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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.Subscribe RSS
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