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Polaris Sector – Beta First Impressions

By on February 12th, 2016 5:18 pm

Polaris Sector | First Impressions

When one thinks about space 4X games, and about publisher Slitherine Ltd., they almost undoubtedly think of their hugely successful Distant Worlds series. It has provided countless hours of entertainment for its fans and has spawned numerous well-received expansions. One might wonder how their upcoming release, Polaris Sector from developer SoftWarWare, fits into their portfolio. On the surface, they share a lot, but underneath the bones are quite different.

Polaris Sector may be another real-time space 4X game, but it’s still one of a very few in that category. Ship combat is also in real-time, but it takes place on a separate instanced map outside of normal galactic time. Both of these modes include numerous speed adjustments and the game often pauses whenever something interesting is going on. I can safely say you will feel comfortable, given the options available to you, even if you hate hectic RTS games.

The game includes 9 fully customizable races to choose from and 10 customizable galaxy types. Each race has their own unique portrait, background, and ship models. Most of the racial traits are percentage based bonuses to certain actions, but it is possible to select a bonus starting technology or the ability to colonize less hospitable planets. Galaxy settings include shape and number of stars. Every galaxy uses star lanes, and because of that, you can shape your galaxy to accommodate a more open or defensively oriented game as you see fit. The number of stars can get very high, but given how easy it is to automate your colony developments using policies, it is relatively easy to manage a rather large empire.

In our “A List of Space/Sci-Fi/Fantasy Games You Can’t Miss in 2016” article, we mentioned that a couple of Polaris Sector’s key features include its “Innovative research system” and “Unique espionage system”. I’ve not experienced the espionage system enough yet to say how unique it is, but I can say with confidence that the research system is quite unlike anything I’ve seen before. That’s not to say that there aren’t other areas of variation too. Multi-decked ship design is a new concept. Oh, and I should mention the diplomatic response tree which can sometimes include up to 10 different requests or responses.

Polaris Sector | Handsome devils, those Urgans

With the game’s launch coming up soon, on March 22nd, 2016, it is high time I provide you some thoughts on the game as it stands in its current beta state. Of course, all the usual caveats around a beta apply here. I’ve also not spent enough time to fully evaluate the game as I will for the review, so my thoughts should be viewed as first impressions only.

First Impressions

Time and Space

One of the things that struck me right away with Polaris Sector is its sense of time scale. Perhaps I’m just accustomed to turn-based games, but I noticed right away that everything takes quite a bit longer than I expected. I mentioned that turn-based fans shouldn’t fear the real-time nature of the game with good reason, as I found myself cranking up the speed to maximum quite often early on. While on normal difficulty you will start with a ship to explore with, on hard difficulty you start with nothing, and waiting many years for your first scout to finish building will get you acquainted with the speed adjustments early on. When you have everything set to max speed it moves along at good pace, but I find most of the slower settings unusable due to the time it takes to build and even travel.

Another aspect of the game that jumped out right away at me was the degree of automation. The game seems clearly designed to accommodate very large empires. As you explore, you can click any worthwhile planet and select “Plan Colonization”. This designates that planet for colonization and automatically queues up a colony ship at one of your planets. Once colonized, it is possible to initiate manually control, but the construction options are limited to the point that micromanaging seemed unnecessary. It is mostly a matter of building multiple farms, factories, or research stations that stack up with an indicator showing how many of these you’ve built. Farms x74 for example. There are a number of policies that can be set per colony that essentially act as governors controlling what it will build. Typically, these decisions are straightforward and involve setting a policy that best exploits that planet’s best attribute. For instance, with earth-like planets typically agriculture or innovation (research) is best. With a frozen or desert world, mineral or production may be a better option. Ultimately, because your empire has a global economy that combines all resources and shares them with all planets, it comes down to min-maxing.

Polaris Sector | Fire and mostly forget colonization

I mentioned how exploration allows you to plan colonization, and should you find a nice earth-like planet rich in minerals, it is a no-brainer to do so right away. You’ll discover other planets that with proper research can become inhabitable later on, but at the beginning earth-like and oceanic are the best choices, though your racial attributes can vary these somewhat. Aside from planets, you may encounter pirates, if you’ve enabled them. There is also space debris around some planets that can contain a cache of resources or one of numerous parts to an ancient ship. Unfortunately, beyond that, space is an empty void. Until you encounter another major race, you’ll have to be content with pirates and the search for hospitable planets.

Weird Science

I was pleased to see a somewhat radical alternative to the standard research system seen in 4X games. I suspect that with a better understanding of how it all works, and of what is good to have, that some fine tuning can certainly be done here. Your science points are divided, based on a percentage you set, between fundamental science and applied science. Fundamental science is then sub-divided into percentages in Biology, Chemistry, Mathematics, and Physics. Leveling up in these unlocks access to new applied sciences you can research like Antimatter and Xenobiology. Then, researching those, unlocks actual technologies you can use. It’s all a very complex balancing act that to the uninitiated is certainly overwhelming. I found myself selecting a few specific techs to prioritize and for the most allowing research to run on autopilot the rest of the time.

Polaris Sector | Who needs math anyway?

By Space, Land, and… Sea?

Ship design is an area worth mentioning due to the multiple tiers available on most ships. While modular ship design is nothing truly new, the concept of placing turrets on top of the ship and other modules in the middle and lower decks is. Weapon slots are pre-defined, as are engines, and weapons in lower decks have smaller firing arcs than those placed on the top. Armor is applied to the ship as a whole and isn’t a placed component. Inside the ship you can place engines, scanners, hangars, fuel, and other components you research and unlock.

Overall, ship design works well except for the intense mini-game that is space optimization. Each ship for each race has a unique layout, and with modules being 5×5 and larger in many cases, it can become a tedious activity trying to figure out how to best fit everything in. Leaving as much little empty space as possible is typically the goal, but it is not one that is easily achieved here. Those who demand symmetric ship layouts are going to have nightmares in this regard.

Polaris Sector | This is actually less wasted space than usual

Space combat takes place in real-time while ground combat is simulated. I don’t think I’ve ventured far enough into the game to truly explore the depths of space combat, but thus far with only a few ships the level of tactics in play is very limited. The tutorial does teach proper use of fighters and anti-fighters, which is about as far as I’ve taken the tactics thus far. More typical is grouping my ships into a pile and sending them in to focus fire down enemy ships.

Ground combat is interesting in that it involves a rather complex rock, paper, scissor type system involving tanks, marines, police, fighters, ground attack aircraft, and even sea faring ships. Once your troops and other units are deployed, a meter displays who is going to win without further intervention and in how long. It’s not in my experience uncommon to see very prolonged 30+ year ground battles over planets.

Polaris Sector | Just 37 years and this planet is all mine

My beta experiences

Honestly, my first impressions of the game were poor. I first played through the tutorial, and I am hoping it will get some work and become a bit more comprehensive by release. While it explained some basic concepts, I felt like it left out a lot of information regarding the more confusing and uniquely implemented areas such as diplomacy and research. Despite this, I found that my first game on normal difficulty that I was completely dominating the AI who admittedly seemed to be reluctant to expand from their home systems. While I had established 10 colonies, when I found my nearest rivals they had only 1 or 2. I was also beating them in production, development, and research, despite hardly knowing what I was doing. Exploration isn’t overly exciting, so without any AI pressure and a highly automated empire, I was left feeling rather empty.

Polaris Sector | Normal difficulty may be broken

Not content to accept the experience I was having as all Polaris Sector had to offer, I began a new game against the hard AI. I noticed right away that every game I started had me facing an immediate adjacent pirate threat. Pirates swooped in and demanded reparations within a few short moments each time. I tried multiple races, spawned multiple galaxies, and yet every time the pirates were on my doorstep. It was then that I thought to myself, perhaps the hard AI changes more than just a few AI percentages as we so often see. I decided to start again, hard AI, this time with pirates turned off, and the pirates were gone, but this time I didn’t start with any ships at all. Hmm, I was intrigued.

It didn’t take long to discover a galaxy of AIs that actually cared about expanding. They were in-fact boxing me in and making demands whenever I left a nearby system undefended. The galactic charts showed them outpacing me in several key areas. I was driven to start over, so that I could try harder early on, and I found that their willingness to expand and conquer was once again alive and well. They were fighting among each other even, and had troops on the ground performing hostile takeovers. I tried to offer assistance to the smaller empire, but they told me to stop wasting their time when I asked for a small gift in return. They subsequently lost their planet, so I felt somewhat vindicated.

At this point, I have conflicted thoughts based on my time spent with the beta version of the game. I suspect the AI is still being tuned, especially in normal mode. I’m more concerned about the multiple systems and mechanisms I feel aren’t intuitive or covered by the tutorial. As a long time 4X player, the research system left me feeling left in the dark. The diplomatic system seemed unwilling to give up its secrets, left to make responses and requests without knowing what I was really asking for or why the AI was accepting, or more typically, denying them.

Polaris Sector | I have no idea what the actual losses or terms are of this deal

Other aspects of the game, like per planet initiatives that adjust planet output and modifiers, and a global control that adjusts the number of working hours per day, are unusual but interesting additions that may someday prove useful to me when I figure out how to properly use them. I find it interesting that this level of control is made available while at the same time exploration is left uneventful and boring. I also found that even in my small empire I was losing touch with planetary unrest. Despite numerous automation controls, the game didn’t queue up police to deal with this, leaving me to micromanagement this aspect in a way that seemed at odds with the rest of the game. At this point I am hopeful that with more time invested with the final non-beta product I will find many of my fears alleviated and a more enjoyable experience, but only time will tell.

Polaris Sector is a real-time (pausable) space 4X strategy game currently being developed by SoftWarWare and published by Slitherine for the Windows PC, and is expected to release on March 22nd of 2016.

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  1. Tynendir says:

    I did not expect that conclusion after reading through the review (your writing showed excitment at first ;p).

    I was wondering how close is it in terms of mechanics and difficulty to Distant Worlds? The learning curve for Distant Worlds is a tad too steep for me, I hope it won’t be the case here.

    I’m also intrigued by the ship design system, could you explain this to me: “leaving as much empty space as possible is typically the goal”?

    I hope all the issues you have mentionned will be fixed throughout the end of the beta.

    • Keith Turner says:

      Sorry, that was my fault, it should read “leaving as little empty space as possible is typically the goal”. Due to the large module sizes and the ship layouts, it can be difficult to figure out the best way to fit modules onboard. If you don’t optimize space, you may miss out on including extra fuel for instance. Unfortunately, this can make ship design a bit tedious as you remove and reposition modules to find that best fit.

      It is definitely simpler than Distant Worlds. There is much less going on here. It also automates almost everything for you if desired. I don’t mind automation at all if it lets me focus on other aspects of the game. Games like EUIV, Crusader Kings, and even Distant Worlds, often automate a lot of activities, but they make up for this by giving the player other things to work on. The problem is, I’m not sure that is going to be the case here.

    • Keith Turner says:

      I didn’t mean to mislead regarding my thoughts. I always like to highlight what a game does well as well as what issues I found with it. In this case, I appreciate some of the novel ideas put forth here, but I’ve got some major concerns about how enjoyable it is at this point in beta. My eventual review will better reflect my feelings once I have many more hours invested in a finished product.

      • ufnv says:

        Sorry to hear you did not like the game.
        Can you point to some particular thing I can address?

        • Gary Vandegrift says:

          Just from the last paragraph, Keith has issues with:

          1) A lack of explanation of some aspects of the game (e.g. research, diplomacy)

          2) Exploration is uneventful and boring

          3) With all the automation in the game, some things that should be, aren’t, e.g. having to micromanage planetary unrest

          I think if you read his entire article, you will see all of the issues that Keith has problems with.

        • ufnv says:

          Well, that’s why I was asking for “particular”, specific problems, not “general” like “Exploration is uneventful and boring” with recommendation “Make it eventful and funny” :)

          The science concept is just new and one needs time to get into it. But in general, if you do not want to bother with understanding how it works and unless you play on hard, you may just leave it “on auto” and you will be fine.

          I just do not know how to explain it in more details – there are explanations in tutorial and in tooltips and also in a manual. This is just a problem of everything new – too much innovation to grasp it immediately – it is much less risky to do anything “as it was in MOO” :)

          With exploration, it also depends on what Beta Keith was playing. For example, in Beta8a there are different kind of things you can find – to benefit science or resources while searching in space anomaly or ancient debris, to get a part of an ancient ship that you can collect and re-assemble when get all of them, to find a wormhole that leads into another system or to encounter a Gaia planet guarded by hostile forces. And that’s not talking about all different kind of planets you find, to plan your empire development depending on the mineral deposits.

          Maybe what it lacks is the visual representation of a solar systems (I mean planets rotating around a sun) – this may make exploration feels less “engaging”, as you explore too fast, without need to fly from one planet to another within one system.

          I’ve got the point about automatic building of police to suppress unrest and I will most likely do this, but the problem is it is not the best way to lower unrest…

        • Gary Vandegrift says:

          Well hopefully Keith will have more detail for you. I haven’t played the beta, so I can’t comment on the game, personally. I do look forward to reading the reviews when the game is released, in hopes of finding a fun, new, space 4x :)

        • Tynendir says:

          First of all thanks Keith for answering my post. It is much appreciated.

          Then for ufnv, I haven’t played your game but I buy most 4X games that come out anyway and here are my thoughts on what I like during the exploration phase (if you are interested):

          – Not risk-free. I like to encounter ennemies, to have problems on my scout that need to be resolved (like a loss in fuel after a close encounter with an asteroid or something). However I do not like wiping out early because my scout was defeated by an unkillable, unescapable ennemy. Basically it needs to be challenging but not overwhelming.

          – Random ressources, a.k.a the goody hut from Civilization 5. I like those though sometimes you might become tributary to them if you are lucky. One example I have is when I play Civ 5. I’ve modded the game so the research are incredibly long while building units and buildings (with the exception of Wonders) are very short. I’m talking about building a Warrior unit in a few turns while it takes 100+ turns to learn the Fishing technology. So I had to deactivate the Goody Huts entirely because they were too OP early when I was lucky enough to discover a technology. So those random ressources shouldn’t be too valuable to cause a balance issue but still significant enough to be sought after (an additional early game ship, some money, a bit of science points, etc).

          – Finding nice spots to colonize. In that case it would be cool planets. I like 4X games to have special things on their planets, like a ring system that cause the planet to have minable ressources in its ring (increasing production by +X or whatever). But at the same time you can also become tributary to those if you are lucky enough to find an amazing planet. So in my opinion those special planets should be abundant (to keep exploration enjoyable and not too much based on luck) but at the same time should have drawbacks. For example in the case of the ring system it may cause issue when building ships as the shipyards are often subjected to asteroid showers (+15% cost in building ships or whatever).

          – Finding nice strategic spots. Contrary to nice spots to colonize for ressources, I love to colonize as early as possible chokepoint and area that will confer me a buffer to prevent ennemy empires to access an entire portion of the map and leaving me free reign to colonize there. I think it’s very easy to find in a star-lanes based 4X game and I got very excited when I saw Keith talking about star-lanes and how you can choose a galazy shape that is more defensively oriented (I like drawn out wars).

          – Obviously as you have seen so far I’ve expressed very personal feelings about what I like and dislike in the Exploration Phase. So I think the most important thing you can do is to leave choice on how people want to play. Giving them options to deactivate options that you might feel are interesting but may be feel unbalanced.

          I think Exploration is one of the most interesting phase there is in a 4X game. It is a phase of new encounters and so much of the future of your empire depends on it. A lot of your mid to late game strategy will depend on how well you managed your Exploration phase. It’s very important for a 4X game to get this right and even if I’m not a developer I can only imagine how hard it is to do it right.

          Good luck.

        • ufnv says:

          Thanks for your suggestions, Tynendir!

          Just to comment, actually in the game there are most if not all the things you are writing about!

          – Not risk-free. You can encounter pirates and decide if you want to attack them or not. Or you can find a wormhole and decide if you want to travel through it. But first, there is a small chance it destroys your ship, second, this can be a one-way trip – you do not know where a wormhole leads until you try!

          – Random resources. Yes, there are either random valuable resources, or pieces of knowledge or just a complete new technology that can be found.

          – Finding nice spots to colonize. There are very rare Gaia planets with extremely good characteristics, but also every planet has it’s bonuses and penalties in some specific areas. What is not done there – it is not presented in a nice textual form. Like it just says “+20% to science” instead of “there is a special herb on a planet that acts like a light drag and makes the imagination of your scientists doing wonders – +20% to science” :)

          – Finding nice strategic spots. Obviously there are strategic systems with a lot connections to other systems. But there are also other FTL mechanics and things like stealth modules to overcome the dead defence :)

          The biggest problem with me I am not a big fun of the exploration phase – I see it as a “recognition of your position” and thus I am more interested in the characteristics my “territory” – location of strategic planets and choke points, ways to other races, etc.

        • Tynendir says:

          Hum I see. I think it would be a mistake to disregard the exploration phase and only consider it as a means to an end. There are definetly interesting stuff to do here to make it more interesting and rewarding. The ideas that I’ve given you are arguably pretty basics and can be found in many established games of the genre.

          Here are few stuffs that are usually not found in 4X games (though with examples):

          -Exploring planets. Sins of Solar Empire Rebellion does it as part of the development of the planet. You don’t know any bonus the planet might have until you develop your exploration of the planet (which costs ressources). You also have a chance to discover rare artifacts that affect your entire empire. I think you can find ways to improve on that system (it can be a bit boring to just click on a button and wait). I don’t know you handle planet surfaces in the game so it would be hard to give an example that could fit your game. In any rate it could be a building, a special ship that can scan planets, a project, a policy of your planet, a special infantry unit that goes around exploring, etc.

          -Give choices. Every time you colonize a planet you could give a choice like Galactic Civilizations (if I recall correctly) does. For example you colonize a nice Terran planet only to discover that it is home to a hallucinegotic plant that causes problem on your colony. You could spend a bit of money to eradicate the problem (no maluses), leave it be (-10% to production or something), develop a special project to remove the plantlife where it would hurt production but use it for science purposes (-5% production, +10% science).

          -Random anomalies. I cannot think of any specific games that has that feature so it’s free of charge ;p. Basically the idea would be that on any tile, point or whatever method you are using that you’ve explored but where you do not have vision, there would be a small chance that an anomaly appear which can be investigated for bonuses and sometimes maluses. This would allow the Exploration phase of the game to go beyond the early part of the game while inciting the player and the AI to scout their borders every now and then. I’m not sure how it would fit in a star-lane game where you can only visit star systems though (again I haven’t played your game).

        • ufnv says:


          BTW, I’ve just added an automatic build of police force as suggested by Keith :)

          It’s now an option that can be switched off you one want to use another ways of dealing with unrest.

        • Keith Turner says:

          Thank you for taking the police option into consideration. I don’t doubt there are better ways to handle it later on, but when everything else is essentially self-managed within the empire, having to micromanage that felt odd to me.

  2. Ashbery76 says:

    This game is mainly about ships design and the tactical combat rather than the strategic game.If you are early game you are not seeing the main focus.

    • BTAxis says:

      But wasn’t one of the criticisms in the article that combat felt lacking, having only a few valid tactics? Though he did mention his experience with the combat system is limited, and maybe my impression of what he meant is off.

      Regardless, it was a point of concern for me too after watching a beta gameplay video. I did get the impression that tactical play had little to do with the outcome of the battles I saw.

      • ufnv says:

        That’s because these videos show the very basic battle, like one ship vs one ship of the same class combat…

        • BTAxis says:

          I’m aware. And I’m certainly not going to judge until I’ve had some first-hand experience. Just thought I’d mention it.

          Edit: Also, I’d like to say that this is a common issue that is not specific to your game. Many tactical space combat games run into this. I recall playing Armada 2526, which lets you set your ships to fancy behaviors like flying in circles, and the optimal tactic was just line abreast + focus fire every single time. The deciding factor for the outcome was mostly numbers and firepower. I had similar experiences in other games too.

          That might not be necessarily bad. You could argue that it makes sense for space battles since there’s no terrain. But if you’re going to have a tactical combat simulation, that simulation had better offer the player ways to outfight the opposition beyond bringing superior forces. At least, that’s how I feel. I hope that makes sense.

  3. ACEofHeart says:

    Since Polaris was one of this year’s game on my radar, I’m a little underwhelmed by it so far. Hopefully some things can be tweaked before it’s final stage.
    On another note, has anyone played the Space game out on Steam called “Into The Void”.
    While not a typical 4X game, it does have one area I do love. The battles, while looking cinematic are actually turn based, with Initiative, shields, power, and weapons all playing a major part. Would love to this model used more often..

  4. echo2361 says:

    In response to Keith’s concerns about some systems in the game not being explained or covered well I offer this.

    I am a beta tester and have been for a while. I must admit at first I was very confused by the research system the game offered. It is unlike anything I’ve encountered before. I even brought up my concerns with the dev, worried that the first impressions the game gave off made a new player confused. The same could be said of the diplomacy system that I first found confusing but now love because of the immersive feeling it offers. After giving things a second shot and learning to take my time and approach the systems one at a time, I came to master them all and now I have a lot of fun with the game.

    Polaris can be an incredibly fun and engaging game once you learn how to play properly. It doesn’t have the steep learning curve of something like Distant Worlds or EU/Crusader Kings, but its certainly a step above most other standard 4x games out there. The dev has included a ton of helpful tool tips, tutorials, and so on to help new players but experience really is the best teacher. So to Keith’s concerns about systems lacking explanation I suggest more play time is needed. Especially cause this game shines in the mid-to-late stage when things get really interesting with new techs, ship hulls, and so on :)

    PS: Current beta builds are adding in a lot of stuff for exploration to spice things up. That area has been lacking but the dev is proving to be very receptive to suggestions and he is keen to implement them quickly.

  5. Mark says:

    Separate, instanced combat? Great idea! This one feature would have solved many if not most of Distant World’s “Hectic gaming hell” problems.

    Good speed controls and auto pausing? Yet another good idea that will undoubtedly help with the above problem.

    Starlanes? TERRIBLE, unimmersive, dumbed-down deal-breaking design. I’m getting so sick of these ridiculous fantasy space roads infecting and utterly ruining otherwise promising games. Next!

    • ufnv says:

      Starlanes is not the only existing FTL travel method in the game…

      • Mark says:

        Well that’s a relief. Can you ignore them from the beginning of the game (by choosing a different FTL) or do you have to develop a tech to get rid of them?

    • Tynendir says:

      I love starlanes. It may not be immersive but it adds some tactical layer, making it easy to create chokepoints and other defensive areas. I hate having to build defenses around all my planets to avoid sneaky attacks (though there are still ways to attack sneakily but usually ennemies can’t attack sneakily in the core of your empire without you being able to retaliate efficiently because most of your forces are out fighting at your borders).

      • Mark says:

        Starlanes dont add tactical layer, they add a STRATEGIC element that you would normally see in a land-based game, specifically roads (lanes) and mountains (impassable terrain).

        Space is SPACE. It doesn’t have choke points and should be treated like space, not like land.

        They also massively dumb down the thought that goes into developing defensive strategy by making defense much easier and by encouraging huge stacks of death parked forever at choke points. Yes its easy to create defensive areas, WAY too easy. Its distressing to see more and more devs crippling their games with these horrible things.

        • Tynendir says:

          It encourages epic battles instead of skirmishes around your borders. I think that starlanes is simple a design choice, a one that I favor as it is easier to balance and make it fun. Most 4X games which do not feature starlanes don’t have any reliable means to protect or predict an attack without seriously hindering your combat potential. Moreover it usually only favors the player as the IA tend to go on a straight line to attack anyway…

          IMO a non starlane based 4X game should feature those elements:
          A smart IA that can use lack of vision to its advantage.
          Some kind of mean to predict the attack that isn’t too demanding on your economy (listening posts, etc) and that are reliable.
          Reliable ways to defends your planets against small incursions (like a starbase that is actually good at blowing stuff up).

          Concerning the last point I meant that it shouldnt be easy, almost impossible for a small to medium size force to take control of a core world of an empire. However it could have advantage to still send such forces as you could maybe cripple their economy (embargo mode or something) or simply act as a diversion.

          But in my experience those types of games do not feature those solutions and that’s why I definetly prefer starlane type games.

        • Mark says:

          “Most 4X games which do not feature starlanes don’t have any reliable means to protect or predict an attack without seriously hindering your combat potential.”

          And yet free movement games like MOO1, MOO2, Distant Worlds and Gal Civ are BY FAR the best selling and most popular 4x space games ever made.

          And somehow players still manage to defend effectively in those games. Go figure.

        • Tynendir says:

          Well they do feature the elements I’ve mentionned. But tell me, recently, how many 4X games could be deemed worthy of the attention ported towards MoO or GalCiv?

          Certainly not GalCiv III, nor Endless Space, StarDrive 1 nor 2. Though some of them are enjoyable none of them has yet managed to keep me hooked for more than a few games. For example Star Drive II is great on the ship design and tactical battle side of things but is very poor because of the plethora of bugs and the very poor balance and IA of the game.

          I guess I digress.

        • Mark says:

          “But tell me, recently, how many 4X games could be deemed worthy of the attention ported towards MoO or GalCiv?”

          I’d say that Distant Worlds is the only real contender. Not a perfect Game by any means but brilliant, ground breaking and widely acclaimed by reviewers.

        • Tynendir says:

          I’ve never managed to get into Distant Worlds as much as I tried. The learning curve is way too steep and I never managed to immerse myself into the game. But then gaming is about preferences in my opinion. It is an art form. Let’s agree to disagree.

        • Mark says:

          When it comes to starlanes I’m happy to agree to disagree. My preference is to have them as optional like Stellaris plans to do, then I just never use them, you always use them and everyone’s happy.

          Whether that’s going to happen with Polaris Sector is something I’m confused about. Ufnv seems to be saying “yes theyre optional from the beginning”. Keith seems to be saying “No they’re not”. I guess I’ll just wait for the review.

        • Tynendir says:

          I think what he meant is that they are optional like Star Ruler II’s star lanes. Different modes of transportations (FTL, Stargats, Instant Teleportation) but still using starlanes in a way.

          I’ll have to check Stellaris though, gosh I can’t wait for new 4X games to come out.

    • BTAxis says:

      This “starlanes are bad because they are not immersive” argument makes no sense to me. You’re saying you’re fine with suspending your disbelief about everything in space games that has NOTHING to do with reality, such as sound in space, ambient light in space, ridiculous scales, visible lasers, faster-than-light travel, etc, etc, etc, but you can’t suspend your disbelief about space lanes because they’re “fantasy”?

      Stupid argument. Next!

      • Mark says:

        “You’re saying you’re fine with suspending your disbelief about everything in space games that has NOTHING to do with reality”

        Please dont presume to tell me what I’m saying unless I actually say it. The argument that you just dismissed as stupid is indeed stupid, not to mention shallow and simplistic. But it came entirely from your head, not mine.

        • neil says:

          In fairness to BTAxis, you said …

          “Starlanes? TERRIBLE, unimmersive, dumbed-down deal-breaking design. I’m getting so sick of these ridiculous fantasy space roads”


          “Space is SPACE. It doesn’t have choke points and should be treated like space, not like land.”

          Those comments would suggest you are objecting to starlanes, at least in part, on the basis of a lack of realism. It is thus reasonable to point out the cornucopia of pure fantasy elements in pretty much every space 4X game.

        • Mark says:

          Creating a simplistic one-note strawman, representing that as my entire stance on an issue and then calling me stupid for believing in his freshly fabricated strawman is not at all cool.

          If he wanted to know my reasoning he could have just asked rather than arrogantly telling me what I’m saying and then judging me on what he just invented.

  6. Keith Turner says:

    Rather than respond to everyone individually, I’ll add some additional comments here.

    The version played is Beta 7A. I am playing the Steam press build and as of this morning this is still the most current version available. If version 8A exists and improves many aspects of the game, I don’t have access to it.

    As noted throughout the article, my impressions are based on the beta build I had access to it and are just that, impressions. It certainly will take more time to fully evaluate, review, and actually rate the game. That said, I’ve played a lot of 4X and other strategy games and have a pretty good handle on what I like to see and what worries me when it comes to these genres. This may or may not be the same types of things that concern others in the community.

    My statement that exploration is “uneventful and boring” is relative to many other 4X and grand strategy games. I should be finding interesting things to do and discover early on, not hours into the game. Look at my review of StarDrive 2 and you’ll see I enjoyed the many varied things the galaxy has for the player to discover. Even though I had issues with Endless Space and felt it lacked in exploration as well, it did have planetary anomalies and luxury goods to compete over. Endless Legend (though fantasy) improved on that even further. I haven’t see any of this type of thing in the hours I’ve spent playing Polaris Sector.

    Star lanes are definitely the dominant form of travel for at least the first few hours of play. I’ve not seen “Sword of the Stars” multiple FTL styles. There is a “Stargate Module” as a possible starting trait, but I believe it still requires first traveling by star lane and then setting it up. Even then, it had a pretty limited duration before it collapsed as I recall. I didn’t see any other races using any travel method aside from Star lane, and certainly saw no-one flying in open space.

    Police seem built for handling unrest (as marines are better for actually fighting/defending), but I’m not going to argue that there isn’t a better way. They just seem like an obvious way and the game isn’t really suggesting other methods. Perhaps some type of council/advisers would help guide players with this. Regardless, I was not notified consistently about the unrest issues at each planet and having to keep up with that when everything else is automatic is tedious.

    (EDIT: While typing this, ufnv commented that he added in an option to automate police to keep up with unrest. Thanks ufnv!)

    It is definitely possible that combat gets more interesting with more time invested. It is also possible that this is a game that is more about tactics and ship design than empire management and exploration. If that turns out to be the case though, I will say that tends to step away from my preferences. I think there is a good reason why Stellaris and Endless Space 2 are both using more strategic/less tactical combat systems. Tactical combat in space 4X, compared to fantasy 4X, is typically much less interesting.

    • Mark says:

      “I will say that tends to step away from my preferences.”

      It steps directly towards mine. I love tactical combat in a 4x, the deeper and more detailed the better. I dont see any reason why space tactical combat cant be at least as interesting as fantasy. Its just different icons on a different background.

      • Keith Turner says:

        To be clear, the step away from my preferences is regarding a game’s primary focus being on ship design and tactical combat. For me, that is not enough to carry a game or give it longevity.

        I’ve yet to see a deep space 4X combat system that includes the number of tactical considerations a game like Age of Wonders 3 or Legendary Heroes includes. These include, but are not limited to, unit placement, unit advancement (not just % increases with rank), terrain, magical abilities, unit special abilities, summoning, and status effects. Is there a reason space 4X couldn’t somehow replicate most of these? No, likely not, but it would require a new type of design and I’ve not seen anyone make a good attempt at it.

        • Mark says:

          I’d agree with that, 4x games definitely need more than tactical combat which is why I’m not a big fan of games like “Gratuitous Space Battles”.

          But I greatly prefer tactical combat to be as deep and nuanced as possible. SOTS 2 probably came the closest to achieving that goal although they messed so much else up that the resulting game is barely playable. Great tactical combat though.

          As to why nobody seems to be able to make 4x tactical space combat as deep as 4x fantasy combat…… good question. Why not devs?

    • Tynendir says:

      “It is also possible that this is a game that is more about tactics and ship design then empire management and exploration.”


      Sorry couldn’t resist. Teehee.

  7. t1it says:

    Not particular impressive for being a title soon to be released. Looks like the game got the mechanical parts ‘right’ for what it wants to do, but has little emphasis on things like story & immersion. The dev doesn’t like the exploration phase that’s telling. Also doesn’t look like it has enough depth in the fist place.
    I want to return to space 4x but looks like I have to wait for stellaris (or ES2).

  8. salvo says:

    well, I’ll probably end up buying the game anyway, as I get most 4x games in the hope to find the ‘one’ I’m looking for. I just wanted to point out that, to me, exploration is the most important aspect of a space 4x game, and since exploration takes place on the galaxy map its presentation is essential. To have systems just represented by a static list of its planets on top of the main map, feels rather underwhelming. I think a visual representation of the systems like in DW, SOTS2, Space Empires V gives the player the impression to have indeed discovered something new and interesting, and above all to bee engaged in space exploration and not just in moving units on a board. It may be too much work for a small team to implement such a feature, but on the other hand, afaik, DW and SP V have mainly been developped by only one developer.

    I just wanted to add that I’m skeptical about the trend to total automation in space 4x games as I think micromanaging too is an essential part of 4x games as it draws attention to what a space 4x game is essentailly about: your planets. I’d like to have them unique in some way of the other, not just a uniform variable an AI governor can take care for. I agree that micromanaging can become tedious but I think it’s one essential task of the design to avoid it getting tedious not by eliminating it but by keeping it interesting. Having everything automated makes anything indistinguishable: it amounts to discover, colonize and forget it, get to the next one.

  9. FireStorm1010 says:

    Im a betatester of Polaris and i must say I like it very much.
    The strongest features of Polaris are imho research tree, ship design, and how the new modules researched enable new tactics. So it comes into its own once you advance a bit into the game, Polaris is a bit slow in that effect. Also for me the mineral based economy adds an interesting unique dimension to the game, specially that its calculated on each module put on ships. So sometimes you might be forces to use not the best modules, because they are to expensive in terms of minerals…

    Also AI is pretty challenging on hard. Maybe Polaris hasnt got as many exploration features as say SD2, but what its got is working and balanced. You got a sense your research really advances you unlike in SD2. Ihave made a video about this game, if Slitherine allows me to go public with it, i will link it in these comments

    • Gary Vandegrift says:

      I, for one, would love to see a video.

    • SQW says:

      When you said AI was challenging on hard, did you mean it can make a lot of stuff on the cheap and zerg you OR that it plays intelligently?

      • FireStorm1010 says:

        I hope im not breaching the NDA but:
        Imho its a bit of both: For sure AI uses decent and varied ship designs so you cant kill it with some cookie cutter exploit tactic (at least i havent found it) . For example at some point i felt fighters were only way to go , as they seemed to kill everything, and AI shortly statrted fielding anti fighter capital ships, decimating my fighters. Also AI will do some sneaky stuff like establhing temp stargates behind your blockade points with stealth ships. But also ofc it is pretty efficient at research and production and expansion.

    • Tynendir says:

      I don’t think SD2 is a good example concerning epxloration. Sure there are a few quests to be found around and systems to explore but it’s very limited. If you tell me Polaris is lesser than SD2 in terms of exploration then it does not bode well.

      • FireStorm1010 says:

        I dont think i can say more about this without breaching the nda, i woudl have to go hvily into specifics.

  10. Manfromstars says:

    Hello, please listen some words from one of most space strategy games experienced and best knowledge player and betatester.

    1) Polaris Sector is not best game and not aim be it. But is very good game with a good interesting points. And fun.

    2) It is hard say something and not unleash some spoilers. But in later phases of gameplay you can be surprised. And if you not give time for Exloring galaxy you can may loose game. Not know if on normal or easy mode. Because i play only on hard and specific setings that most work on every space strategy game. Exploration is very importantn, mainly if you want have one from two strongest game space ships and also must thing how you can reach those ships parts and able construct that ship from parts. Especialy if you play on larger galaxies.

    3) Normaly i hate starlanes, but in this game it bring you more strategy. Playing on hard you like that have star lanes and you able if is posible make borders for your empire for defence and middle empire you can not have defence fleets or space stations.

    4) Food in begin game you not have problem with food, but later you can have a terryble food problems and stoping to planet automation and demolish and build another buildings to have food.

    5) For construction and Research you can have orbital platforms, but they need at first certain factories or laboratories until you can build one orbital. You can try build as many orbitals as you can and when have max orbital factories and researchs you can deconstruct those ground. You also in this have problems with population caps on planets and then you must wise which buildings you build.

    6) Earth planets are most vell around usable planets. Oceanic are best for science or as great farms for food. And planets without atmosphere are best for construction and gathering resources.
    Gas giant are important in later game where you can harvest resources to able have big fleets.

    7) Research is good and interesting, and you must thing what realy need prior to research fits best for your strategy style playing.

    8) Espionage and sabotage bring in this game new way, for my gameplay stile i not much use it, but it can bring interesting posibilities. But it is still need some revork able iniciate revolt planet enemy empire or steal technology.

    9) Design ship it is realy good minigame and train your brain about combination, and you also not look on use every free space on ship. But also you wantet most is have battle ship in strong defence, strong in attack and also very importat have it fast as it possible and also have good fly range. It is that all you must thing when you design your ship or satelite.

    • Mark says:

      “Normaly i hate starlanes, but….”

      I was with you all the way up until “but”.

      • Manfromstars says:

        If there you not have star lanes, then it must be completly reworked whole game. Because if you start war or declare you war of two oposite AI. Then you are doomed. You not much chances to good defend.

        There is normaly problematical if you alow AI to colonize one planet in your inner empire space and when start war you have problem to defend your planets. ;)

        • Mark says:

          Strange how people who played MOO 1, MOO 2, Distant worlds, Gal Civ and many more free-movement games for 30 years somehow managed to defend just fine without ANY space-roads restricting their movement. And these were the most fun, best selling, most popular 4x space games ever made.

          The idea that starlanes are necessary for defense simply doesn’t hold water. In fact my experience is that they greatly dumb-down defensive strategy to “camp a few choke points with your stacks of death and wait”. They make defensive strategy *way* too easy and boring.

          If starlanes really *are* necessary for defense in Polaris Sector then reworking the whole game so that they aren’t sounds like a brilliant idea.

        • Manfromstars says:

          Mark I unable directly reply you. Then post new.

          Star lanes yes or not it depend on game balance and fundamentalistic.
          Sins of Solar Empires have to star lanes as Space Empires too.
          Both are great games with loot fun.
          I´m not see any strange on my opinions about starlanes or not.
          I´m only most prefer not star lanes. But for that still there never been space strategy game that bring me full feeling for satisfy.
          Old games like MOO, Reunion, Imperium Galactica was that soo good because there in that time not much concurrence.

          I´m not say or write that star lanes are necessary for defense. But apparently bring that you can use them as good for military defense and can take care about spies ships that able move throught.
          Later in game you can fly out of starlanes.

          This game is arranged for play star lanes and not for free move.
          For free move it must be game a big rework and also need more time to make it.

          In this starlane, give you some way easier things to do and some way harder to do. In free move in 3D galaxy you have problem that you must build defense on every planet, and you not have that much resources for supply those defense fleets. And it also make slowing game.

          I have question, you play beta on example max 900 stars with full AI players and on hard with pirates? And you feel in whole game boring? And not have every time something to do?

          This game is ideal for intermediate strategy players or not well skilled players, not for hardcore.
          But for hardcore players can bring too some interesting fun. ;)

  11. ACEofHeart says:

    I’m one who does enjoy the concept of Starlanes. Yes it does make it easier to set up defenses but for me I look at them as only feasible way to “fast travel” between Star systems. I care much more about other areas, especially how diplomacy and research is handled. Looking forward to seeing final product.. good luck on it.. :D

  12. Avon says:

    I never buy games that contain star-lines. It just encourages them to make more such games. There are no lines in space.

    • Vendor-Lazarus says:

      Nor are there FTL drives…and space is not 2D or turnbased either.
      It doesn’t leave a lot of 4X games left for you to play..

      I’ve had a similar discussion before, with Mark, but to all you star-lane haters, let me be blunt.
      You don’t like star-lanes, fine.
      Some do however, and there is a fine line between stating your preference and outright want to discourage the creation of games you don’t personally like. I say, can’t we have both (maybe even in the same game?)
      Criticism can be constructive, done right and allowed to be discussed.

      I can understand you not feeling immersed or in a realized universe as I want a chase-cam (third person) in my space-pilot sims to be able to play at all.
      There too I encourage both options being available.

      Can there not be room for both kinds of games?

      • Mark says:

        If memory serves we both ended up agreeing that making them optional (like Stellaris will be doing) is the best solution since that immediately makes everybody happy. Well everybody except the poor devs who suddenly have a lot more work to do.

        But it results in an overall better game that appeals to more people and sells more units so I have no problem with them working harder :)

      • ACEofHeart says:

        Well said. I agree on that everyone has a right to an opinion. It’s when they think theirs is right and those who differ are somehow delusional or doesn’t know what space is that gets me. LOL
        We’re talking about computer games here people. Most companies are going to design what THEY want and maybe tweak it afterwards. Gamers can then create mods even. Many space games have had star lanes in the past and I see on the horizon many more than also will have them. Buy them or not. But please stop being insulting to other gamers who enjoy something you don’t.
        Besides this game Polaris, games like the new Master of Orion, Stars in the Shadow and Endless Space 2 will definitely be welcomed by this strategy gamer. I rather encourage these companies in this genre to just do the best they can in all areas rather than condemn them for just one.

        • Avon says:

          I simply state my opinion and why i believe. The insult comes from your own mind. I will say what I want without intimidation. Thank you.

        • Mark says:

          He’s right ACEofHeart, he didn’t insult you at any point, and neither did I. The fact that you dont like what someone is saying doesn’t automatically make it an insult. If you dont agree with someone’s position then feel free to debate the issue rather than frivolously crying “insult”. Either that or we’re going to have to start including the following whenever people express an opinion….

          Disclaimer: The above post is nothing more than my own personal opinion and is not under any circumstances to be misused, misunderstood or misrepresented as a personal or general implied insult by starlane apologists for their own purposes.

          Shouldn’t really be necessary but that ought to cover it.

        • ACEofHeart says:

          Mark, first off I never mentioned anyone by name, I only said every time I posted that I didn’t mind or liked starlanes, someone would post something about the properties of space. I felt there is a difference about posting what computer game mechanics you like or don’t like as opposed to preaching of their knowledge of space or what traveling to star systems is, that’s not debating either, so I actually find your comment above personal and insulting. I’m just a retired military man who does strategy games as a hobby and I don’t “cry” when I state my opinion about anything in life. Period

      • Keith Turner says:

        This discussion has outlived its original purpose at this point in time. I’m asking that everyone agree to respect one another and that we move on at this point.

  13. Keith Turner says:

    Everyone is certainly entitled to express their opinions about 4X game mechanics on the site. If someone wants to profess their dislike or appreciation for an aspect of 4X space games, they are certainly welcome to. If you want to take this a step further and engage in a debate with one another about why this mechanism should or shouldn’t exist in these games, that’s also perfectly fine.

    I don’t feel like anyone has been actively trying to insult anyone else, but we have gotten close a few times in the comments here. Let’s remember we are all 4X space fans here and maintain respect for one another. It is also worth keeping in mind that it is difficult to detect tone when reading text, especially with an international community, so it is important to carefully consider how things are worded.

    • SQW says:

      For all the professed interest in new innovations, the vast majority of gamers are tied down by what they are most comfortable with. The argument over star lane is so nonsensical.

      We all know the real issues are AI and static research trees. =P

      Also, 60+ posts on this B-list title? WTH?

      • Gary Vandegrift says:

        SQW said, “Also, 60+ posts on this B-list title? WTH?”

        Um… judging the game before it’s released, are you? How do you know it’s not an A-list, or a D-list? :)

        In any case, I think most of the comments are about whether starlanes are a good thing or not. Personally, I don’t care what the game uses for FTL travel, I’ll deal with it :)

      • Mark says:

        I’m actually with you on that, bad AI in new games is a huge issue which seems to be gradually getting worse. Unfortunately we cant immediately see whether the AI is any good or not until we play the game. Starlanes on the other hand tend to stand out in early screenshots as immediately obvious flaws.

      • SQW says:


        Slitherine makes interesting niche space games but they don’t have a track record on AAA level ones. Polaris has some neat ideas that separate it from MOO wannabes but so far, they are all on paper and much of them are gimmicks anyway.

        The pretty scathing first impression also tells me it’s another space game that tries to wow human players with awesome sounding mechanics but hide an AI that will struggle to understand even the basics.

        The B-list is what I consider games that are mechanically sound and functional but not very enjoyable due to some core inadequacies. To be an A-list, the game should be enjoyable DESPITE its inadequacies.

  14. Gary Vandegrift says:

    Keith, do you have an ETA on a review of the released version? Polaris Sector was released today.

    • Keith Turner says:

      I am going to say mid-late next week is likely. While I would have loved to have a release date review ready, my work schedule and the timing of other releases (Sector Zero in this case) hasn’t allowed me to do so.

      • Gary Vandegrift says:

        Sounds good. It appears to be a good time for space 4x games :) So far there are ten Steam reviews for Polaris Sector, and all of them are positive. Now it appears I’ll have to budget for both SD2: Sector Zero and Polaris Sector. Then Stellaris in May.

        I look forward to your review.

  15. Gary Vandegrift says:

    I found this post regarding the AI in Polaris, posted by the dev “Ufnv” in the game’s Steam forum. I thought some of you might be interested. The dev gave permission to post this info anywhere.


    There are basically two AIs. One is the “strategical” and another is “tactical”.

    Strategical works on a global map – it develops the empire, designs it’s own ships, does diplomacy, plans and executes invasions and covert operations. It is quite different on different complexity levels, so Hard AI is really “smarter” than Normal one.

    The AI is multi-layered. This means that there is a global level that defines the development goals, then there are execution levels that try to execute the strategy, then are engineering levels that are responsible for specific things like designing a ship to counter known enemy designs. Each operation is the result of joint efforts of several AIs.

    For example, if the strategy is to develop some sector, it first checks if it can colonize something. If not, then checks if some treaty can be signed to allow for colonization. If not, then it starts to plan a hostile operation. (this is different for different races, but anyway)
    For this, it runs espionage actions first, to get a better understanding of the potential enemy capacities and to determine the best strike targets.
    Then, it calculates the necessary attack force to perform the attack. This is done in accordance to the current military doctrine (that is moddable, btw). Also it calculates necessary defence forces to sustain a prolonged conflict in the case of failure. Then it adjusts economics to support the plan. Then it starts producing and concentrating attack and defence forces – for the primary attack plan and for the reserve attack plans. In the same time it moves spies to have them ready for sabotage actions – to damage the enemy’s economics and limit his ability to strike back.
    In parallel, AI performs some diplomacy to get some allies or convince others to attack that enemy as well.
    And only after all the preparations are done, it starts the attack. But usually, after requesting to give him a star without fighting :)

    But I also intentionally did some things to ensure these AI plans do not always succeed – like a simulation of errors in planning, etc. Also, Player’s efforts in disinformation play a significant role in AI planning and can break everything :)

    AI can also learn from his mistakes. For example, AI can remember he underestimated player’s forces in some system and adjust accordingly.

    As for AI cheating and having bonuses on Hard.
    First, that’s Player who has bonuses on Normal and extra-bonuses on Easy :)
    Second, yes, AI has better “tolerance” to the lack of resources on Hard than player. So, it does not get extra resources, but his fleet degrade slower than player ones. This effectively means that building new fleets with the lack of resources is as hard for AI as for a player, but supporting already built fleets is easier. Also AI tends to trade effectively and make a very good deposits of minerals :)

    Another significant AI cheating is that under some conditions it’s fleets can fly to the longer distances than it’s fuel allows. I really try to minimize the use of this cheat, but it’s the question of a significant performance optimization. With this cheat disabled, the game can start lagging, as planning algorithms become much more difficult. However, this cheat does not give a significant advantage to the AI, at least starting from the mid-game. In the beginning – yes it can give some.

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