Ok folks it’s worse than I thought, Sword of the Stars 2: Lords of Winter is currently unplayable.
I’ve witnessed some bad releases in my time. This one has been no doubt one of the most disappointing. It’s sad how this is becoming a pattern these days and how the players are being turned into beta testers more and more. Add on top of that the fact that people had extremely high expectations for SotS2 (since the original SotS is a game loved by so many) and you get one of the most dramatic releases of the last years.
It’s fairly known by now that Paradox Interactive and Kerberos Productions have announced that there were (major) problems with the game’s release, so, I am sure many of you are not being caught by surprise. On the release’s very next day the publisher’s CEO Fredrik Wester made a statement on Paradox’s forum apologizing for the current state of the game. One day after that, it was Martin Cirulis time to apologize on the developers forum. In that post Kerberos’ CEO asked for patience and promised that things will be fixed as soon as possible.
Having heard so many horrible things about the release I decided to get my hands into SotS2 as fast as I could. So, in the meantime of my work on the review here are my first impressions.
So, how bad is it?
It’s bad, really bad. Consider that I based these impressions on the latest available patch at the time of this writing (which would be the one from last Friday’s 11th November patch (several patches have already been issued since release day).
Let me start by saying that the worst part of this all is stability. It’s really hard to play the current release because it’s almost impossible to play 20 or more straight turns (actually trying to do something) without getting into a random crash to desktop (sometimes on the fleet manager, others on the “diplomacy” menu and on other places). Other times the game will just freeze, when you try to access the game menu for example. I know this is not happening just here because I’ve been checking forums where people are discussing the game, and they are saying the same there too.
But it’s not just stability. The game feels incomplete, it’s unpolished in many aspects and you can tell that there are features that are dummy or still work in progress. I think a couple of pictures will show you better what I mean.
But it’s not only the incompleteness. Some things are just plain missing. Trade for example is not yet functional from what I could tell. You adjust your sliders to divert production to trade but nothing happens, you don’t get more income as you’re supposed to. (Edit 16/11: So it seems that trade should be already functional by now – from what I could learn in the Kerberos’ forum – however apparently the player is required to build the right kind of station, research the right tech, build freighters, and then trade routes will eventually be established, but I can’t confirm this yet. And surely this is not documented anywhere, and nothing in the game leads you to think you need all this) Another example is diplomacy. At first I could not see any diplomacy options, that’s ok, I had not encountered any opponent yet. Eventually I found an opponent and I couldn’t believe what I was seeing. Most Diplomacy options are just a placeholder, a dummy version barely 20% functional perhaps. See below.
It looks better than it actually is. The buttons “System Data”, “Slaves”, “World”, etc, are all placeholders, when you click nothing happens. At first you think you’re doing something wrong but after a while it becomes evident that you’re not. This is what you get if you request or demand something (I don’t know what the difference between the two options is since both lead to the same screen above). If you click treaty you can’t do anything (maybe you can’t yet? At this point you can’t help to start thinking otherwise).
Then there’s the random crashing and freezing (that I already talked about) and the annoying lag-time between menus that can go from a normal 1 to 2 sec time to more than 5, 10 or more seconds in some cases (again I know that this is not happening just here).
Then there’s more unpolished stuff and more annoyances proper of an Alpha/Beta release. Things like:
- No in-game tutorial.
- Options and cinematic in the game menu greyed out (unavailable).
- Not being able to select multiple fleets to strike a system (having to go and assign one by one).
- Not being able to distinguish explored from unexplored systems in a user-friendly way.
- Finding a gaseous planet (and a barren planet) with an Earth-type model rendering when you zoom-in.
- Many Terran planets have Very similar models (if not the same).
- Having to switch continuously between tech trees to pick the one I want (very tedious process).
- Info panel states 6 turns for a fleet to reach a destination but actually it takes 3 or less (at least with the Morrigi engines – the ones I played more). This is a very serious problem.
- There is “salvage research” and “special project” sliders on the empire manager screen that I don’t have a clue what they are for (even after reading both the manual and the beginner’s guide entirely – the Manual is very nice BTW). And what about the locked “Immigration Rate” slider? More tool-tips would help.
- There’s not an empire wide fleet overview screen, so we lose track of fleets very easily.
- Sotspedia (or Encycolopedia – not a typo, it’s how it’s written in the game) doesn’t help much and it’s incomplete.
- Station build order costs can’t be seen upfront, and while you can cancel the order after seeing how much it costs to upgrade the station it’s clear that that’s not the way it should be implemented.
- We don’t get a sense of distance between stars in the 3D map. To know that you need to simulate sending a fleet there… (couldn’t find another way)
- UI rendering is very poor in places (some ugliness when over-zooming). Clearly something that’s probably easy to fine-tune with proper testing.
- Overall UI clunkiness (from not very responsive to some serious lag at times)
- Can only rename planets right after colonization but can’t rename them ever since and systems can’t be renamed either (if they can please let me know)
- No random galaxy generation. Currently only a collection of fixed sand-box maps are available (scenarios are greyed out at game setup). The Manual states that systems details, stars and planets change from game to game but systems disposition (galaxy appearance) is fixed. This must be changed.
There’s more but I’ll save that for the review.
Plenty of it, great stuff, but unfortunately you can’t experience it for long because of all the bad stuff already mentioned, especially the stability issues.
There’s the beautiful ship models (some are just ok but others are gorgeous). The color palette may not be the best in places but the ships detail is generally awesome. You can even see inside the bridge/cockpit of some starships, I’m not talking about a painted model feel I mean you can actually feel you’re peaking inside the ship’s bridge. Awesome stuff (see below).
There’s plenty of depth on the new stations concept. You can build many kinds of stations and you can upgrade them with new modules. This needs to be done carefully since they are very expensive yet very powerful. I really like this new stations feature. There’s Naval, Civilian, Diplomatic, Science, Gate and Tribute stations. Each of them level up several times till they become Science Centers, Star Cities, Star Bases, among other important base establishments that seem to have a strong impact in the game.
The lore is very interesting. The races background-story is detailed, rich and immersive. The races description is probably the best part of the manual by the way, and surely one of the best parts of the game also.
Other good and great aspects:
- Overall graphical rendering detail is very beautiful (planets, ships, stations).
- The missions concept is refreshing (survey missions, colonization missions, strike, invade, etc).
- Leaders: I could only see Admirals for now. For every fleet you need one of those. Each leader provides its own set of positive and less positive traits. Good one.
- Research randomization is kept from the original SotS and now there is the “Feasibility Study”, required before researching techs. Good addition in my opinion.
- There are small nice touches here and there. The tech icon rotates faster with more research spending and when there are ships under construction the build icon flashes to indicate you’re building something.
- Combat is overall nice although I experienced some clunkiness here and there. At some point I lost sight of my ships and it was hard to find them back … then the battle ended. Nevertheless space combat does feel epic, perhaps one of the best to date in 4X space games. We’ll see.
- There are independent races in the game that will not expand as much as the other major races. Finding them is supposed to be rare and you need to survey systems intensely in order to spot them (at least it’s what the manual states). Sounds good.
- There’s also a province concept where you can combine systems into provinces for economical bonuses and possibly other benefits I couldn’t grasp yet. Sounds great.
- The Survey missions, although a bit rough on the edges still, deserves an applause. eXploration has always been a weak link in 4X games, SotS2 does a great step in the right direction.
- Empire manager screen is rich in options and allows a good level of detail and control over the economical part of the game.
There’s more but that will also be in the review.
In summary there’s plenty of good and even great stuff on SotS2 but there’s also plenty of horrible stuff as well. Some of the issues can (and will mostly probably) be resolved with patches to come (which the devs stated they are strongly committed on undertaking). When the stability issues are resolved, the trade made functional (Edit 16/11: or better explained) and the diplomacy complete I think the game will be fairly playable and probably already very enjoyable. At this moment however I think it’s not possible to enjoy playing, at least in my neck of the woods.
The release has been a disaster, that’s a fact, however both the devs and the publisher have made a sufficiently in-time mea-culpa, apologized and committed right away to support the game evolution through the coming months. Moreover in order to help mitigate all this Paradox and Kerberos have offered a copy of the original Sword of the Stars Complete Collection to all the people who have bought SotS2 (or just the ones that have pre-ordered it, I’m not sure on this one).
For the ones thinking about buying the game at present state consider yourselves warned. For the brave and generous souls that are going to buy the game at this moment I think you have a good chance of not having your money badly spent since you’ll be supporting the devs through the patching process, now that all has been said. For the ones of you that have pre-ordered the game I guess there’s no big drama here either since you can choose to keep your faith in the game and on the devs or just decide to ask for a refund. I can’t see what’s the big fuss about this, at the very most people had their money tied-up alright but not lost.
All things considered I think SotS2 has all the ingredients to become a great game, perhaps even one of the best 4X space games of all time, but at the moment it needs many hours of polishing, tweaking and improvement still in order to aspire to reach that far.
I think I carried myself a bit with this first impressions article, it came out quite longer than I first anticipated, for an article of this nature, but I think it can be helpful for people to have an in-depth overview of the game’s current state. Thanks for reading and good luck to the devs on the major task ahead!
Check the review for more details.Subscribe RSS
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