says:

    Did you ever actually play this and give a new review, versus this preview as you say. Legends that is? I was looking and didn’t see it. I’d be interested in knowing your thoughts after playing it. I just broke down and got them all on sale. Probably the best price I was gonna get. I’m upset that they have not lowered it more but what can you do.

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