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Solar War: It’s Like X-COM Meets Master of Orion But Not …

By on November 8th, 2012 10:28 am

Solar War is a grand strategy space game set in the solar system where you need to deal with an alien invasion, fight back and take the fight to the alien’s own territory, through colonization, research and war.

Solar War is currently in Alpha and is on Desura at 50% off this weekend till November 12th 2012.

Features include:

  • Defend Earth against an alien invasion from the edge of the Solar System.
  • Negotiate with the various governments of Earth and secure their support – One way or the other.
  • Establish your bases on other planets to take the fight to the enemy.
  • Design and build powerful spaceships, then take them into battle.

There’s a demo available for Windows and Linux that lets you play a significant part of the early game.

Players who buy during the Alpha stage receive a bonus which allows them to be an officer in the game, which for that you can customize your character using Desura’s “connect” feature.

First Impressions

I fired the demo for a quick gaming session but couldn’t avoid not feeling underwhelmed at first sight. There’s no music, no sounds and the graphics are very basic. Not too unexpected for an indie game at alpha stage alright. But, after a few tutorial hints, my first battle and a few interactions with the gameplay mechanics I started to feel right at home. Although still in Alpha, Solar War is actually very stable and playable already. Here’s what you can do.

Right now, you can play the campaign or a pre-built scenario in the solar system. There’s no sand-box mode available though, so, you can’t generate your own star systems or galaxies.  The campaign consists in defending Earth from an alien invasion, expand through the solar system and fight back the aliens. When the campaign starts you’re immediately put under attack by an alien force invading Earth. The scenario (only one available at the moment) puts you in control of a main colony on Mars, and tells the story of your expansion through the Asteroid Belt to Jupiter and Saturn, and their respective moon systems.

The turn-based combat mechanics are already in place. You can control your ships manually or hit auto-resolve. There are different types of ships available, some with beams others with missiles, these last taking a few turns to hit the enemy. You can also pick individual weapons to attack multiple targets if you want. It reminds me of Master of Orion’s combat as I felt a similar type of excitement but also the same type of frustrations while playing. For instance, the “instant” auto-resolve feature is also not as instant as in Master of Orion 2 (even when you chose “instant” in the main menu options). And, there’s the problem of “who goes first” too, meaning that I always attacked first and as so I always had the advantage. However, the ships are very far apart in the beginning (and hit with more difficulty) which doesn’t give away too much advantage alright, but it does. I hope there’s some initiative feature, simultaneous attack or fight-back options later in the game, or envisaged to add in the future.

Solar War | Turn-based space combat

The other available mechanics are: research, ship design, construction, officer management and faction handling. Contrary to ship combat, all these unfold in pausable real-time with different speeds to choose from.

The research tree is somewhat big but is poorly organized. Surprisingly enough it is very easy to handle in any case. Thinking in colonizing Mars in the first turn? No, it’s not how things work in Solar War. Before you can colonize other planets you need to research a lot of components that will first allow you to establish a base on the Moon and then, after researching the appropriate engine technology (that you obtain from the alien wreckage), you can start thinking in establishing colonies in other planets. At the moment, Techs don’t give you any hints on how long they take to research, unfortunately.

Ship design is quite nice and intuitive. It’s easy enough to design ships but it can also be a quite complex task if you want to go all the way, so expect lots of numbers and text. There’s a lot of depth in ship design. Not only you need to equip your ships with basic stuff (engines, weapons, armor, …) but you also need to give special attention to details like firing range, heat rate, speed, sensors, ECM evasion, firing arc, shield penetration, among other factors. It may not be pretty but ship design seems to offer all you need to design your ships and watch them in action in a satisfactory way.

Solar War | Ship design

Construction is where you build planetary facilities, spaceships and starbases. The UI is quite straightforward but could use some work still. For starters there’s no building queue, so you end up doing many repetitive tasks: build order, order complete, staff ship, repeat… There are two resources to manage at the moment: Titanium and Uranium. I suppose you will need to be more careful managing them as the game progresses, but so far, and for this demo, they were not that important.

All your ships need officers and officer management is quite complex in Solar War. Not only you need to have enough officers to equip your ships but you also need to assign them to special positions as ships have different officer slots (captain, navigators, tactical, engineers). And, as if this was not enough, you must also figure out when it’s the right time to promote your officers, as having more experience, leadership and talent points surely must affect your combat stats. Quite frankly I feel that I only scratched the surface on officer management still.

Then, and at last, you need to manage relations with Earth’s nations in the hope that they will join your council, or at least become associated members of your organization so that you have enough money to fund your operations. And this is where the X-COM feeling kicks in :) While negotiating with the different nations, and by witnessing how happy (or not) they were with my progress, through monthly reports, I couldn’t help not to think like I was playing an X-COM game right after the alien invasion is dealt with. It felt like X-COM had now evolved into a space faring organization prepared to fight the aliens in their territory.

Closing Thoughts

I liked my first experience with Solar War. My immediate impression was not very good because the aesthetics are very poor or even nonexistent (music, sound). But, this is only Alpha and quite frankly I didn’t miss great graphics or sound effects after playing for a while. Sure, they would have helped keeping me engaged for more time but I liked what I’ve seen so far and I did have fun playing.

I think this is a nice indie space strategy game that can turn into a very enjoyable experience when/if more art assets are added, and the right UI polishing is done. Having a sand-box feature would also be a big plus, but as the idea seems to be to offer the solar system experience at least the scenarios can help bring more longevity to the game. I confess that I also got a kick for feeling like I was playing X-COM in space with a Master of Orion feel to it, although Snipfish is not there quite yet.

In conclusion, if you’re looking for something simple to pickup and cheap, don’t mind basic graphics and you feel the need to scratch your space strategy in-the-solar-system itch, then Solar War is a good game for you to support.

Check out the Solar War trailer below.

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12 Comments


  1. lammaer says:

    Looks like an ancient Windows 3.1 game (like Stars! from 1995 – http://worldvillage.com/heritage/wv/gamezone/images/scrnshot/stars1.gif )

    I know, I know, it’s alpha and everyone claims content is much more important than graphics, however, it’s too minimal for my taste. And significant improvement on design I don’t think is realistic to expect. Alpha used to show what to expect on this side.

  2. t1it says:

    They could maybe add even more complexity so the game would play like a mini Aurora4x lol!
    I’ll keep en eye on this one but I don’t think I’ll ever play it. Stardrive beta is closing in and civ 5 is too addicting atm.

    • Adam Solo says:

      I need to cover Aurora one day.

      This is out of subject but as you mentioned it I can’t resist. Have you been playing Civ5 G&K after the recent and latest patch? If so what do you think? People are reporting that the game is more difficult now and that the AI now uses gold :) If that’s so I can’t wait to try a new game. Before the patch the game was enjoyable but I found it too easy, even in Immortal.

      • t1it says:

        Yes the latest patch drew me in again and the difficulty has up’d BIG time! The AI is indeed spending gold now (especially for early attacks)…in fact too much IMO. They don’t spend as much in RA and CS stuff as before so they aren’t exactly optimizing their income. However the increased aggressiveness makes you fear the top AI in other continents even more as they have probably swiped the entire continent of other AIs!
        Also a noticeable intelligence in wars…they actually focus on wounded units now but priority is still a bit off (a catapult is way more worthwhile to destroy in a siege than crossbowmen…). Overall you should definitely check civ 5 out;)

    • caekdaemon says:

      Aurora!

      I loved that game! There was something about having every man and woman in your ground corps be simulated when you did a planetary invasion. Did Corporal John Evans survive his first battle?

      Who knows!

      You should give that game a spin, Adam, and tell us what you think :D

    • Kyle Rees says:

      I picked it up (thanks Adam for the heads up) and yes it is like Aurora meets Stars. Although the complexity is not quite there even on a Stars level. There are some minimally enjoyable aspects like the novel diplomacy, ship design, and yes tactical combat! I also like how it is real time, don’t remember if Aurora was? Anyways, Aurora is like Dwarf Fortress on steroids which is too much for me. I need at least Stars level of graphics. =P

      Adam were you able to find out the difference between the demo and full versions?

      • Adam Solo says:

        To my knowledge the difference between the demo and the full version is that not all techs are unlockable and the game ends after some time. Probably it’s a fixed time, but it’s still enough to have a good grasp about the game.

  3. Ashbery76 says:

    Looks interesting.I like to see a 4x game with a different twist and the X-com in space vibe is very strong from the demo.If only it had a bigger budget.

    I would back a kickstarter.

  4. Kyle Rees says:

    I must after playing Solar War the past couple of days, I am really liking it.

    First of all the inclusion of real world countries and having to defend our own solar system is a nice touch. The pacing is also long and challenging. I have yet to really go beyond Jupiter because I don’t have enough of an advantage. Plus having to refuel at Gas Giants and plan short warps that way feel realistic like I am playing a world war 2 strategy game but in the next battlespace among the stars.

    The ship design is also nice in that you have to balance using more practical technology or alien technology which uses rare minerals. You have to design under mass, heat, and power restrictions.

    The tactical battle is also decent and reminds me of stars with weapon arcs, shields, armor, and structure.. I think a more accurate description would be a mash up of XCOM and Stars, with only incorporating a distant relation to XCOM’s story.

    The research tree is very long, and after two days of playing I have yet to unlock Battlecruiser, and just reached Cruiser (CA). The CL hull is where you can finally venture to other planers using Warp drives that takes days and not months.

    That is the realistic touch that makes the game really interesting. Warping to Jupiter takes about 9 days depending on your tech, so trying to intercept Alien fleets to try and capture them with assault shuttles is a REAL challenge.

    So to sum up everything about the Alpha, it has the potential to become a real gem.

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