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Worlds of Magic | Early Access now available on Steam

Lords of the Black Sun (Former Star Lords) – Beta Impressions

By on May 8th, 2014 12:42 pm

Lords of the Black Sun | A turn-based Space 4X Strategy Game by Arkavi Studios and Iceberg Interactive

Star Lords has been in Alpha for a while now and since it was first announced and covered by SpaceSector in an Alpha First Look Preview it went through a few changes. The studio was reformed under a new name Arkavi Studios (formerly known as Neogen2 Creations) and got itself a publisher Iceberg Interactive. The game also has been made available on Steam Early Access. It now has been rebranded as Lords of the Black Sun, explained here, and is has transitioned from Steam Alpha to Beta on April 22, 2014.

Lords of the Black Sun endeavours to keep its mechanics simple, yet offering an assortment of gameplay options to the player. The developers have listed being inspired from 4X board games and not just PC titles. A simple game can still be fun and quite good if properly executed, but simplicity does not necessarily mean transparent game mechanics either.

As it Stands Now

Despite having transitioned into Beta, it is clear that Lords of the Black Sun (formerly Star Lords) still has much to go before it can be considered a finished game. There is no indication of a release date so we can hope it will get the time it deserves to reach an enjoyable experience. The truth is, at the moment of this writing, the game is far from being a fully enjoyable experience. Hopefully, the necessary changes and improvements will be implemented before release.

A few of the game mechanics lack either transparency or are poorly explained currently: such as different technologies having different costs per month, which is unrelated to the number of labs present. Also, the exact mechanics and values involved in production output, and what the numerous Minister traits do and how they affect your empire are still a bit unclear.

Unrest is Brewing

There are still a few game breaking stability issues. The game does not alt-tab properly, and even in windowed mode is prone to lock-ups if the screen is minimized. The game still experiences the occasional crash and there are still circumstances that can corrupt your saves rendering them useless. Though the game is still in Early Access, some of these issues have persisted since the Alpha.

You can read the early alpha preview here since the game’s core concept and features have not changed much. Here are the highlights of features that are present or planned for release.

Core Elements

  • 8 playable races with four difficulty settings, overall, the differences between races at the moment isn’t enough to make them feel unique as they seem to only provide bonuses and penalties, and access to different Glory actions.
  • Pirate Clans and Minor Races are also present, with which you can establish trade routes.
  • Pirates act as both racketeers and loan sharks, while Minor Races can be developed making them stronger and better trading partners. I would like to see more done with these two elements, though this is a very good start to have them in to begin with.

Selectable Races

  • A greater variety of results for space debris could improve the system as I have not seen much variance in negative results and too many ‘nothing happened’ results, thus making finding these objects less interesting than they could have been.
  • I enjoyed how sometimes random events were tied to your choices in policies, tax rates, and government spending making you consider your actions carefully as these decisions had effects beyond the bonuses and penalties they give making the universe feel more alive.

Colonization

  • A little more variety would go a long way as you only have four types of planets: Rocky, Desert, Ice, and Gas Giant (the last three require advanced technologies to colonize) with some worlds requiring improved colonization techniques.
  • Multiple races can colonize the same system in multi-planet star systems.
  • Worlds can have numerous bonuses and penalties that are either discovered by colonization or by using dedicated survey ships. This extra layer to exploration is quite welcomed as it leaves a few surprises for blind colonization.

Colony Screen

  • Colonies have limited space to build structures on. However, at the moment space is not restrictive on medium or larger sized worlds making it too easy to find optimal strategies that work in all playthroughs.
  • The production system is poorly explained but it is based both on local industry and empire wide industrial output (which is the average number of factories you have between your worlds). Better explanations of the interaction and a more transparent view of the mechanic are needed.

Empire Management

  • Adjust taxes, social spending, and even state sponsored propaganda if enabled via social policies.
  • Establish trade routes with other races, both pirates and minor races included.
  • Recruit ministers that offer advice in their given field and which will also impact your population’s support for varying policies. I only wish the interaction was better documented.

Policies Screen

  • Pass laws in the social policies mechanic to shape your empire with various trade-off bonuses that will affect the type of government your empire is (which will impact diplomacy, as similar government types will trust each other more easily).
  • I would like to see more options made available to the Glory system since the mechanic has a lot of potential. This mechanic allows you to accumulate points from colonization and won battles to enable empire wide bonuses.
  • I feel the tech trees are still too basic with a few random tech placements. Otherwise the system is straight forward; you research technologies that are separated into three branches (military, economy, and science) with each branch being a separate tree.

Diplomacy and Espionage

  • Establish treaties, form alliances, and build trade consulates and embassies with other empires to further relations and trade revenue.
  • Threaten races that step on your toes or warn other races about the schemes their enemies are planning against them. I always wanted to see the ability to warn another race of another race’s treachery, so this is a welcomed addition.

Diplomacy Screen

  • Build your diplomatic reputation to make foreign exchanges easier.
  • I personally like that fact wars require a Casus Belli (Just Cause) to avoid suffering a hit to your reputation, otherwise wars of aggression without a proper reason hurts your reputation which has a global impact on your relations.
  • Recruit Agents to defend your empire or perform acts of espionage or sabotage on your enemies (or allies). This includes assassination of ministers to sabotaging technological research or different elements of their empire.

Combat

  • Turn-based tactical combat using a one side at a time turn resolution. I personally prefer a ship based initiative system as it is too easy to wait and then spring on the enemy as it is now.
  • Ship facing matters, as weapons can be disabled on flanking shots and engine can be crippled with rear shots. It makes positioning important and offers incentive to outmaneuver the enemy.

Space Combat

  • I do feel the weapon system is too basic and could be improved significantly. You use either missiles or beam weapons to attack your enemies, and you can only equip one or the other.
  • Use special modules that can have varying effects like repair capabilities, cloaks, ship teleportation, and offensive abilities that can damage or disable components on a ship (though in the current beta build there seems to be no way to activate these abilities).

Ship Designer

  • The basics are there as you can design your own ships by using one of the four hull types (light, medium, heavy, and capital), but I would like to see more work put into the ship designer.
  • I feel like the system is too basic at the moment as you only select an armor (optional) and engine to use, any special modules (only one), and one of the two type of weapons available (you can stack multiple weapons but only if they are of the same type).
  • Have a wide selection of special modules to customize your ships with giving them important roles in battle (a current glitch will only let you select from the first 6 modules you have researched).

Custom Ship Designer

Planned Features (discussed here)

  • The game will have a storyline that will be told via events by release (not yet available in the Beta). They mention this will have a major impact on the game and can be disabled for a more pure sandbox experience.
  • Efforts to expand the tech tree during Early Access to help offer more choices and diversity between the races has been discussed by the developers.
  • There are also planned improvements for the ship designer.
  • Multiplayer is planned for the game later (no exact details are given on how it will work for now).

Current Impressions

I think that Lords of the Black Sun does have the potential to be an interesting game, offering espionage, varied diplomacy, and having social policies which is not often seen in a space 4X game. A few times I was hit by events that were either tied to espionage actions or to my current social policies, which helped in making me feel events were unfolding around me based on my decisions. I feel this may be one of the stronger points of the game.

The diplomacy system provides a wide selection of choices and acts as a solid foundation to build upon, and though in the early game it came off random, it was interesting to see the AI factions requesting Embassies and Trade Consulates as fledgling power blocks were being formed. Since I cultivated a high level of diplomatic reputation I found that after a while the aliens came to me with offers.

The game’s music is also very atmospheric and having random events that are tied to your policies and budget choices help a lot with immersion. However, the game’s rather bland and overly minimalistic visuals do not help it. They come off as too dark and muted, and nothing really stands out visually. Also, the nonsensical placement of some of the techs (like having ship teleportation as a prerequisite for cloaks) shattered this immersion, and it makes the game feel rough and unpolished even for a Beta that is still in Early Access.

Glory Screen

I feel that the ship designer needs to be seriously overhauled, since it was probably the part of the game I felt was most wanting. While I was designing my ships I did not get the feeling I was making a space ship. There was no decision between which defensive system to put it or any engine type considerations. Also, with only two weapon systems to choose from and only being able to equip one of them on the ship compounded this feeling. I did not feel eager or engaged with the ships I designed and the battles they fought in.

It also feels there is not enough to build on your colonies, as long as you do not get straddled by a bunch of small or tiny worlds you will be able to run at maximum production efficiency and fill up your worlds with a large number of labs, quickly blowing your way down the tech tree. I never had to change my strategy between games and it rarely failed either. It didn’t even take me long to figure it out either. This could be improved if the player had more constraint or choices of what to build on their colonies.

Hopefully, the developers will have the time and ability to address the many issues with this game as it still has the potential to be turned into something worthwhile. However, in its current state it is better to wait. Feel free to ask questions in the comments section and I’ll do my best to answer.

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. See all Edward’s posts here.

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42 Comments


  1. SQW says:

    It’s an alpha – the dev should call it as it is. Potential means nothing – just like all the great gaming ideas floating in my head for the past decade.

    After the latest fiasco with Towns, can we all just ignore the alphas and early access and focus our attention and money on devs who actually has the integrity/skill/business acumen to bring a decent, finished product to the table?

    Adam, I love your site but I think all gaming reviewers should have a policy of plastering big red flashing letters reading ‘DO NOT BUY’ at the start of previews for game at this stage of development.

    • Happy Corner says:

      The “Beta Impressions” in the article title was warning enough. Upon seeing that, people who feel as you (and I) do about Early Access games can move right along, avoiding this new plague on the gaming industry.

      That said, it does sound like there are some worthy ideas in Lords of the Black Sun. While I’m not pulling out my wallet yet, I DO hope that the game amounts to something.

    • The purpose for these beta (and alpha) impressions is not only to inform players but to also offer feedback to developers. We actually have quite a few developers that read our articles and the comment section (and some even post in them).

      It is up to them if they want to listen, the information is there. This is not just for the developers of a given game either, sometimes some devs look at other games to get an impression what to do and not to do. So all of this is for their convenience as well, along with the gamers who also read them.

      That is the advantage of focusing on a given genre, since we are not swamped by the entire industry as whole. It is our job to cover not just the good, but the bad, the so-and-so, and maybes so people can be better informed. Since we are focused we don’t really need to skip much to be able to cover it all.

      Yes, there has been a lot of abuse lately in both Early Access and Greenlight, but there are a some companies that used such ‘early access’ systems properly and a few even before Steam started to do it. These articles help players decide for themselves just which one each game is.

      Sure, games like Towns and Earth: 2066 are frightening example, this is not new. We got stuff like that with fully released games that had physical copies, and even before the height of digital distribution. Look up Big Rigs.

      In the end all we can do is put the information out there, so people are as informed as possible and make the decision themselves.

    • SQW says:

      Any coverage generate interests and there WILL be people who end up spending money on EAs to ‘support’ the devs. That’s the fundamental flaw with EAs and KS – products that’s not ready should NOT be placed on sale in the first place.

      I’m all for giving devs feedback and etc but during this period, half-completed ‘dreams’ should NOT be sold as potential final product. It’s one thing to fund one dream through crowd sourcing/EA but it’s another to have an entire new industry pop up under that funding model. Given what Adam has seen in Lords, there no way this game can be classified as beta. Beta means 90% feature complete and most of the job is optimization + bug hunting.

      The early success of KS created this weird industry acceptance among consumer and devs that it’s okay to charge near-full price for something that’s not even half completed with no legal obligation to actually complete it. In any other industries, consumer protect agencies would be knocking on the company door within days.

    • You seem to believe coverage will generate interest and increase sales, however, will a lack of coverage really limit interest?

      Not really. Early Access games get store front coverage on Steam (personally I do not think they should do that, but that is a different problem entirely). These games still get ads and plugs from social media that is sponsored by their affiliates. Only the smallest of the indie devs are usually too limited in resources to take advantage of any of these mechanisms.

      Early Access forums and buyers tends to be of the ‘hopeful’ bunch who are less critical of product giving skewed opinions that do not paint a full picture. If there is a lack of coverage, more consumers will only see these things and these things are likely to generate more sales, probably way more than the presence of in-depth coverage would.

      Let’s not forget in-depth coverage may even persuade some people to wait, be they from people who first heard of the game just now or those that came looking for more information after hearing about it from somewhere else.

      The lack of information has never ‘protected’ anyone. The lack of information has always been used to control people, and there is plenty of other outlets that are used to make sure just enough information is out there to generate interest. A lack of coverage from review sites will not magically make it disappear or make it become so silent that people won’t hear about it.

      Sorry, but the lack of coverage is the thing that is generating the very problem you dread.

      • SQW says:

        Lack of info is only used to control people? Where did you get that line? 1984? Which do you think will influence consumer more, a non-terrible review of an alpha in someone’s favourite gaming review site or some pop up ad showing up somewhere on the internet?

        Unless the preview is obviously negative, any coverage is increasing the game’s exposure. What if you gave an alpha a favourable review? There’s no guarantee that game would amount to anything but because of your tactile endorsement via a review (seriously, how do you review something that’s not even complete) you are encouraging people to give the alpha a try and thus this whole EA shenanigan.

        As gatekeeper to the most common avenue of gaming info to a consumer, you should think about how you and your colleagues influence the industry. If all of you refuse to post news of alphas that’s on sale or games not in proper beta stage, we’d see a lot less of TOWNS in the future.

        • Gary says:

          SQW, you can’t blame the author of information for the actions of the reader of that information, unless the author is lying. If the author is lying, that will become evident, and they will lose their readers. If the author is presenting the truth, then it’s up to the reader what to do with that information. Don’t blame the readers actions (e.g. buying an EA game) on someone else, because it’s their responsibility if they are given the truth of things.

        • Gmandam says:

          Space Sector doesn’t really flame games, even if they are very poor and get really low scores. This kind of analysis is important to me, and I assume other readers, because quite frankly too many reviewers let their distaste for the game taint their coverage of a game.

          Many games, had I not listened to Space Sector, I may have spent money on just to try it out. To me and my friends, my distaste of Endless Space is legendary. Not because it’s necessarily a bad game but mainly because it sold me on one thing, and gave me another.

          Had I, at the time, actually bothered to watch some videos of the game, I would have learnt that the game was not for me. So you see, your entire premise fails on the outset. Provided you actually read what the author is saying, you will always gain more information from more coverage. And with more information it becomes increasingly harder to hide the flaws, niggles and errors of a game.

          I mean, you can hardly say the two months of coverage did SimCity any good can you? I mean SimCity 4 had been waited for 10 years for another entry into the franchise. It should have sold multiple millions within the first three months. What did it actually sell? Barely over a million.

          And no, before you try and point out how SimCity was getting very poor results. I would like to remind you many authors were writing about the Always Online component many weeks before the launch of the game. And while expressing some level of doubt (and no little criticism of the choice) they remained professional and hopeful regarding the quality of the finished game.

          Seeing as this Game, LotBS, hasn’t come out yet. This post can be likened to the criticism of the always online part prior to the SimCity’s launch.

          So, I ask you a simple question.

          Do you actually read the articles?

      • True_poser says:

        It’s completely off-topic here, but the lack of information is not used to control people anymore.

        If anything, a flood of one-sided information is used (usually by all sides) and once a person is “persuaded” to take a side, then the self-isolation in “positive” news naturally kicks in.

        • Incidentally, you are not entirely off topic. Since a lot of E.A. games tend to have a good number of supporter which seem to overlook many of the issues a game may have.

          Though not as much as a flood of information, but since there is no other counter-point or outside view, most of the information someone will find will be from one side (in this case, eager supporters who are hopeful it will all work out in the end).

          Which doesn’t change the problem that avoiding to discuss E.A. games is not going to help anyone as some people will jump in based on the information that they can find combined with the ‘early adopter bonuses’ that is offered as incentives to do so. Also, one can be critical without sounding like an episode of the AJS, and one doesn’t need to avoid discussing any merit the game may have in fear that it may give the wrong impression.

          Lastly, the limitation of information spread is still wildly used today, just as information saturation is not actually new either. Also, both are heavily used in this industry.

    • This is not a review, nor is it passed off as a review. There is no score, no in-depth analysis of any specific mechanics. It lists the features present, background information, and anything you expect from a preview. Along with impressions, suggestions, and recommendations. Highlighting both what may be good and bad, with an overall sense about it all. Offering both feedback to the player and the developer if they are reading.

      In addition, this said impression says it is better to wait and lists several weaknesses that may put off many gamers. Describes the experience at the moment as not an enjoyable one, and is even pessimistic at times. Naturally, if no improvement is made by release the review of the released product will reflect that. At the moment, the developers still has time to turn things around. I repeat, this beta impression is not recommending anyone to pick it up now.

      Yes, without detailed information many customers will choose to purchase games based on either hype or what they can find. Also, usually E.A. games don’t give a lot of information, and except for a few cases, the social media tend to not go into great details. This usually paints a more positive picture and manipulation is much easier when the information is scarce.

      The concept that any kind of PR is good PR, and any form of exposure acts as a form of advertisement is not true. Anyone who studied marketing extensively knows this, and many companies go to great length to avoid it or do damage control when it happens. So, no, increased exposure doesn’t equal sales automatically as some believe.

  2. Kordanor says:

    Completely agree to Edwards impression. The Science tree looks boring and not logical, the interface is a little clunky (e.g. the science screen is horribly small) and overall it doesn’t seen very immersive, the very limited planet types are another reason for that. The music is great though.
    But what I like least is the colonization mechanics. I tested it May 2013 and then again December 2013 and it doesn’t sound like they changed it:
    1. The population growth was a fixed value if the “happyness” didn’t change. Whether you have a 10 thousand or 10 billion inhabitants on a planet doesn’t matter, they will always produce like 1 billion new inhabitants.
    2. The global production system was intransparent and the mechanics felt/were broken, the speed was not adding up by factories but multiplied, so that stockpiling factories was incredibly overpowered. In addition, it didn’t matter if 10 thousand or 10 billion inhabitants are on the planet. The output is almost the same due to being calculated globally. This completely takes away the impression of having cool individual planets. A planet isn’t more than just a couple of numbers you throw into your stockpot.

  3. Gary says:

    The game seems to have possibility, if changes are made, but I’ll be waiting for release and reviews before making a decision.

  4. Lens Flares Suck says:

    And we have a winner for the ‘teeniest, tiniest, most FREAKING USELESS FONTS EVER’ award!

    Congratulations on making your game suck when you didn’t have to!

    • Distant Words says:

      I think that Distant Worlds still holds that title, and is unlikely to relinquish it any time soon.

  5. Jay says:

    Well this is the first beta build they released after all… Seeing how much the game grew since it went into early access, I feel I can safely put my faith on these guys.
    As of the last build, I agree that more transparency is needed, and some aspects need some finetuning, but as of now, it’s already more fun to play than most if not all 4x games I’ve played in the last couple of years imo.

    I can’t wait to see how this turns out.

  6. Magnus says:

    Do they plan to implement multiplayer and will it support hotseat? The turn-based combat would make that easy (compared to other games which often chuck hotseat due to simultaneous turns and real-time combat).

    • They said they are planning to add multiplayer, but there doesn’t seem to be a lot of details on how or when it will be implemented. They do plan to do it before release I believe, though I don’t not know if it will support hotseat or how it will be handled.

      • Kordanor says:

        Actually you can play it via hotseat right now though it’s not a dedicated mode. Just start a singleplayer game and assign two factions to the human player.

        Don’t know if this stays like that though.

  7. Jeff P says:

    It always seems a bad sign when the developer changes the name of the game in the middle of development. What was the reason for this? Trademark problems? Change of game emphasis?

    Thanks for the detailed beta review, Edward. The “beta” rather than “alpha” classification suggests the developer is satisfied with the progress of the game, which considering its numerous shortcomings, doesn’t bode well for the end product.

    • JD says:

      The game was called: Star Lords.

      Star Lord is a trademark of Marvel Comics / Marvel Entertainment), and with the upcoming Guardians of the Galaxy movie it is possible the publisher either a) received a legal letter from Marvel to stop using the name or b) decided to change the name in order to prevent any such legal action.

      • Jeff P says:

        Could very well be the case. If so, it looks like the developer didn’t do his homework before starting the project.

        • Alien JD says:

          I wouldn’t say that. Star-Lord is a Marvel super hero. There is no likelihood that anyone would confuse Star Lords the 4x game with Star-Lord the Marvel character.

          But my guess is that Marvel has more lawyers per pound than Iceberg Interactive. The beautiful thing about the American legal system is that even if what you’re doing is completely legal and okay any large corporation can make you stop with the threat of legal action.

      • KirkusMax says:

        http://moo3.quicksilver.com/game/starlords.html

        Star Lords is the name of the prototype for Master of Orion. There is considerable potential for confusion there.

  8. A long time ago says:

    Great article, nicely broken down into the various components of the game and well critiqued!

    As someone who is trying to develop a 4x game (simply because I’ve never really enjoyed any others as much as I hoped I would), I find sites like this, and Space Sector in particular, to be a mine of good information and feedback from people who actually love to play these games.

    It’s a shame that early access seems to have been abused by some devs, because that really puts people like myself off, since you feel like you’ll get tarred with the same brush.

    I also don’t like how quickly many games go from nothing to alpha them almost immediately to beta with hardly any changes – it doesn’t seem like the devs want to listen to feedback. I wonder if some of that might be to do with the publishers pushing to just get the game done?

    I do think that the devs of Star Lords (whoops, Lords of the Black Sun – damn those lawyers!) will listen though, they seem to have been open to critique, though the lack of change from alpha to beta is worrying. I hope they read this article and sort it out.

    ‘And we have a winner for the ‘teeniest, tiniest, most FREAKING USELESS FONTS EVER’ award!’ Ouch, that’s gotta hurt, but then, so do most peoples eyes after they’ve strained them looking at those fonts!

  9. Hey everyone !

    First of all I really enjoyed reading through this preview and I have to say I agree with everything. The good news are, these are all aspects we plan to put more work on :)

    The change to beta means all the major game mechanics and features are in (except multiplayer and the story events) and we don’t even put aside the possibility of adding more features or concepts if we feel they are needed.
    Going beta doesn’t mean we are happy with what we have or are close to release or anything of the sort.

    We still have quite some time ahead of us before release and there is still a lot of balancing to do, content to add, several features need explaining and some components need to be fleshed out.

    I can’t speak for the community, but judging from the feedback we get, the vast majority seems to be pleased perhaps even surprised with how much the game improved during alpha and we are quite confident we can do even better during beta.

    Also to clarify a couple of things:

    Early Access was the best option for us and we believe it is the right choice for the people it’s targeted to.
    As long as I remember people complained all the time that they didn’t have any say on how a game should play, look or feel. Early access gives early adopters the opportunity to have a voice and get the game at a discount while helping out developers, which in turn have the possibility of delivering a better game, making it a more worthy purchase for the customer.

    Personally, I think it’s great, but if it’s a gamble or if it’s worth it, it’s up to each one to decide and it’s a decision/point of view we absolutely respect.

    The recent two early access disasters we’ve been hearing about have virtually unknown individual developers behind them. We at Arkavi have a commitment with the community and Iceberg to deliver this game and in a good shape. Not doing so means the end of a company we worked hard to build from the ground up.
    Iceberg has released several games before and has been in the business for some time. They are a honest hard working bunch and have a reputation to maintain. Personally I can’t imagine any publisher doing something this stupid, and they are no exception.

    To be absolutely honest, even putting our names in the same bag as people we consider to be borderline scammers is almost insulting to me. For my part I can only guarantee you running away with the money and cancelling the game is not on our plans.

    As for the name change, no one threatened legal action or even spoke to us regarding the Star Lords name. We changed the name to avoid any possible problems later on after we found out there could be a potential though unlikely conflict with another trademark.
    The trademark in question is not the Marvel character as it’s only registered as a comic book character and could not possibly conflict with anything in our game, but a short lived and I’d say rather unknown comic series released in europe several decades ago.

    If anyone has any questions, fire away :)

    Cheers !

    • Gary says:

      Makes me feel better about your game that you are reading the Space Sector review and the comments. I look forward to the release of Lords of the Black Sun :)

  10. Adam Solo says:

    @SQW (because you brought the issue up) @Everybody

    At the end of the day, we at the site, have to make choices regarding Early Access coverage. You (and we), as consumers, have to make choices on what E.A. games to enter into or not, if at all. Like it or not, there are a lot of E.A. games out there right now, with many more coming as it seams, and some of those are games that are core to the site.

    So, what’s better? To ignore Early Access games completely until they’re released and not inform the readers on what they might expect from them, or that they even exist at all? Or, like we’re currently doing, pick some E.A. games up only at selected times (when they enter Early Access or change to Beta for example) and produce some first impressions about them?

    We will not produce reviews for Early Access games. Reviews are produced exclusively for officially released titles.

    Now, it’s reasonable to expect that having an article written about a game will certainly help generate interest about said game, but that’s not the same as saying that that interest will turn into sales, especially when the impressions are mixed (at best) like in this case.

    Some may even argue that impressions like these may even detract potential buyers from acquiring some E.A. games, people that could have been on the fence if they should enter a game early or not, considering that discounts have been made for Early Access games before, and that some offer some tantalizing features to early adopters.

    We all have our opinions regarding Kickstarter, Pre-orders and now Early Access. They’re different mechanisms but they all have one thing in common: none provide a finished game, at least not immediately. And yet, many people support or buy through these mechanisms.

    Why?

    Because, in many cases there are good reasons why you probably should. To help certain kind of games come to life that would never exist otherwise; to support indie devs that don’t have the means to create interesting games without early support, and, to provide a way for feedback to be collected to help with playtesting. There are probably other good reasons I’m forgetting right now.

    The problem is that, as we all know, all these systems may be abused. They are certainly prone to abuse as we all know. But, I don’t think that it’s pretending that Early Access games don’t exist that we’ll be doing a service to game developers and game consumers, but probably talking about them will help them come to light and in the process help people decide if they’re worth supporting or not.

    • Happy Corner says:

      While I said above that I was burned out on Early Access games and don’t pay articles about them much attention anymore, I DO hope that you keep putting these articles, for a couple of reasons.

      For one, occasionally they ARE about games that I’m highly interested in (like GalCiv 3), so then you’ll catch even me paying attention. The other, far more important reason is that clearly Space Sector has a fanbase that DOES respond to Early Access-related articles. That you would cater to them (and have that level of commitment to giving your fans what they want) is just one of the things that makes Space Sector the wonderful site that it is today.

    • Keith Turner says:

      It’s been difficult for us to decide how best to handle Early Access titles. In an age where we are inundated with proven and highly regarded games to potentially play, it is interesting that we are still drawn towards what is yet to come. Years ago I played Civilization for hundreds of hours. Now I rarely spend that much time with any game.

      To put this issue into perspective, we can look outside our PC/video game community towards the general gaming community as well. Amongst the board game community, the term cult of the new is often used to describe the obsession and collection of new and upcoming games. This in spite of the fact that many popular and proven designer board games already exist. While we often associate Kickstarter and Early Access in a video game context, Kickstarter is also used very heavily by aspiring board game designers. The truth is, even though some of these games have completely failed to deliver, either literally or figuratively, thousands of gamers continue to contribute to these campaigns at much higher costs than typical video game pledges.

      Returning to Early Access specifically, picking a time to cover these games can be quite tricky. Games these days, even released games, change weekly and sometimes daily. We also don’t know whether an Early Access game is simply playable, or actually nearly finished, until we’ve had a chance to take it for a spin. Given the choice, I will always delay Early Access coverage in favor of my responsibilities towards a released title unless it is a hotly anticipated release. If times are quiet though, I think providing some insight into what’s out there is important for both readers and the developers trying to keep their projects and dreams afloat.

    • SQW says:

      @Adam Please don’t take my earlier post as a criticism of your site or gaming reviewers in general.

      Remember the console crash of the 80s where poor quality games flooded the market and eventually buried the industry and the few good games that did come out?

      I’m not advocating complete media blackout of EAs but I WOULD like the gaming media to start plastering ‘ALPHA! BUY AT YOUR OWN RISK’ etc signs like the cigarette warning packaging to discourage people from impulse-purchasing EAs, good or bad.

      The line between review and preview got blurred the minute companies started selling alphas to the public. While a bad pre/review might shine the light on a nasty Alpha like in the case of Lords, a good alpha coverage would equally be bad for consumers. In the end, Alphas are not fit-for-purpose product (even a good alpha can turn out to be a terrible v1.0) and should not be sold as such. The industry obviously wouldn’t stop this practice voluntarily so it’s up to the media to protect, educate and warn the gamers.

      Individual projects ask for donations is one thing, having every game under the sun going the EA route is just a tip of a very un-consumer-friendly iceberg. How are we gonna attract a new generation of gamers if all they have are micro-transaction, FPS AAAs and indie EAs?

  11. lammaer says:

    “Lords of the Black Sun does have the potential to be an interesting game”

    come on. Stop this cliche :)

    • Oddly enough I do stand by those words even if they don’t mean much by themselves.

      Yes, there is the cliché every game has potential and all ideas are good. I do not believe in this, there are completely unredeemable games (Earth: 2066) and I heard my lion’s share of bad ideas. :)

      No, I say this is because if the issues I mentioned are addressed the game does have the ability to turn things around. Obviously, there is no guarantee this will happen and I always adopt the ‘will have to see it with my own eyes’, hence why I suggest people to wait.

      The pessimistic or realist ;) in us doesn’t believe it will and won’t bet on it, hence why I said to wait. Only time will tell what it will be in the end though.

      Personally, I do suggest people to avoid buying anything they do not know all the facts for and to only buy what is currently at the time worth it. However, the final choice will always be up to the person.

  12. True_poser says:

    Well, this discussion raises an interesting question, is it appropriate to criticize an early access game.

    I got some flak for this on the Steam forum of the game, maybe, it was deserved, because my tone was borderline immature.

    However, when do we, as customers, gain the right to complain that the game isn’t fun?

    When it’s done or when it’s bought?

    My own gripe with the Star Lords is that the game just isn’t fun (yet, I hope).

    I don’t like the pace, I don’t like the research, I feel that the espionage and domestic policies are not plugged in the main gameplay loop (yet, I hope).

    While the economy is original, having a profitable trading colony seems a pure luck.

    Eventually I end up with all planets in my empire except two or three first colonized completely undeveloped, because it’s more profitable that way.

    I believe, there’s a hard cap on the research speed, so developing more than two or three research planets means just lost money.

    And money here means everything, as like in Monopoly, you start with a hefty sum, but you have to make correct investments in order to get stable income.

    It’s boring, actually.
    Diplomacy is boring and clunky, too.
    Research is lackluster.
    Waging war is fun at first then it’s boring again.
    Ship constructor allows three or four reasonable choices, nothing interesting here too.

    So, while everything is, of course, a subject to change and while there are plenty of good ideas, I can’t help but feel that the game’s main loop is pretty much there and that it won’t budge.

    On the other hand, there are devs who really need positive feedback for countless hours they spent on the game.

    I don’t know.
    I’m too old for this new world where the concept of “release” is outdated.
    I guess, I’ll just say as it is once I paid for the game and feel like it.

    • Personally, if you are a paying customer. You do have the right to complain.

      For example, you mention diplomacy is boring. Personally I like some of the mechanism behind it (though the diplomacy AI does need more work), I can understand why you didn’t like it much.

      I tie it mostly to the visual and interface issues. I have a friend who studies game design and a solid GUI is very important. Though I do think we tend to forgive some, Star Lords GUI is definitely in the need of a lot of ‘love’. Also, a lot of mechanism are opaque and diplomacy has always been something that strongly benefited from transparency (case and point… Civ V vanilla…). Visual panache also helps.

      The other issues you raised I also criticised.

      The thing is, naturally one can not review E.A. game, and don’t think many would want to either. However, it can be criticised with impressions and opinions also given. These first impressions try to do just that: offer feedback and information, with an overall feel of the game without actually reviewing it.

      However, as a customer your position doesn’t change and you are free to say what you like. Just like how a formal review is not a ‘customer’s report’ nor is customer feedback a formal review.

    • Gary says:

      “However, when do we, as customers, gain the right to complain that the game isn’t fun?

      When it’s done or when it’s bought?

      My own gripe with the Star Lords is that the game just isn’t fun (yet, I hope).”

      I’d say you have the right to complain when the game is released. Up until then, you should understand that alphas and betas might NOT be fun. However, that doesn’t mean you can’t provide _constructive_ criticism. If you expect a working game in alpha or beta, then you shouldn’t be buying into Early Access.

  13. Noldor says:

    Well, at this point, the game is pretty underwhelming. Perhaps that’s to be expected. I think we should be thankful of Edward here to be honest, who has taken his time to tell us what he really thinks and is willing to criticize.

    That being said, I think this is one of those games that it’s best to wait it out and not buy any time soon. We’ll have to wait and see if it is showing any signs of improvement or not.

  14. Jeff P says:

    I never buy EA games. That said, I really appreciate Space Sector’s coverage of early access games. In the “old days”, a new title would be anxiously awaited, and upon release there would be a tidal wave of reviews split between “it’s the greatest game in the history of the world” and “the only use for this game is as a coaster for my drink.”

    I find EA previews helpful in determining if a title is having development problems and therefore should be approached with skepticism upon release.

    Keep up the good work!

  15. Gravity Cat says:

    >Also, the nonsensical placement of some of the techs (like having ship teleportation as a prerequisite for cloaks)

    That could actually make sense if you think of cloaks as “partial teleportation” – partially phasing out the ship and leaving it in some weird space/dimension fold without reentering real space. Kinda starting a teleport but stopping at step 2 and not giving an exit coordinates…or something like that.

  16. Edward says:

    I bought this Game while it was in Alpha but lost my E-mail with serial etc asked the dev to mail me key no reply whatsoever so now they can shove the game up there arse and I will go play something good.

  17. Jar-Tur says:

    For now it reminds me Lost Empire Immortals and Endless Space at the same time. Both are rather uninspiring games with oppressive GUI and overall empty gameplay.

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