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Horizon Review

By on February 18th, 2014 11:29 am

Horizon | Turn-based space 4X strategy game by L3O Interactive and Iceberg Interactive

The first time I played Horizon, a recently released space 4X strategy game by L3O Interactive and Iceberg Interactive, was about seven months ago, on July 2013, when the game got on Steam Early Access as Alpha. By then I wrote an alpha preview and wrapped my appreciation with this sentiment “while certainly playable, and enjoyable to some extent, Horizon still seems far from a finished product, as not unexpected for an Alpha.”. Well, I’m afraid to say that my sentiment didn’t change after playing and reviewing the release version now, and what was before an expected sentiment for an Alpha version is now totally unexpected, and unacceptable, for a released product. Horizon is clearly still very far from a complete, polished and enjoyable game.

Oh boy, what a disappointment. A game that seemed to have it all to pay a good homage to the great space 4X games of old, namely Master of Orion, Star Trek: Birth of the Federation, among others. Turn-based strategy, hands-on turn-based space combat, an interesting and somewhat novel research system and a promising story element integrated with the traditional sandbox nature of 4X games. An indie game that took so many years to make (early concept art dates back to 2006 as far as I know) made by people who clearly love these kinds of games, as you can clearly notice while playing the game.

However, it’s also quite clear that this game has not been submitted to sufficient playtesting. And, while I think the devs have done some things right, there are lots and lots of other things, little and not so little details that make it very hard for the player to get into this game. And when you start to get a hang of things, you realize that there’s actually no challenge to be found here, but only a very dull and predictable galaxy filled with interesting races and potential for fun but hardly any game at all. My feeling is that a lot of bad stuff could have easily been taken out of the way a very long time ago. And now the game is released and it’s ultimately a boring and flawed experience.

Let’s start with the good aspects.

Research

Horizon offers a very interesting new twist on how research works in a 4X game. Instead of knowing the entire tech tree from the start, the player only gets to see a basic set of technologies and needs to unlock new techs through archaeological digs on planets with artifacts, through quests (when in story-mode), upon new levels of refinement of existing techs (which sprout new discoveries) or simply by acquiring new techs from the other races. But, you can’t make use of recently discovered, or bought techs right off the bat. First you need to “discover” them, where they act like prototypes or only theoretical research, so to speak. But in order to actually use the techs you must continue your research until you manage to level them up from prototype status (level zero) to level 1. Then and only then you can use the techs at their most basic level.

An excellent and elegant research system for a 4X tech system, if you ask me. Novel, dynamic and one that adapts to your play style. Unfortunately, its execution doesn’t live up to its full potential. You see, while the system does work like described, the techs themselves are not particularly interesting, with most of them giving you only a set of modifiers, following the level 1, level 2, level N approach granting you a +7, +11, +13 bonus (as an example) from a big mixture of effects. It’s also quite common for different techs in different fields to grant bonuses in several major areas of the game, like research, industry and trade, resulting in big mixed bags of research which don’t make the decision to go after particular techs that meaningful. Also, getting new techs from existing techs is an arbitrary exercise, sometimes you get new techs other times you don’t, so sprouting new tech paths feels too random and too much out of your control.

So, while the research system sounds innovative and interesting in theory, and is indeed fun to play to some extent, I wasn’t particularly happy about the actual techs provided nor about the obscure and arbitrary feel of the tech progression. At least you can give them the credit for having tried something different.

Horizon - Research system | Interesting research system, poor execution. Obscure tech progression that feels arbitrary

Very interesting research system, poor execution. Obscure tech progression that feels arbitrary.

Storyline Mode

The other major novelty and selling point of this game is what the devs call the “Normal mode” scenario. There’s a “Classic mode”, where the player and every AI start in equal footing. This is the traditional way to play a 4X game. But, Horizon also offers a storyline mode on top, where different races start the game with different status. Some races will have more technology or more systems and everything unfolds according to a storyline prepared by the devs. I played two “Normal” games and two “Classic” ones.

What a lovely new twist this story-mode presents. And quite a challenging one to do right in a 4X game, which tends to be story-free due to its intrinsic sandbox nature. But, L3O proved that it’s possible to mix story and 4X gameplay. However, I was not entirely convinced with the end result. I liked quests being triggered and popping up from time to time. It was refreshing to go after a minor goal for a change, which takes you out of your main strategy agenda for galaxy domination. Some event happens, you’re presented with a scenario and you’re asked to choose what to do. Some decisions will grant you more immediate benefits while others will require a bit more from you. The quests are not very complex and are quite cool to follow. Nothing spectacular or flashy to see here but still entertaining stuff nevertheless.

So, Horizon’s storyline-based mode is a great aspect, right? Well, perhaps you’ll like it, but personally I don’t really like it that much. I mean, it’s nice for a try and a change of pace, but after seeing and experiencing the quests once I quickly felt the need to return to the classic sandbox mode gameplay. Why? Because, unfortunately the quests system’s best aspect is also its worse, which is: “it takes you out of the main strategy agenda for galaxy domination”. So, what this means is that while the quests can surely entertain you for a while, they also drive you out of what you’re supposed to be doing, which is to devise a domination strategy to vanquish your rivals and win the game. So, I would say that while the storyline scenario experience is fresh and welcome, it’s also not that well integrated into the main game. I feel that it takes you out of the main game too much. At least that’s what I felt while playing it, of course you may think otherwise.

Horizon "Story-Mode" - Having a story-mode on a 4X game is refreshing, and L3O proved that it can be done

Having a story-mode on a 4X game is refreshing, and L3O proved that it can be done.

Now, the bad aspects.

Colony Development

Colony Development is a mess. Well, at least at the moment it is (the last version I played for the review was v1.0.0.77). I understand the general idea behind it. Managing a large empire in a 4X game has a tendency to quickly turn into micromanagement hell resulting in a boring and frustrating experience more times than it should. So, what I think the devs tried to do here was to lower the amount of things you could do in a planet to a few upgrade choices, like improving the farming capability, the research potential, production capacity, the amount of trade facilities and tourism attractions. What this means is that you will not be constructing individual buildings on your colonies but instruct them to develop certain areas more than others instead. So, some planets would probably be your production powerhouses while others may be your top research centers and others will be tourism hubs, for example.

This all sounds good in theory. The problem is that for most of the time I didn’t have any idea of what exactly the impacts of my decisions really were. So, it’s pretty common to end up asking yourself a ton of questions, like “Why did the population growth just dropped?, or “Why did tourism income just doubled?”, and “What exactly does fertile soil does?”. Or, “Why is the capital generating less money from trade, with more trade facilities, than a much smaller and less developed planet in the same system?” And other doubts. Lots and lots of doubts. I mean, how is the player expected to make meaningful decisions with so much obscurity?

Colony development, at the moment, is very unintuitive, even counter-intuitive at times (example: more farming potential resulting in slower population growth). It’s also a very complicated system filled with obscure information involving lots of numbers that you struggle very hard to figure out. And the manual and the tooltips don’t help you either. I mean, you can improve a few aspects in detriment of others but the major problem is that since the economy is so obscure, and the effects of your choices aren’t really that meaningful you end up developing all your planets in the same way. I mean, nothing stops you from doing that.

So, in the end you’re generating almost the exact same amount of tourism income and research output from all of your planets. And in a scenario like this, why should I develop this planet differently from the other? Why should I care? All planets will end up being exactly the same, and in no time you’re swimming in credits and nothing really matters any more. You can just build anything you feel like to after some point. That’s how unbalanced the economy system is, which is a clear indication that this game didn’t endure proper playtesting.

Horizon - Colony Development | Colony development seems interesting but feels meaningless, is quite obscure and is poorly balanced

Colony development seems interesting but feels meaningless, is quite obscure and is poorly balanced

Space Combat

So, the colony development experience is very poor, and unfortunately the space combat experience is not much better. Now, to its defense, Horizon’s turn-based combat system is actually very detailed and shows a lot of potential for providing lots of fun in the long run. When or if many things get fixed and improved, that is. The ship design system allows you to play with many aspects when you customize your ships. You can toy with fire arcs (different firing angles), choose missile weapons, beam weapons, fighters, four different hull types, shields, different armor, targeting computers and other components to research and use, although most of these are upgraded automatically (you can’t refit your ships either by the way).

So, during combat, the direction from where you attack counts, ship components can be destroyed. You can also scan your enemies during battle to see their components, to see which are enabled and which are disabled. There’s also space stations and planetary defenses. So, in its bones you can definitely spot a lot of good references to Master of Orion 1 and 2’s own ship design and space combat systems. And that was definitely a good start.

Horizon - Ship Design | Ship design is solid. Many components upgrade automatically but you can't refit ships.

Ship design is solid. Many components upgrade automatically but you can't refit ships.

Unfortunately, the problem is one of execution. The space combat UI is very clunky, so there’s lots of clicking and miss-clicking going on. There’s also some technical issues which hinder gameplay, where sometimes ships overlap and it’s very hard to select or target ships. And there’s also some technical glitches like the camera going back and forth quite easily. Also, space combat unfolds in a system base, so it’s quite common to have to drag your ships from one planet to another where the main fight is taking place, and that process can take ages and it’s quite a chore to go through. Add to that the miss-clicking issue, ships not obeying movement orders from time to time, ships missing completely, or hitting at full capacity on what feels like a totally arbitrary and obscure fashion, and you can easily see that the overall space combat experience is quite a nightmare.

It’s really a shame. I think the combat system is quite detailed. There’s definitely a lot of things going on, and some were done decently, but ultimately the combat is a chore to play, at least in its current form. There’s an auto-play feature that allows you to skip the battle details if you want, but unfortunately more than once I felt that the AI did a very poor job managing the battle. Wounded enemy ships (that I was attacking) got neglected in favor of fresh new ships when I switched to auto-mode ON, a clear sign that the AI can’t be trusted. Also, there’s no battle report at the end of the automatic battles, so, you don’t have a clear idea of how well your AI fought your battles for you. So, you feel the urge to fight all your battles by yourself but you can’t because everything starts to drag quite quickly.

Horizon - Space combat | Space combat is very detailed but it's ultimately flawed due to obscurity, clunky controls and poor AI

Space combat is very detailed but it's ultimately flawed due to obscurity, clunky controls and poor AI.

Speaking about AI, here’s what I think about it overall.

On AI

So, I found the tactical combat AI lacking, and unfortunately the strategic AI isn’t better. In all the 4 games I played for this review, I expanded constantly and was declared war only once. I refused treaties, neglected my military many times, played in “Hard” difficulty once. It didn’t matter. The AI was always very passive and again I was only declared war once and even then I didn’t understand exactly why. When you play in story-mode your experience may be slightly different though, because many of the races will be far more advanced than you. So, you may feel a challenge there but it’s ultimately an artificial one because you’re not playing in an equal footing.

But, in general it’s very easy to bribe the computer controlled races. I mean, almost all of them, apart from the “repulsive” ones which you’re not allowed to negotiate with by design. And I even tried to bribe the other races with a non-Human race so that I was sure not to have a diplomacy bonus, that the Humans receive. It didn’t make any difference. You can bribe the large majority of opponents left and right and it’s quite easy to reach friendly status and a couple of treaties in a few turns. I tested this behavior carefully to be sure.

But, one time I was alerted not to continue my expansion. And I thought: “Well, there’s hope here, looks like the AI is behaving competently after all”. But, the sentiment was short-lived. In the next turn I continued my expansion, colonized yet another planet and in the next turn I was offered an alliance by the same race that threatened me not to expand or else a couple of turns before. Confusing, at best.

But the AI isn’t lacking in combat and diplomacy aspects only, it’s also very incompetent at the strategic game overall. So, the AI gives you an expansion “jail-free” card, that we already know. But, the AI is also quite terrible at expanding itself. The game imposes no limits to expansion by the way. More colonies essentially means more money and more everything. So, I just kept expanding, like you can see in the graph below, but all the AIs just refused to do so. This in a “Hard” difficulty game.

Horizon - Graphs | There's not enough challenge in this game. The AI refuses to expand and that makes things too easy.

There's not enough challenge in this game. The AI refuses to expand and that makes things too easy.

So, I kept expanding, spreading tourism improvements, trade facilities and research everywhere I could – completely neglecting farming, because well, I just could – and I was basically swimming in money in no time. “So, it’s time to create a fleet of doom”, I thought. Actually the fleet limit is 10 ships per fleet, but nothing stops you from creating many 10-ship fleets. So, I decided to invade a race not because I felt they were a threat to me but because I just could. And nothing was happening anyway.

Had a hard time figuring out how to invade a planet at first. You need to clear out the defensive starbase first and all the ships that happen to be around, which was quite an annoying experience because enemy ships just kept popping from nowhere turn after turn. And, you also need troop transports to invade, and there’s ground assault hovercrafts, drones and other types of assault troopers you have to consider. But, I finally figured out how to invade the race’s homeworld. I lost my first assault attempt but I knew that it was just a matter of time and of bringing overwhelming forces next to finish the job.

So, in this little invasion story, I picked the specific target arbitrarily. I invaded that race because I could, and they didn’t expand to a single planet in the entire game, and I basically decided to call it a wrap.

Horizon - Ground combat | A lot of things happening in ground combat. It's a petty that space combat is such a pain though.

A lot of things happening in ground combat. It's a shame that space combat is such a pain though.

In conclusion, I didn’t feel a single thread of challenge in this game. At least strategically speaking. I was always sure I was going to win the moment I figured out that the economy posed no challenge and that I could just keep expanding and being friends with everybody. And so, most of my individual scores (expansion, technology, economy, etc) were off the charts. And, although the AI can give a fight in the tactical combat here and there due to the sheer number of ships they build, or on story-mode because some races will be insanely superior to you from the start, never did I feel that I couldn’t invade an enemy system if I really wanted to. And, that was it.

Now that we cleared the good and the bad let’s talk about one aspect where I had mixed feelings.

Diplomacy

The diplomacy system is quite well sorted out, if you can excuse the terrible AI performance handling it, that is. You can make a request, an offer, a demand – and contrary to other games you can actually request things from friends without upsetting them. You can propose treaties, cancel treaties, threaten races. Races can also surrender, which is something I witnessed once and I feel that it was perfectly timed out – in other words it felt that the race capitulated at the right time. The races are interesting, and you can play with the Humans, the alien races or you can customize your own race.

The diplomacy UI is also quite good. It’s not excellent because it doesn’t tell you as much as you would like. For instance, many times I was told that relations improved or degraded and the UI failed to tell me why. But, overall the diplomacy system is well fleshed out. Nothing terribly innovative here but it’s a very complete, helpful and easy to use diplomacy system.

The problem is the AI. I mean, what good is a system in a game if you feel that there’s no challenge, no problem to be solved there at all. Again, it’s so ridiculously easy to bribe the AI that I could stop right here. And since there’s no multiplayer, there’s very little left to feel challenged by in this game.

But I need to say something more about the AI, in a general sense. I understand that the AI is an aspect of a game that is very hard to do right, especially in a strategy game where your opponents are actually expected to give you a challenge. This is not chess we’re talking about here. The AI isn’t expected to perform like a human player, and it’s even allowed to cheat in a game like this. Some will even argue that cheating is the only way to implement a challenging and yet fun computer opponent in a game like this anyway.

So, a suggestion to all the devs currently working on strategy games out there, particularly on 4X games, please, devote a lot of attention to the AI aspects of your games, as early as possible. And I’m not talking about how fancy, elegant or how fast your AI software behaves, I’m talking about pure hard playtesting. 4X games need to be playtested to death until you feel that you have not a perfect AI but a sufficiently good one. And, unfortunately I feel that the AI in Horizon is just making the first strides at the moment. Perhaps the devs will manage to pull a rabbit from their hat regarding the AI, or perhaps they will not, but please devote some serious time playtesting the game so you can perfect your AI. Or, at least I hope multiplayer is in the corner for Horizon, otherwise, there’s not enough challenge to be found here, and when that’s the case there’s hardly any game at all.

Horizon - Diplomacy | The diplomacy system is very well fleshed out but the poor AI turns it into a hollow experience

The diplomacy system is very well fleshed out but the poor AI turns it into a hollow experience

Wrapping up

So, while at the surface Horizon seemed like an interesting game with some solid aspects clearly inspired by classic space 4X games like Master of Orion 1 and 2 and Star Trek: Birth of the Federation – you see it easily in the ship design system, the space combat, the star map, the race customization, the research system – it’s actually when you try to play the game that you find what a poor experience you get.

I really sympathize with the devs on what they accomplished thus far and tried to accomplish here. I really do. Developing a game like this is a monumental task and just reaching this far is a huge achievement. But, what saddens me is that I had to review this game now when it’s clearly not finished yet, clearly knowing that with more playtesting it could have turned into a decent game. But to achieve that the devs need to re-think their economy and combat systems along the way, and they need to gather as much feedback as they can so that the game can be properly balanced and the AI can start to behave in a way that people will start to think it’s good enough, which currently is clearly not the case.

Now, I’m not saying that the game wasn’t tested. It clearly was, from a software standpoint it clearly was since in 42 hours of playing this game I only found a single crash and didn’t experience any other software bugs or odd behavior. The game is very stable and appears to be relatively bug-free. So, the software itself appears to be in very good shape, even considering the relatively small amount of bugs reported in the game forums.

The major problem here is at the level of usability testing and playtesting, the types of testing that are required to understand if a game is intuitive and enjoyable. With respect to usability the game needs more polishing. Right now the UI isn’t bad overall but there are many occasions where it’s hard to see the big picture of things. There are fleet, planet and colony lists that you can consult at any time which allow you to have an idea of where things are and what you’re currently doing in your empire, but the windows system isn’t very well done, so it’s very easy to get frustrated moving windows around because they are on the way of what you want to grasp.

Verdict

4X games are very hard games to make. And above all, they’re very hard games to balance right and to develop good AI for. Proof of this is that all 4X games, without exception as far as I know, and I’ve been playing them for more than 20 years, start in a poor, or let’s say, sub-optimal shape. So, it’s quite common for this type of games to need an expansion or at least more than a couple of heavy patches to turn them into very good experiences. And this happens in indie space but also in ‘AAA’ space. Of course, some games get released in worse shape than others. Horizon is yet another example where the game was released prematurely. It’s starting to become a bad habit, unfortunately. And if playtesting was what this game needed than I think there were better ways to achieve that than to release the game on Steam for $29.99. I mean, if it wasn’t ready for prime time then it should have stayed in Early Access where it made more sense for it to be.

Now, it’s not like the game is terrible, or the worst 4X game ever, and that nobody will have fun playing it. No. I’m convinced that some hardcore 4X fans may find some fun in this game, even if just for memories sake of revisiting some of the mechanics that made Master of Orion and other 4X games of old great. I mean, I found some aspects of it to be fun, like the quests’ system, the research system to an extent, some parts of space combat. The star map presentation isn’t bad either. However, the colony development system, most of the space combat, the poor balancing and the lack of challenge were a total letdown. Also, another group of 4X fans may be willing to participate in what the future may hold for Horizon. I myself haven’t given up on this game, we never do here. And, the devs have been putting patches almost every day which already solved some important issues. So, there’s a chance that the game will continue evolving and probably turn itself into an enjoyable title at some point in the future. And, we’ll be here to re-assess it at a later occasion if the opportunity and necessity arise.

However, if you’re a casual gamer, or even a strategy gamer in general, and you’re curious about 4X games, I encourage you to look elsewhere because Horizon is clearly not ready for prime time yet.

Horizon | Turn-based space 4X strategy game by L3O Interactive and Iceberg Interactive

Horizon (PC)

Available at GamersGate, Green Man Gaming, Steam or Amazon.

Space Sector score:
4.0/10
bad
The Good:
– Reasonably well done story-mode with quests, a rare commodity to find in a 4X game
– Offers a refreshing new twist on how research works with event-driven breakthroughs
– Although not very user-friendly, space and ground combat offer quite a lot of depth
The Bad:
– Obscure, uninspired and poorly balanced colony management system
– Space combat can be a chore and controlling ships is very clunky for the most part
– Lack of challenge, and the AI is poor in both the tactical and strategic aspects
– Overall unfinished, unpolished and very poorly balanced game
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94 Comments


  1. True_poser says:

    > more farming potential resulting in slower population growth
    Nope.
    As long as there’s enough food, population growth isn’t affected by colony development (it is series of geometric sequences, actually).

    Overall, yep.

  2. ashbery76 says:

    I just think all these indie 4x games need expansions to mature.

    The game has some real good stuff but its was released too early and with too many thread bare mechanics.

    I agree with the complaints made in the review.

  3. Mario says:

    I certainly feel that there is potential in this game or at least it appears to feel that way on the surface. We have seen games like Distant Worlds and Star Ruler starting off really poorly as well but over time and with enough community interest develop into classics of the genre or at least in the case of Star Ruler, a solid representative of the genre.

    This game certainly is starting off on the same foot however, there is definitely that nagging feeling that the mechanics underneath the surface is too simple and in turn relates to a flat experience.

    This review pointed out some positives which I agree with but I cannot help but feel in my opinion that the colony management is the part that is fundamentally broken or at the very least a massive disconnect from the game.

    I picked this up in early Access and certainly had high hopes for it, I still do, at least until Star Lords is released.

    • The Grinch says:

      I feel star ruler and distant worlds are poor examples. At least for me because those titles still don’t have me sold either.

      • Mario says:

        Granted from your personal point of view that is true but based solely on relative success post release, including patches and expansions in the case (the later in the case of Distant Worlds) they both started poorly and improved based on better reviews, community feedback and personally playing both of them for many hours.

        However, the consensus here and I am leaning that way with each play-through, is that this game is fundamentally flawed and would most like only really be what it intended to be with a version 2.0 or perhaps a different game altogether.

        • Chuki792 says:

          I’m leaning that way myself. I logged over 30 hours in alpha and was amazed by it but i find the release version no different to the alpha aside from now having a full choice of races to pick from… Maybe it will get better but some of the things i don’t like in the game, like the colony management, I don’t feel can be patched, only replaced e.g. via an expansion.

        • The Grinch says:

          I must be missing something entirely of what you are seeing then. But I stand by my measuring stick that its no Master of Orion 2 or Star Trek Birth of the Federation. Hell even those are tame examples when we should of bested these titles years ago. Instead we go sideways with titles like these and then take two steps back. Games of this genre are too timid and use the same rinse and repeat formula. I think many will come and go before I see anything significant even this decade alone.

  4. Happy Corner says:

    I echo the other sentiments here, it seems common these days for 4X games (and not just space ones) to have a lackluster base release, only to get better with expansions. Distant Worlds was a great example. If you read Mr. Solo’s review of the original game, he was distinctly unimpressed, but now it’s one of his favorite series.

    I was interested in Horizon, too, but clearly it needs more updates before I should even consider it.

    • The Grinch says:

      I’m really trying to make it my favourite game and failing miserably. I might give it another go then. Clearly I am missing some uber advanced fun element that everyone else seems to have pegged.

  5. Ermdog says:

    Good review, my thoughts on this game are the same. Colony management was a mess and very confusing to understand. I didn’t like the fact that the more you upgraded your farm, the more workers would go to industry or research. Just kinda goes against the basics in 4x games.

    I don’t really see this improving too much without a massive overhaul, and I mean totally redoing colony management, research, and combat. Patching it won’t really help much in my opinion.

    Combat needs to only happen in small set location. Besides the flaws you already described, system wide battlefield in this game just needs to be taken out. I find it hard that that will ever happen.

    Research you covered all the bad points I thought. I just thought there were too many different techs giving you the same bonus as others.

    I hope Star Lords doesn’t disappoint, so far in it’s Alpha state I think its a better game than Horizon.

  6. Chris Biot says:

    Great and detailed review! I enjoyed reading through it.

    Just a small critique, refrain from using “but unfortunately” so often. Often you mention something negative which you follow by a but. The but means that there is something opposite of bad, then you follow it by an unfortunately. It just sounds really weird.

    Keep up the great work!

    • Adam Solo says:

      Right, I corrected two instances of “but unfortunately” that could cause the confusion you mention. The third occurrence is fine, I guess.

      What I wanted to express with the corrected “but unfortunately” occurrences was that sometimes “something is bad BUT another thing is also bad”, like, the second aspect could somehow compensate the first, BUT both are bad, “unfortunately”. Well, never mind, I think it’s clearer now, thanks.

  7. cem şancı says:

    Looks like we have to stick to Distant Worlds for a while, again.

  8. Thrangar says:

    This is why I love SS informative reviews telling me what I need to know
    Backburner for now

    Great review

  9. Xyggy says:

    As usual, a very well thought out and honest review by Mr. Solo. I agree with everything said. I certainly hope that future updates of Horizon will improve the game, but as it stands now, I regret my early access purchase and warn others to wait for (several) updates before considering purchase. 4/10 is spot on.

  10. Kordanor says:

    Already bought the game and it didn’t take me long until I knew this isn’t anything for me. Two attempts, 3h total. But I am kinda glad it’s not just me. ^^
    First thing which really put me off was the horrible controls and interface.
    And second thing the colony management. The mechanics in this game don’t really reflect what is great about the setting. I mean if I build a mining colony on a rock colony I want to focus production on mining, right? But in Horizon you don’t have a transfer of goods and the population is spread between different jobs no matter what. And all you do is to basically adjust some sliders by Building Farm Expansion Tier 2 or Industry Tier 3. If you want to have more industry you have to build farms. Because food can’t be imported and this way you need less people to create the same food, resulting in more workforce available for industry. This system feels bad and you don’t get a feeling for the planets at all. As you wrote “All planets will end up being exactly the same, and in no time you’re swimming in credits and nothing really matters any more.”

    I didn’t like the Star Lords Game mechanics too much either, but Star Lords seems to have much more potential and room to “fix” things and make them interesting.

  11. Gunlord says:

    Very nice review. Pity the game is so unpolished…

  12. Mark says:

    Thanks for the detailed and comprehensive review Adam, exactly what I was looking for to help me decide whether I should buy this game that I have been following for many years now. Sadly the answer seems to be no, but at least it saved me some money.

    Can creating a decent 4x game really be that hard? Apparently so because almost no one besides the makers of MOO2 and *maybe* Distant worlds seem to have done a very good job of it.

    Oh well, there’s no shortage of 4x games in the pipeline and hopefully someone will eventually strike the jackpot get it right. Either that or we beg Steve Barcia and Ken Burd to come back and pay them whatever they want to develop a *real* MOO 3 (and just pretend the other one never existed).

  13. Jeff P says:

    Very disappointing. I have been following the comments on Steam and saw the increasing negativity as the game approached release. Given that Horizon has been in development for years, I seriously doubt that more time will improve it.

    I’ve been a fan of the “early access” model for games as it give a window into the progress of the game as it proceeds from alpha to release. However, now I wonder if developers are substituting alpha-beta feedback from casual early purchasers for a more rigorous and carefully monitored beta testing program? If that is the case, it does not bode well for the several indie 4X games in the pipeline.

    • Mark says:

      “I seriously doubt that more time will improve it.”

      Yeah that’s the first thing that occurred to me too. If they cant get it right after what, 8 years +?? in development, then they’ll simply never get it right.

    • Lens Flares Suck says:

      Steam forums are crazy negative about pretty much everything. I ignore them.

      • Alex says:

        And when people ignore the negativity, you end up with bad games.

        I was play testing the alpha for several months. All the devs did was fix bugs, and ignore player suggestions. In a span of 4 months, I saw maybe only 1-2 significant changes to the game. Their progress was horrible, and I felt that the AI did not change at all since the first time I played it, all the way up to the beta release.

        • Chuki792 says:

          Me too! I Got the EA the moment it was up in the store and i’ve put in some 30+ hours before it even reached BETA!!! I can attest to Alex’s statement, not a shred of evidence to show that they listened to player feedback; no real improvements/changes from Alpha->Beta->Release and further, I have to agree with Jeff P that it looks like this is the new trend; release a half finished game and expect the masses to test it for you, and pay for the priviledge to boot! I no longer want any part of it!
          My last hopes (since they’ve already got my money) are Star Lords and Predestination… not touching another game without a review!

  14. Sean Johnson says:

    As someone who was involved since the alpha release on Steam, I can say that lack of play-testing was not the issue…for the most part. Most of the issues on the bad side of the ledger were areas of concern for the community back in alpha. I myself wrote two substantial critiques of both the lack of tech diversity and the clunkiness of the UI replete with suggestions for improvement. I will not say that those ideas were some sort of panacea, but they would certainly have improved the experience.

    There were a handful of others with great ideas for rectifying imbalances in the economy and strategic combat…some people did an insane amount of number crunching for an unpaid position. In the end none of it seemed to matter. I hate to say it, but after seeing little to no movement in the direction the testers thought appropriate, I bailed and chalked it up as a lost investment of time and money. It is sad…this game had great potential.

    • Mark says:

      Thanks for the insight, it seems to be an increasingly common thing for devs to just ignore everyone else’s input and go their own way.

      I’ve see it time and time again (MOO3, SOTS 2, Stardrive….etc) where the lead designer/s just get this vision locked in their head and totally refuse to budge an inch no matter how many people tell them that whatever their pet concept is sucks horribly.

      Perhaps the problem is that control of the game concept is too centralized. If a game really sucks, there should be failure proof methods in place to loudly and unambiguously notify those in charge and make sure its fixed it before it hits the market. At the moment it just seems too easy for the lead devs to ignore everyone and release yet another lemon. As if we don’t have enough of those.

      • Alex says:

        Devs need to be more open to player suggestions. Polls work great wonders.

      • True_poser says:

        I disagree.
        Only the people who bear the responsibility have the right to make decisions.

        I doubt that any working concept at all may be made by a comittee.
        A committee (be it internal, be it publisher’s, be it players’) may accept or reject a decision, sure.
        But the decision itself (or a concept at all), I believe, can be made only by two persons maximum, maybe, three.

        A poll is even worse than a comittee, because for an unreleased game you’re lucky if you have maybe 50 responses in a resonable timeframe.
        Also, for an unreleased game it is inherently biased towards early adopters.
        Early adopters may or may not represent wishes of greater audience and polls just allow you to blind yourself with a “statistical” “data”.

        Unfortunately, there’s no silver bullet here.
        Either the key persons in development get what they do, either they don’t.
        End of story.

        • Mark says:

          I’m not suggesting that game design be done by committee. I think we can all agree that pretty much nothing of note has ever been achieved by a committee.

          The obvious strength of having game design dictated by one or two people is that if their ideas are good, they will tend to persist to the finished product even in the face of resistance. The obvious down-side is that bad ideas will also persist to the detriment of the entire game.

          Unfortunately as many of the recently released 4x’s have proved beyond any doubt, the ideas of the leading devs have either been very bad or have contained good ideas mixed with fatal flaws that any number of people (except the devs) could easily see.

          What I’m suggesting is that the design process needs to be altered so that design flaws or bad ideas can EASILY and LOUDLY be brought to the attention of the devs in such a way that its hard for them to ignore.

          At the moment, methods with that intent – such as beta testers reports – are clearly *not* working as intended.

        • True_poser says:

          You can lead a horse to the water, but you can’t make it drink.
          And from my point of view you’re basically suggesting finding a way to force the proverbial horse to drink.

          But in our case it’s not certain, is the water safe for drinking, or is it water at all.

          There’s no philosopher’s stone, sadly.
          And noone wants to make a bad game.

        • Edward Varfalvy says:

          True Poser is correct. It is not that simple. Though the feedback cycle is very important, the developer or CM need to be able to ‘get’ what is being said, identify the actual problem, and figure out how to fix it.

          You can’t force a developer to do something if they don’t want to do it and quality assurance is one of those things that has always been hard in the software industry (though it does stand to push for some improvements in that department). Also, depending on publishers to ‘step in’ is not always an option since they too can be on the ‘wrong track’ or the game is an indie. Never mind that a lot of people consider publisher meddling to be worse, and I doubt this view will change any time soon.

          It is kind of funny really. 10 years ago most people were demanding that publishers not to interfere and let the developers create their own craft, now with the rise of indies and ‘laiser-fair’ publishers some people are starting to ask for ‘higher-up intervention’. We have come full circle ;)

          Unsatisfying products will happen, and the consumer will just have to shop wisely. This is why I think trustworthy review sites and media outlets the player can trust to get his information is important. You always going to have people that are willing to experiment and risk their money, so there will never be a shortage of reliable reviews… it is just a question of finding them.

          The other problem is the suggestions are not always going to fix the problem and there rarely ever any consensus between gamers to begin with, even at the level of what the problem really is. Polls can’t always help because depending where you put them, you might be getting a skewed result or a sample size with very low inference reliability.

          True Poser nailed it, there is no magic bullet solution. It will always take a lot of work and there will always be uncertainty in the system, and the road to improvement is a tireless one.

        • True_poser says:

          > quality assurance is one of those things that has always been hard in the software industry (though it does stand to push for some improvements in that department)

          That’s the most interesting problem here.

          You can write specs (rules, essentially) for elements of game mechanics – ships maintenance, AI behavior, racial traits, etc.
          If you can write specs, you can write test cases with exact fail/pass criteria, form them into test plans, maybe automate them.
          Building models with graphs also helps – it’s all numbers.

          But when all these cogs are assembled together, they must produce fun.
          Noone had yet written concise specs on “fun”.
          And that’s why making videogames is an art.

  15. SQW says:

    Soon, the brand ‘Indie’ will evoke images not of a cool, hip and interesting game but something that’s unpolished, shallow and overdue.

    Can’t wait for the first crop of post-broken sword Kickstarter projects to reach commercial release.

    • Gary says:

      Nah, there are still some great indie games being released. “Banished” was just released on Feb 18, 2014, and it’s an amazing game. I ended up playing until 7am this morning. Boy am I tired, LOL!

  16. Keith Turner says:

    It’s really disappointing to see games leaving Early Access in a state like this. My impression has always been that Early Access was supposed to be a place where early consumers, people willing to invest time and effort into an unfinished and often buggy product, would be able to voice their opinion and help the developer create a more polished product.

    It seems fairly obvious to me that they released this game knowing full well that it had a ton of issues still remaining. Early Access comments and criticisms certainly would have told them that. Yet, they released anyway. It’s such a shame and as a day 1 Legends of Pegasus and Sword of the Stars II buyer myself, I feel the pain of those who bought this one.

  17. JohnR says:

    The review was maybe a bit longer than it needed to be, but still, I owe you guys a ty for helping me decide to pass on this game.

    Between SOTS2, Pegasus, Stardrive, Endless Space, and now Horizon, the space 4x genre has definitely been lackluster the past few years. I can only hope that things will improve with Predestination. I also hope GalCiv3 is good, but I’m not as optimistic about this one since it’s a Stardock game.

    Thank goodness for Distant Worlds. I think that game proved (along with Paradox’s Europa series) that a real time grand strategy game can be every bit as viable and realistic as a turn-based one.

    I hear you guys about early access. That is definitely a current gaming trend that I wish would go away. What developers have done is gotten rid of their QA function and passed it on to the consumer, with the catch that customers now have to pay for the dubious privilege of being a QA tester. Also, it can’t be good for the publisher when people have a bad early access experience with a game that is unfinished and buggy.

  18. JKK says:

    Thank you for the in depth review.
    I’m sorry to hear which seems to be a predominantly for all indie games, they have the intententions of the next MOO but all fall short.
    I am surprised they won’t listen to the fan base, most of us in here really wants thet next 4X space game to be like MOO2, and so far noone seem close to come to that.
    I’m one of those who thinks that Galciv 3 seems to be the one who are the closest to be a good 4x game, even though some of us are waiting for M.O.R.E or Predestination.

    Keep up with the good reviews, I have been inspired by your reviews to buy a game or two…

    • JKK – We hope that you and others waiting for decent 4x space strategy won’t be dissapointed by our production. We are eager to see how SpaceSector will review our product.. but there is still much to do with our game before that.
      M.O.R.E. Dev Team

  19. Chuki792 says:

    Great Review, took the words right out og my mouth! Its just like i feared, when they moved to Beta and nothing had changed besides being able to customise your race. I called it then, back around when Predestination launched its second kickstarter, i said i was worried about Horizon, based on the above and the fact that other games announced at the time were looking leagues ahead of this very dated game. And once again, we the space strategy fans have to kiss another frog before we find our prince(ss). Ugh, my final hopes now lie with Star Lords (devs have gone a little quiet over there) and Predestination (one i’m most excited for). The rest I will wait and see after a review and not a second before!!!

    There’s only one aspect of this review i dont agree with; “[i]However, it’s also quite clear that this game has not been submitted to sufficient playtesting[/i].” – This game had ample playtesting seeing as it was release as early access so long ago and had apparently moved a decent number of units/keys. There is no excuse for this, feedback was left on many issues that was just outright ignored, expecially the combat its EXACTLY THE SAME as it was in Alpha (except you can now zoom right out).

    ***PS I FINALLY GOT MY STORE CREDIT FROM STEAM FOR X-REBIRTH!!***
    Took a lot of to-ing and fro-ing and i was all set to just leave it at that but after the last patch causing the game to run even worse than at launch, there was no way i was taking NO for an answer and i finally got them to agree to a store credit which I will be putting towards games (Rebirth is not a game).

    • Adam Solo says:

      Congratulations on getting your refund for X Rebirth. And, thanks for keeping us posted about the all process. Hopefully your story will help others gain confidence to ask for a refund when they feel they’re entitled to it. Getting store credit isn’t ideal but it’s not too bad either. But, apparently you can get your money back in some cases by what you described in other comments, if I remember correctly.

      Thanks again.

      On the part you say “This game had ample playtesting”. My interpretation of what you say is that your feeling is that, in your opinion, an “ample” amount of people played this game and posted feedback (by the very nature of Early Access one could assume this). Well, I can’t know if feedback was indeed generated or not for a game. All I can see from the perspective of someone who plays the end result is that it’s quite clear that this game has not been submitted to sufficient playtesting, which to happen must contemplate playing, feedback generation and incorporation of such feedback in the game. A game is only sufficiently playtested when the loop is closed, in my opinion.

      • Chuki792 says:

        Oh it wasn’t a criticism, I do absolutely understand where you’re coming from – it certainly does feels like an untested game, just wanted to give another perspective; – this game shifted a significant number of units in alpha (steam community ‘in-game’ numbers) and garnered a significant volume of comments and feedback, most of which wasn’t trolling but constructive, mentioning the very issues still present at launch. If that isn’t significant playtesting, i dont know what is and the Dev’s shouldn’t be given that excuse.

        Alas, Steam CS are a real headache to deal with, but i have a feeling they are told to give certain responses with a view to you giving up at the first or second hurdle, but know that in the case of certain games they’ll have to refund eventually or at least offer credit which is fine for me, and I do believe they have it in their policy that you can get a cash refund if you apply promptly and have not played the game at all or for a significant amount of time (I bought it on Launch day but have logged about 3 – 3.5 hrs in that time), though equally they decide on a case by case basis.

      • Gary says:

        Playtesters get very defensive when a game comes out and still has issues that they reported during testing. Trust me, I know, I beta-tested Daggerfall. We pointed out problems for months, that never got fixed. So when someone says the playtesters for Daggerfall didn’t do their job, we get pissed. WE did our job, the devs did NOT.

  20. drillerman says:

    Does anyone think that Steam early access is just an excuse to push incomplete games out early to start earning money from them with only a promise that they will be completed and/or get better?

    • Chuki792 says:

      It certainly is starting to look that way from where i’m standing. In fact, i’ve bought a few Early Access games in the past and well, I can’t think of one that turned out to be a decent or even finished product. The only good thing to come out of it is that it reminds me to be as I was when i was a student, when money was really tight and I just couldn’t afford to take a chance on a game and only ever bought games that had good reviews, (this was before Internet so at best, you had to wait a month and trawl through the various games magazines – same for patches as well).

    • Alien JD says:

      Early Access is a risk. You are offering money to a developer so they can afford to continue making a game that you think has potential. It’s investing on a tiny scale. It also gives you a chance to view the development cycle.

      I like early access because it lets games get made that might not otherwise get made. Most of these games are going to be terrible. But that’s because most creative endeavors turn out terrible.

      Sturgeon’s Law: 90% of Science Fiction is crap but then 90% of everything is crap.

      Sword of the Stars Ground Pounders is a game I’m really excited about that wouldn’t be getting made without crowd funding and early access. So far it looks really good. The devs are responsive and have already fixed some of the issues brought up in the alpha.

  21. UncaJoe says:

    Thanks, Adam, for another good, solid review. I’ve been reading your reports for a couple of years or more and find them very, very useful. In this case (Horizon), you’re right on the mark again. I bought the game recently and have played through, or almost through, 3 sandbox games. Found all the same problems you and many other did. Glad to know I’m not the only one.

    My gripes: The Galaxy screen is too clutered. There ought to be a better, faster way to identify ships and fleets. And I guess that’s one reason why the Galaxy’s are so small – compared to Distant Worlds, for example.

    I don’t like the Diplomacy aspect of this game at all. You can give away a planet or a technology, but not a discrete, flat amount of money. And there’s no explanation at all for why other races do what they do. And no explanation at all as to why they’re so darn far ahead of you in research or population, etc.

    Yes, the whole colony management screen is broken or ineffective. Don’t know which.

    I could go on, but it’s all been covered above. I am (again!) disappointed that the manual is so skimpy, and may I say it?, useless. There’s so much that’s missing in it, I don’t know why they bother to offer it.

  22. JorgenCAB says:

    Very solid and good review… I personally have followed the game more or less since they started working on it at least ten years ago. I asked in the beginning about the snowball effect and AI and was reassured it was a priority. I again asked about it after I played the Alpha and saw nothing that curtailed expansion, not even the AI. Although to their defense few other games manage that either for some strange reason. Probably because most player don’t like to struggle… ;)

    Many things in the game is interesting and I enjoyed the ship combat and building up an empire. But there simply are NO hard choices to make and certainly no challenges which simply make the game boring and meaningless to play until fixed. I doubt the snowball effect will be fixed at all, which make me sad. :(

  23. Seiya says:

    Something about almost all of the techs that I noticed is that all of the ship based ones are flat technologies. What I mean by this is that you can literally make a race that starts with no techs and have just as good of ships as if you had crystalline tech. This is because those all come with downsides to offset their bonuses. More power, more space, more negatives, all which makes no difference if you have an “ancient empire’s” tech at level 0 and you have level 9 lasers. The points put into the new techs are wasteful.

    As a side note, if you DO remove all techs and go for race bonuses, you can ensure an easy game every time with the dev saying about this on the steam forums amounting to, do that if you want an easy game. He already knows racial costs vs techs are unbalanced.

  24. t1it says:

    Aha. Sounds exactly like the very first week in early access. I got bored in a couple of hours and left the game to dust. Haven’t had time to play it but now I know I didn’t missed anything at all.

  25. squeaks says:

    For a casual 4x player, what is this ‘elsewhere’ of what you speak? :)

    • Adam Solo says:

      Well, you can start by checking the “Choices of the Month” list in the site’s upper right corner :)

      Then, look for the higher-scored reviews in this site. Some good examples from the top of my head, that I think you’ll probably enjoy, are:

      – Distant Worlds (from Return of the Shakturi onwards – Legends is preferable)
      – Sid Meier’s Civilization 5 (from Gods & Kings onwards)
      – Sid Meier’s Civilization 4 (go for the complete edition)
      – Sid Meier’s Alpha Centauri
      – Sins of a Solar Empire: Rebellion (or Trinity)
      – Fallen Enchantress: Legendary Heroes
      – Europa Universalis IV
      – Galactic Civilization 2: Ultimate Edition

      Then there are other games that you may like or not (check our reviews for the details):

      – Endless Space
      – StarDrive
      – Sword of the Stars 1: Complete Collection
      – Star Ruler (after v1.1.0.0)
      – Armada 2526 Gold Edition (must include the Supernova expansion)

      If you don’t mind the retro feeling (very retro in some cases), and you can find them, then by all means check these out:

      – Master of Orion (1993)
      – Master of Orion 2 (1996)
      – Star Trek: Birth of the Federation (1999)
      – Space Empires IV (2000)
      – Imperium Galactica 2 (2000)

      But these are just some examples. Check here for the comprehensive list of games and reviews.

      • squeaks says:

        Thanks m8e, plenty there to investigate :)

      • Osito says:

        If you’re going for Distant Worlds (which I would also recommend) note that there is a new expansion (Distant Worlds Universe – further details at the top of Adam’s home page) due out within the next month or two. It’s probably worth holding out for that, as you’ll probably get the whole bundle for a better price.

  26. fiju says:

    Space empires IV is your way to go squeaks

  27. Wodzu says:

    “So, a suggestion to all the devs currently working on strategy games out there, particularly on 4X games, please, devote a lot of attention to the AI aspects of your games, as early as possible.”

    That is what I was trying to tell guys from M.O.R.E. team. Unfortunately they have not even started yet. I wonder what will you tell about their A.I. in your review Adam, when the time comes :P

    • Adam Solo says:

      Well, AI should start being worked on as soon as possible, but I’m aware that serious AI work can’t start immediately, especially when gameplay is still in a state of flux. Features change, your AI changes, it doesn’t work that way. I get that.

      A perfect timing to work hard on the AI would be around alpha, or perhaps somewhere between pre-alpha and alpha, when your features are all more or less in place and then it’s time to do some serious playtesting and work hard on balance things and perfect your AI.

      So, it wouldn’t shock me if a game doesn’t have a good AI at alpha, however I’d be disappointed if it’s still very rough at beta, not to speak at release.

    • Evil Azrael says:

      Yes, i panicked when i read their latest kickstarter update:
      “Foundational work for the Turn Management System. This includes the start of managing players, and their economies.”
      I would expect the main game loop to be one of the first tasks and then start flesh out the skeleton.

      My uneducated guess is they are way behind their schedule and i doubt seeing an alpha this spring.

    • Jeff P says:

      I’m a KS backer of MORE as well, and have been very concerned about the pace of their progress. Reading between the lines of their updates, it appears that many on the original team have left the project and the developers are treading water at this point. Predestination (which I also backed) started at almost the same time and seems to be on a much more solid footing.

  28. Gary says:

    Adam, I’m glad I waited to read your review, although I had the feeling (based on Steam forum comments) that you would be giving it a bad score.

    Don’t get down on indie devs just yet, folks! “Banished” (created by one guy) was just released on Steam on Feb 18, 2014, and it’s an amazing game. I know it’s not a game normally covered by Space Sector, since it’s a City Builder, but it’s really got that strategy feeling :) You could think of it as a mini-game for colonizing inside a 4x strategy game :)

    Like Civilization, it’s got that “one more turn” feeling, although in this case, since it’s real time and not turn-based, it’s “one more season.”

    • Keith Turner says:

      Banished is a title I’ve been anxious to get my hands on. Both it and Clockwork Empires appeal to the city builder in me. Glad to hear it has turned out well.

  29. Lucas says:

    Good, critical review. I am very glad that despite fact that Horizon is advertized here, still the Author was able maintain high level of criticism. Please keep up this spirit; SpaceSector is to me one of very few trustworthy sources of games’ reviews. Thanks!

  30. Evil Azrael says:

    When I am reading those MOO2 comparisons, I have only one question:

    Would MOO2 still work today? If somebody would create a 1:1 Clone, just with High-Res graphics and modern technology (like working TCP/IP networking), what would be the reception? Boring as hell, not many technologies, too small map, only 5 ship sizes, limited customization? Too uninspired?

    Do we really want a “MOO2” 2.0?

    BTW, bought the game, played it for an hour or so. The tutorial story is too slow :

    • ashbery76 says:

      A straight clone would not work.Lots of micromanaging issues with the game in colony and battle systems.I disagree about not many techs,uninspired or customization.It stills beats most in that regard.

      We need a MOO designed by a developer with a lot more resources than most of these indies.I think these smaller developers should not even mention Moo.

    • True_poser says:

      It will work, but it will be “just” good.

      After
      – updating AI
      – enhancing diplomacy
      – solving the problem of 15+ planets management
      – solving the problem of handling 15+ fleet in a tactical combat
      it will be really good.

      Game mechanics itself is still viable and working (ok, ok, we all know about certain corner cases, but that’s not the point).

      Would it be the “next MOO”?
      No, it won’t, because it would be the same MOO2.

    • Mark says:

      God I would kill for such a game! Not a 1:1 clone but Modernized to today’s standards and with tools to handle micromanagement (Like Predestination’s colony blueprints)it would be totally awesome!

      Unfortunately it seems that there are no devs around today with the talent to do it. They all feel compelled to reinvent the wheel and add their own ideas which inevitably turn out to be uniformly horrible.

      I fear that good 4x game design is becoming a lost art….

  31. NickS says:

    Derp, definitely will not be touching this one then, and yes, with the amount of time this game was in EA, the devs have no excuse for releasing in this state.

  32. Klaus says:

    Interesting review which lead me to not buy this game. Intransparent game mechanics? No thanks.

    Like some posters I also fear that designing a good 4x game which is the true MOO2 successor is not that easy. The modern developers today obviously dont have any clue WHICH rule elements made MOO2 an instant classic. Quite sad. They should play more boardgames instead shooters/MMORPGs to get a solution to the “riddle”.

    • Alien JD says:

      Honestly, the guys making 4x games nowadays are really small teams. Master or Orion 2 had something like 15 or 16 full time employees working on it. The lead guys had made several games before MOO2. You had a bunch of people with a lot of experience working on their 3rd 4x game (MOO1 and Master of Magic were the first two).

      These new guys are usually making their first game. And then they run out of time and money and release their games before they are ready. Sometimes they release a buggy crap game but make enough money to hold on and fix it (Distant Worlds, Star Ruler) but usually they just go away (Legends of Pegasus) or give up and move on (Stardrive).

  33. Triarius says:

    Awww man, f***!! I’ve really been looking forward to this game ever since I first stumbled upon it a couple of years back, when it wasn’t even in alpha stage. It really seemed to have potential to be an indie gem and promised a lot. From the beta gameplay videos I’d seen on YouTube, things appeared to be moving in the right direction. And now that the end product finally came out, every review that has been written thus far agrees that this game is like a crashed spaceship: you may find a few valuables there, but the effort of scraping away through the pile of useless debris it’s buried under might well not be worth it.

    • Jeff P says:

      “… this game is like a crashed spaceship: you may find a few valuables there, but the effort of scraping away through the pile of useless debris it’s buried under might well not be worth it.”

      Great imagery! I too am very disappointed Horizon has turned out so poorly. Given that it has been in development for the better part of a decade it certainly wasn’t rushed out the door too soon. Perhaps turn-based 4X games reached their pinnacle at the turn of the century and a modern renaissance of that genre simply isn’t in the cards. I certainly hope I’m wrong.

      • Triarius says:

        Well, there’s still Galactic Civilizations III, announced to be released this year, which may give the genre the shot it needs, and I have high hopes for it. The graphics from the current screenshots look awesome, they already have the experience of a great game they improved upon with two even better expansions and judging by the screenshots, the gameplay seems to have retained the core basics of it predecessors, along with certain changes (e.g. hex-grid instead of a square-grid, a change I for one find interesting), so the prospects look promising.

        I really hope they don’t mess up like it often happens with trilogies, though, when the third game is a complete letdown and fails to live up to the standards set by previous games (like MOO3). On the one hand, they might stay too faithful to the formula of the first 2 games and the end product would be GalCivII with better graphics. On the other hand, they might try to steer the game in a different direction which is a double-edged sword and the game may stray too far from what made the series great it the first place. Finally, there’s always the risk that they will rush it on the market and the end product will be mediocre or buggy. But I say, let’s hope for the best.

        • Happy Corner says:

          There’s a lot of skepticism for GalCiv 3 on this site (at least from commenters if not from Mr. Solo and his crew themselves), but I don’t think we have to worry about Stardock pulling a MOO3 – ie changing too much in a half-assed way and losing what made the series great in the first place.

          They’ve been accused of wanting to just remake GalCiv 2 with better graphics – and Brad Wardell has even said (repeatedly) that GalCiv 3 is going to be what he wished 2 could have been. That’s what I would worry more about. I hope the gameplay itself will be an improvement/evolution over 2, not just the graphics.

  34. Dude says:

    I like how the site background is a horizon ad but this review which trashes the game is 3rd article from the top. Nice to see that you can still make an honest review even when receiving ad money from the same company unlike some other “more proffesional” sites.

  35. Bob says:

    IMHO we need to stop supporting the developers AND publishers who don’t make good on their promises and release games that are blatantly unfinshed. This industry is headed for some bad times unless we, the buying public, demand better.

    • Thanis says:

      And some people should remember that it takes thousands of stones in a pile to find a single Gem. If you stop supporting developers, there won’t be any piles left to find Gems in ..

      Quiting the analogy now :-) … I paid for Horizon, and although I am dissatisifief with the result, I am not sorry for investing my small amount of money. An economy needs buyers more than it needs products, and the Indie scene is like an emerging market, it needs time and money to mature. If people get into this, expecting the result and quality like from big studio’s, they should revisit their expectations !

      • csebal says:

        While we are at analogies, you should also remember, that diamonds only form under immense pressure. If developers can take your support for granted, they will not be motivated to create quality products.

        This is also why crowd funding is dangerous. By dumping wads of cash onto independent developers BEFORE they deliver, you remove any sort of serious incentive that would motivate them to create a quality product.

        Bottomline: No.. you should not support independent devs blindly just to support independent development. If its a worthwhile idea, it will be successful and if it is not, then it HAS to die to prevent it from spreading.

      • SQW says:

        Too many people look at indie with rose tinted glasses. Before, if you are truly talented and sick of the monolithic business models of EA/Ubi etc, you grab a few equally talented friends and make the difficult decision to quit your job and work towards something in the name of passion.

        Nowadays, in the age of 8-bit micro-games, crowd funding and self publishing platforms like steam, any 2-bit programming grads with more idea than talent can put up a pitch on KS and start making money from people who doesn’t mind ‘losing’ $10 investment on a whim.

  36. Adam (and the rest), thank you for giving us straight info on games so I can save money and time. :)

  37. Anguille says:

    Very good review. I’ve only been playing the game for the last month (since the big patch that was released) and i’ve seen some very good challenge from the AI. Obviously, not all the bad points you mentionned have been sorted out but i think the game is really challenging now…maybe you should try another game at some point. I’ve had more fun with it than i ever had with GalCiv2 (never managed to finish a game so far because it bores me so much even thougth i haven’t given up on it yet). Cheers.

    • Adam Solo says:

      Did you play in “Normal” or “Classic” mode? In the game’s you said you witnessed the AI challenge improvements, I mean.

      • Anguille says:

        I have only played a few games so far. The first game i played was story mode on normal difficulty (with Humans) which i lost badly against the Tantik and the Kor’tahz. I won the second game, also story mode with the Kuntari but i played this on easy (though i wouldn’t have been able to defeat the Kor’thaz in that game as they were very strong). It was a small galaxy and not all the races expanded very much but some did expand a lot.
        I have now two games going on, one is on story mode with the Humans on normal with a very large galaxy and the second one is a game i just started on “Classic” with the Kuntari on normal difficulty for which i am doing an AAR: http://grogheads.com/forums/index.php?topic=10199.0

        I am really curious to see how the AI will do in that particular game with odds equal for all races. I want to win the elections…let’s see!

        • Adam Solo says:

          So, story-mode mostly so far. Yes, I’m also curious about your “Classic” game, where all races start equal. Let us know how that goes.

  38. meprun says:

    Oh man wat a waste of what could have been het rightfull heir of MOO2. in my eyes that is distant worlds now. But it misses the tactical interface of moo2. In stategy it goes much further. This game Horizon showed me that a good 4x games doesnt need a strong stategic component. That is luxerios for these games. That is why i bought Horizon. Not knowingly that the tactical combats are very poor and even irritating. I begin to hate Iceberg interactive because i Always see their name at this sort games. This is destuctive to the genre.

  39. Anguille says:

    The game has just been updated…time to take another look at the game ;)

    Cheers

    New Features
    * A Command Points system has been added to the game which affects fleet sizes based on empire logistical capability. The option is enabled by default for new games, old games will have it turned off.
    * Full modding support has been added including the ability to create quests via script. Documentation and more info is available on the Horizon wiki/forums
    * 8 new random events have been added from the original contest selections
    * A configurable Governor system has been added to easily manage the development of planets (automation) for late stages of a game
    * A sample mod has been added which enables playing the 3 ancient races in the game previously locked
    * A convenient user interface has been added for mass refitting ships and Starbases to a new design
    * Players now have the ability to continue playing the game (as an option) even after winning the game

    Enhancements
    * Many optimizations for super-fast turns in late games on very large galaxies

    * Management Lists (colonies/fleet/planets) have been reworked for performance and should be a lot more convenient to use, sorting has been improved. Usability improvements such as keyboard shortcuts for scrolling, list size and colonize buttons. The colony list will now highlight the selected colony in colony view

    * Added a button to cycle through Idle ships on galaxy view and a button to open the planets management list directly
    * Added a next colony button in colony view to cycle through colonies quickly
    * The Journal will now distinguish unread entries in a different color and the button will blink until all entries have been viewed
    * Added a random events icon and a tooltip on the planets panel and screen
    * Added a treasury warning icon on planet view when expenses are greater than the empire treasury

    * Tactical combat Camera zoom level increased by popular request
    * The camera can now be moved during auto mode and during other ships turn with mouse dragging

    * The Council view will now visibly cycle through the candidates to better distinguish each voting option to the player (including nominating themselves)

    * Task forces that have completed their Invade orders will now display ‘awaiting orders’ on their info panel
    * Task force Patrol orders will now display a movement vector and their destination when ordered to patrol other systems

    * Additional Autosaves are now available from the load menu by toggling the autosave button
    * Many other improvements to various parts of the game including the AI and nice-to-haves requested by players

    Balance and other changes
    * Torpedoes and Missiles space use has been adjusted to bring it more in line with other types of weapons
    * Missiles fuel range will now last for an extra turn before expiring
    * Races now start with one or more scouts and colonizers based on galaxy size settings
    * Ships with no combat capabilities are considered non-combatant and won’t use command points
    * Homeworld planets now have a much higher civilian buildings cap and start with higher building levels and a starbase
    * Terraforming planets now have a cost/turn based on the planet size, also the bonus per level of the tech has been reduced*
    * Planet special bonuses will now apply once the appropriate building (shown on tooltip) has been built regardless of workforce distribution
    * Tribute effect on refusal or cancellation will now incur a much higher tolerance penalty
    * Diplomatic threats now have a hit on race tolerance

    Fixes
    * Several improvements to how the AI manages it’s fleets for attacks and defense

    * The shortcut key ‘A’ for the optional Attack button during combat has been restored
    * Fixed a loophole where during instanced combat mode the player could attack other colonies in the system
    * The Fleet score will now exclude stationary defenses (planetary defenses and orbitals)

    * Fixed a bug that occasionally could cause a diplomacy event dialogue which happened many turns ago to repeat after saving/loading a game
    * Techfield ratio/research distribution is now transferred to the other techfields when all techs in that category have reached their maximum level
    * Barsig Junkyards bonus will now provide a larger boost for research breakthrough chance
    * Creative race trait will now work correctly and apply the displayed bonus

    * Civilian Buildings cap is now affected by condition of building
    * Independent faction and mission mobs will now regenerate health between turns
    * Fixed a bug where AI races colonies would have no pollution

    * Fixed orbitals displaying the wrong estimate for completion once shipyards were built
    * Industry capacity (cap) will no longer show shipyards bonus (which only apply to ship building)
    * Fixed galaxy background not updating when loading or creating a game after the first time it’s loaded

    * Gold and Gem deposit bonuses will no longer be affected by other factors and will always provide the stated bonus
    * Intelligent life forms bonus will now require the world to be a research colony

    Achievements
    * Tech research related achievements are now active on Steam and can be achieved

    • Happy Corner says:

      Rather than just copying/pasting a changelog, a better approach – if you actually want to sell us on this game – would be to talk about whether this update actually addresses any of the issues raised in the review.

      Is the AI still braindead across the board? Are the storyline quests better integrated with the main 4X game? Does colony development tell you what’s going on and make you feel like your decisions matter now? Is combat still a nightmare to control? Are the UI and feedback still really unpolished?

      Well?

      • Anguille says:

        Hi,

        I could have posted a link to the changes i guess. I started playing the game after the second major update since release (see above) and found the AI to be challenging, never braindead. In my current game (started 2 days ago) i find the AI aggressive and good. But i guess it depends on the players. Combat has been very much improved and it’s much easier to control. I don’t have a problem with the UI (which i guess hasn’t changed that much). I think the feedback is better now. The colony screen hasn’t changed that much though there are tooltips with infos when you hoover over certain things…colony governors are a good addition though…if you have the game, i guess it would be better to check it out by yoursefl.
        Cheers


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