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Planetary Annihilation – Beta First Impressions

By on February 25th, 2014 10:42 am

Planetary Annihilation | A real-time sci-fi strategy game by Uber Entertainment

Planetary Annihilation, from Uber Entertainment and self-published after a successful Kickstarter campaign, is a RTS game that is long overdue. Recently RTS games have been gravitating more towards a tactics intensive style of play and focusing more on small squad tactical combat, which has given rise to the term real-time tactics (RTT). Though an interesting sub-genre, there have not been many RTS games that tried to take it up a notch with the focus on grand scale conflicts. Uber Entertainment tries to do just that.

Planetary Annihilation harkens back to such games like Supreme Commander and Total Annihilation, titles that their Kickstarter cited as inspiration for Planetary Annihilation. If you haven’t had the fortune to play them, then the basic concept is large scale strategy. The maps are usually much larger while you field significantly larger armies and have a large number of buildings churning out a steady stream of units.

With PA, Uber takes the battle to the next layer, as air/land/water has existed in these games, we now can build orbitals and turn moons into planet smashers. In addition, a battlefield may consist of several planets and moons. Though each planet can be considered small from the scope of realism, each planet is a fairly sized map on its own. This effectively means the average battle arena consists of several decent sized maps you can travel to and use the orbital space above each.

Oh! I cannot stress the fact you can smash moons into these planets, after all it is one of the major features the game boasts.

Planetary Annihilation | Swinging by the Sun

To understand the basics of the game one must first understand what a streaming economy is since very few RTS games go down this route nowadays. A streaming economy is one where your resources are consumed as you build; paying the cost of the unit you are currently building at a rate of X resource per time interval; as opposed to paying the full cost upfront when the unit is queued. This also means queuing extra units will not subtract from your economy until they reach the actual production phase. This allows the player to set buildings on continuous production if their economy can handle the constant drain.

This subtle difference in economics is significant as you will often assign factories to build certain type of units continuously. The strategy is balancing this so that it doesn’t put your economy in the deep red (which will slow down production to a grind) and know when to shift production to something else (which often changes the whole economic balance).

The resource system is simple for the most part, you have Energy and Metal. Metal is gained via extractors which can only be built over metal nodes which are scattered across the map. Energy is gained via generators which you can build anywhere. Factories, most special structures, and fabricators (engineer builder units) will consume energy. Not having enough energy will slow down production and thus stream less metal, not having enough metal will slow down production but active units will still consume the energy they need in full. Storage structures can also be built which store up extra resources not used. And, like in most RTS games, you should aim to not ‘float’ too much excess resources.

Planetary Annihilation | Commander and Fabricator boosting Production

Units are made by their respective factories: air, vehicle, bot (infantry), naval, and orbital, which the initial infrastructure is placed down by your commander unit. Also, each of these can produce a fabricator unit that can do most of what the commander can do, but also has a wider range of defensive structures, and it can build the advanced factory of its own branch. Fabricators can also be used to speed up production of existing buildings, this costs a lot of Energy to sustain and more Metal will be streamed to the factory (hence why the production is sped up). Multiple Fabricators can also work together to complete the production of a building faster.

The advanced factories will build your stronger units and the advanced fabricators, which can build the advanced special buildings including the advanced extractors and generators. The exception to this is orbitals which only have a core building and one fabricator tier. Special buildings include defense turrets, sight and tracking towers, and even the Halley (the planet moving engines). This also includes nuclear weapons; the game is not shy with the amount of destruction you can dish out.

It should be noted that the unit you start with, the Commander, is a very critical piece. It is tough, has a strong attack, and acts as your all-purpose early fabricator; but if it dies it’s game over. It is sort of both your Queen and King piece in this game of Chess.

Planetary Annihilation | Taking out an undefended Commander

Since the game focuses more on mass production and mass units for mass battles (I can’t stress the importance of mass here), there is less micro when compared to other RTS games. Units do not have ‘clickable’ special abilities and the concept of ‘casters’ is not present. This doesn’t mean there is no depth, different units and structures do different things, and knowing what to build and when is crucial. Also, micromanaging an army is still a valuable skill, eliminating the enemy’s anti-air units so that your bombers can fly in with impudence, while focus firing down enemies you know that will devastate your army, is still an important part of your strategy. Also, knowing when to press an offensive or retreat from a fight is also crucial.

The game’s UI is minimalistic. There is no conventional minimap and you do not have a large interface blocking your view. The closest you have to a minimap is zooming out to the planet view mode. Fortunately, the game has plenty of hotkeys that have these commands and view ranges mapped on. Command bars take very little space, unit orders on the right with build orders on the bottom. One area the game is being improved on during the beta are area commands, basically setting up the radius of a patrol or telling a group of transports to pick up a group of units.

Planetary Annihilation | The minimap is just a zoomed out view

One nice feature is the ChronoCam, basically a playback of the game that you can view in real time while still in the match. This would allow spectators to watch what happened or even allow the player to check what did happen when they were not paying attention. However, it can be risky to watch the ChronoCam’s archive when the game is still active, but the option is there.

Graphically the game has a distinct art style. The game uses a sort of blocky and almost cartoon like visual style. Despite this simplistic style, there are plenty of details. Though there is nothing that has an overly unique visual style or exotic special effects, the game has decent shadows and lighting that reflect the planets’ orbit and rotation around the star, and even the shadow cast by its moon. Despite all of this, seeing a swarm of bombers perform a bombing strafe run across an enemy’s base can be satisfying.

Sound and music seem to be less polished at the moment. The music is fitting, but there doesn’t seem to be a lot of tracks at the moment. Also, sometimes the game tends to get eerily quiet during the calm moments between battles. This can possibly be due to the game still being in beta. The most recent beta patch has added a significant amount of music and sound to play in the background.

As for the AI, the AI is still being worked on, however even in its infancy it can surprise you sometimes. It seems AIs have personalities; one might try to build large swarms of units while another might be big on base fortification and literally attacking your base with fixed artillery cannons surrounded by walls. I have even seen the AI switch up its chosen tactics as well. However, it’s by no means complete. I have seen the AI sometimes trap itself or leaving its Commander vulnerable to a small attack force. Also, the path finding (identified destinations) seems to be a little odd at times.

At the moment the game seems to have no AI difficulty slider, instead you can handicap or boost your own and the AI’s economy. Setting the AI to zero, for example, would mean it cannot build anything. This mode is useful when you just want to experiment by yourself.

Planetary Annihilation | Even a small base can produce a lot of units

With the game being in beta there are still plenty of features missing. The Galactic Conquest Mode is not yet implemented. Galactic Conquest is a metagame layer for both single player and multiplayer modes, and serves as the main component for players that are not into MP. It is sort of a Galaxy map where you attack systems and get attacked by the enemy. This is not a grand strategy map, but more like a setting of pre-generated systems you fight over, with each system being a ‘skirmish’ map you battle on.

The game’s primary focus, especially during the beta, is multiplayer. Though they did set up a solo play lobby, and added an economy modifier for the AI and player, it’s obvious that getting the game’s unit balance for MP has been a major focus for the developers. Despite the game’s early beta-ness there have been several groups of dedicated players setting up multiplayer matches. So if you are indeed interested in multiplayer, the community will probably be strongly established by the time the game is officially released. So far the community has been mostly cordial but that is not unexpected for a beta.

Planetary Annihilation | A Commander dying is deadly for all

Lastly, the game does not have distinct factions. Instead, the player has a huge selection of structures and units to build. Generally, it will be hard to effectively build everything and you will still specialise in having a certain type of army composition. At the moment, the different Commanders only have different aesthetics to them and do not affect what the player will have access to in the game.

In conclusion, Planetary Annihilation might not be the game you are looking for if you are looking for an engaging narrative for a single player campaign, or looking for exotic unit types and diverse factions. Also, if you prefer the smaller unit scale tactical combat we’ve seen in recent titles then the game might not cater to that preference. However, if you are a fan of the large scale combat RTS games like Total Annihilation and Supreme Commander, or you like variety on your RTS pallet, then Planetary Annihilation might be a welcomed sight.

Planetary Annihilation | Not only local moons can be used to wipe out a planet

The game is still in beta, and as mentioned earlier it still has many parts that are far from being complete. The beta is most certainly playable and is coming along nicely. However, it is still far from a complete product and there is still a long way to go before it is. However, it should be noted that I started to write this preview after a major patch, and there have been two patches in the time it took me to finish it.

The game will be released DRM-free. You will be able to play it on Uber’s server, personally host your own server, or even play offline (though the Steam version will still use the Steam service). The registration process for an Uber account is quick and painless. The game will also support the modding community, and the developers seem open and keen on the player base to make mods for the game.

Planetary Annihilation is currently available via early access for those who pre-ordered with an estimated release date of “when it’s done” (sometime during 2014, no precise estimates). The game is available for Windows (both 32 and 64-bit supported), and is also available for Mac and Linux (64-bit only for both). The game can be pre-purchased on Origin, the Humble Store, Steam, and directly from Uber at their website for $50 (digital download only, but a boxed collector’s edition exists for $250 at the Uber Store).

Edward Varfalvy has been gaming since the early days of the Atari 2600. He started playing strategy games on his NES with Romance of Three Kingdoms, but soon graduated to playing on the PC with titles such as Civilization and Master of Orion. He loves sci-fi and fantasy, as well as historical strategy games, be it turn-based or an RTS. His true love is the 4X genre. Interested in covering these titles he hopes to bring reviews, previews, and news updates for the site.

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24 Comments


  1. t1it says:

    Good progress but I need to know the more strategic parts, the planets and such. There’s no real differentiation between this title and other total annihilation clones other than that.

    • Gmandam says:

      From what I know of TA (having only read on the subject), the primary difference is the orbital/planetary layer. The orbital layer has several options for deploying ground forces rapidly as well as providing a sort of CSS (Close Space Support) with various ground facing satellites and other abilities.

      The other facet to worry over is managing battles across solar systems. There are lots of different kinds of planetary bodies, such as asteroids, comets (I think), moons and other planets. With combat being able to be done on nearly all of them. Each with their own battlefronts and challenges. Add in that each planet will have differing amounts of materials and possible unit forbidding (such as having a air/navy heavy army on a water world) and you can see where it differs from TA. At least in scale.

    • They are still adding a lot of elements, as I mentioned the Galactic Conquest Mode is still not in. In the most recent patches they added in the ability to use interstellar moons to smash planets (as opposed to only being able to use the moons that are orbiting the target planet).

      They are still working on more of the interplanetary weapons and systems, I avoided discussing too much on what is suppose to be implemented later and focused more on what is in now. The Orbital Layer still new.

      Hopefully, everything they ere planning will be put in and I would be happy to review them all when the game is officially released (or do a follow-up if the game stays in beta for a long time but a lot gets added in).

    • Thanks for the update! :)

      I wonder if this concept of Gamma Stage catches on with other indie developers in Early Access. This said, I do think they need to be careful and have a full ‘stage’ dedicated to fine tuning, polish, and tweaking when they are done adding features and elements to the game.

      It is nice to see they are leaving this goodie in the oven longer. Lately too many games get pushed out of EA early, it is nice see a company taking its time and trying to do it right.

      • csebal says:

        “As we roll out features in the Gamma phase…”

        Yeeeeee.. ee.. ay? I’m puzzled: If the gamma phase still has feature additions, then should this not still be called an alpha phase?

        Screw them for abusing age old software development terminology for the sake of marketing.

        • Yeah, the “beta” was obviously still an alpha. Arguably, they haven’t really left Alpha. So when it came clear they will be doing major additions in “Beta”, I guess they decided to have a bit of a PR stunt with the terminology.

          I think the problem stems from the fact that as of late, what many people (both developers and players alike) call Beta is still an Alpha.

          I can get behind the fact that sometimes they sneak in new features in the Beta Phase, but usually the Beta should be for polish and vigorous testing of balance and other things that you tweak around.

        • Gary says:

          Well, they have supporters who get access during Alpha or Beta stage. So if they hold off on entering Beta, then those customers don’t get invited. Just my $0.02 :)

        • Don’t get me wrong, I agree with you Gary.

          From the players perspective being held off entry for about a year might have got the beta access players’ a little testy and from the developer’s perspective they probably did want these people in. Never mind that to honour their Kickstarters customers they had to have a very uncomfortable price point for the Alpha EA, I am sure no company wanted to remain in that uncomfortable situation for a long time.

          This is why I still recommend that they have a dedicated phase after this one to polish the game and do what people traditionally do in a beta. Which means, I’m basically advocating that they have a “Delta Phase”.

          I am starting to suspect that game design might have reached a certain point of development and crowd interaction that the “true definition of these terms” that were created many decades ago when we still used Basic and Pascal is outdated. No one likes an update to the dictionary but it happens. Heck in Biology we update ours several times a year, so a few decades is a good run, trust me!

          Still there has been a bad string of pre-release phase games being released while clearly still being in pre-release phase. So I suggest PA not follow this trend and still have a full and proper pre-release phase, personally they can call it whatever they want. This is a case where I am more interested in the spirit of the system than the strict letter of the system.

        • Gary says:

          And I agree with you, Edward, that companies have forgotten the true meaning of Alpha and Beta :(

          And don’t get me started about the not-ready-for-prime-time pieces of **** games that get released these days :rant:

      • Gary says:

        More info. Project Update #65: Gamma Feature Reveal: Friends, Chat, Browsing, And More!

        https://www.kickstarter.com/projects/659943965/planetary-annihilation-a-next-generation-rts/posts/759144

  2. SteJ says:

    Hi Edward, I’ve been following PA for quite a while but am firmly in the camp of waiting until it is finished before I buy. Whilst I enjoyed the article it did read a lot like a fairly standard description of the game and didn’t have a lot in there that I couldn’t get from the main website.

    As this is a first impressions article, are there any bits that you specifically enjoyed, found frustrating, felt were missing etc. I’d love to get a better idea of how the game is shaping up from a play point of view as opposed to just what features are there and are intended.

    Thanks

    SteJ

    • I was avoiding to be too review like in the preview, since it is not an actual full review (the game is not complete, it would be improper to pass full judgement). I tried to stick to only obvious merits and failings. I agree though, I think it is usually better to wait for a full release of a game and let the few brave ones wade into early access versions.

      As mentioned the features I find the most interesting are still not implemented yet, the Orbital layer is still young (so there’s not many units there and controls seem clunky and limited), and it clear some units are still missing. Since there is no faction all the variety has to come from your army options and at the moment… I am not sure there is enough (but they are adding new units constantly). Galactic Conquest is not implemented yet so it limits how much you can do in SP in the ‘beta’.

      What is frustrating are mostly the controls, specifically the camera control, especially when dealing with the Orbital layer and swapping between planets. These are known complaints and they said they are planning to address these (hence why a proper final verdict is only passed on release, since it is still in flux).

      Play wise, I found the game quite enjoyable. I much prefer the streaming economy model. Also, the fact you can have actual navies and air forces is interesting; they are not just support units. As I mentioned, you have to go to much older games to get this style of RTS, and it is nice to see one that is more modern. You spend more time building your base and commanding units than queuing up units regularly (since you tend to set them up on continuous build orders). The scale of the armies and engagements are definitely a plus.

      Hope that answers your questions :)

  3. Gunlord says:

    Seems like it’s progressing well.

  4. Seiya says:

    I havent played it in a while, but the scale of units to planets was kind of off putting. I know intellectually that the planets are a good size to the units, but something about how much you can see at once makes the planets feel a lot smaller. Unit movement and shooting ranges feels a lot more like supcom 2 than either TA or Supcom/FA.

    And yeah, they need to stop calling alphas betas. It is really bad form in my book.

  5. rickys says:

    Not worth the money , supreme commander is a much better game at this point. Do some research about the history of this developer before you buy and their business practices related to this game, not the type of company or business practice I choose to support. I’ll pass on this one and can only suggest others do the same.

  6. trix62 says:

    RTS = Pass for me. Haven’t really liked RTS games in awhile except for Total Wars series and that is just partially one.

    • Alien JD says:

      I like RTS games. But now that I’m older I usually game at the end of a very long and busy day. So I prefer a more relaxed pace and usually play turn based games or something simple like Fallout NV or Borderlands. I think my brain is too old to combine twitch gaming with strategy gaming.

      I’m interested to hear their is going to be a single player element. When they first announced this game it was going to be mp only. I loved Total Annihilation and Supreme Commander (I even put around 20 hours into Supreme Commander 2) so I’ll keep an eye on this.

  7. Tampa_Gamer says:

    Monitoring this one as well since my son and I still play SC: Forged Alliance on our home LAN. However, the key for me will be whether or not they decide to include an OPTION to allow pause and give orders in single-player/skirmish mode. I know this is controversial for the hardcore RTS folks, but for those of who burned out our hand joints on the Atari 2600 genre games, its somewhat of a non-starter if they don’t decide to include the option in the final version.

  8. AndyDandy says:

    Guess I’ll pick this one up when it’s out. Was a great fan of TA and SC (not Supreme Commander 2, but the real first one of course).

    But I can’t so far see how this game will improve upon Supreme Commmander. To me it looks tedious with the planets instead of “flat” maps with a mini map. Not sure if the planets will add much to the game for me.

  9. Andy K. says:

    Ah, have been in the beta since day one. Did play a few matches, was fun to do, but most of the time my army and production facilities got obliterated by a nuke from the enemy. Since then haven’t touched it due to RL issues…maybe give it another try soon.

    The ‘gamma’ phase confuses me. However, as long as they take time to polish and finetune the game, thus not delivering a half-baked piece of software, it’s fine by me.

  10. Jar-Tur says:

    Meh. Where’s my TA Commander Pack?


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