Nearly a year after the release of StarDrive 2, its first DLC, Sector Zero, has now arrived. While some DLCs take a subtle approach and add small things here and there, Sector Zero boldly places its primary changes right in front of you from the get-go. If you’re at all familiar with the base game, you’ve certainly seen the oddly blob shaped influence bubbles that define your empire. Well, I hope you weren’t too attached as it’s time to say goodbye to them, and hello to hexes. A brand new hex based sector system has been introduced that has changed your empire’s boundaries from blobs to bold outlines. This is far from just an aesthetic change as this new system has been integrated into many of the existing gameplay systems including combat, technology, and even victory conditions.
Did I say victory conditions? Yes, indeed I did! While StarDrive 2 was a good game, and one which refined and did justice to the Master of Orion II formula, it certainly wasn’t without its share of flaws. One of my primary concerns was certainly a lack of victory conditions, and Sector Zero brings with it three new options to explore. In addition, it also addresses what I and many others had concerns about, the controversial tactical ground combat system, by redesigning ground combat almost entirely.
If your the type who just wants more of everything in your DLC, you’re in luck as Sector Zero adds in a bit of that as well. There are some new technologies to discover, new events to find, and even a new galactic threat to encounter. Is it enough to make Sector Zero a great game rather than just a good one? Lets find out!
Hexes aren’t just for wargames anymore
Expanding your empire is a completely new experience with this DLC installed. The galaxy map has been drastically changed due to a total conversion to equally sized hexagon shaped sectors. Every star system is now contained within a sector, but not every sector contains a star system. Some sectors are simply empty, while many others feature new locations unique to this DLC. Hazards like nebulas and ion storms create natural barriers out of some sectors, and while not impassable, they demand careful consideration due to the negative effects they can have on movement speed, shielding, weaponry, and ship hulls. There are also many new special resource locations, places like ordnance depots, black holes, and debris fields, and these can benefit not only your nearby colonies but sometimes your entire empire once take under your control.
To expand your empire, you can either colonize new systems or build construction ships that can claim new territory for you. Construction ships can build supply stations in any unoccupied sector that does not contain a star system, nebula, or ion storm. When completed, the sector becomes a “fortified” part of your empire. When I say “fortified”, I don’t necessarily mean it’s offering any sort of tangible defense against attack. Although your supply stations can be indeed be upgraded to starbases for that purpose, what I really mean is that a rival empire can’t simply absorb the sector anymore. This is because every station you’ve built exerts influence on nearby sectors, and given enough time, you can actually absorb nearby sectors into your empire automatically. This is not possible however if an empire has a supply station or colonized planets in the sector. It is also possible for multiple empires to exert influence on a neutral, unoccupied sector, with the one producing the most influence claiming it for themselves.
Obviously creating as large an empire as possible provides many benefits, so constructing stations is a vital part of this DLC’s experience. It’s important to begin doing so quickly as your borders will continue to expand on their own as nearby sectors are naturally absorbed due to the influence of your stations. Since enemy fleets are reluctant to move through your claimed zones, taking over as many as possible early on is not a bad tactic at all. In my experience, using a cluster of nebula and ion storms as a naturally occurring chokepoint is another sound strategy as they can really hinder enemy forces and prevent a quick surprise strike. While a basic station gets the job done, your stations can also be retrofitted with starbases for a small amount of defense, scanning improvements to see further out, subspace projectors to speed fleet movement, and even some more specialized upgrades. This can lead to a bit of micromanagement as each construction ship requires your attention on a regular basis to keep things moving, but overall it’s worth the mild annoyance for the benefits offered.
Exterminating people is yesterday’s news
One of my chief complaints with StarDrive 2 was the lack of any victory condition other than extermination. With the addition of three new victory conditions, score, ascension, and expansion, I’m pleased to report that my concerns have been addressed. A new victory screen presents an overview of how each empire is doing in each category, even those that are still “unknown” to you, and I’ve found this allows you to focus your efforts throughout the game in a meaningful way.
Score is relatively simple and involves a 1000 turn timer. At the end of 1000 turns, the empire with the most points wins. Rather than present an arbitrary number, a details screen shows you exactly how your score is calculated, and this includes colonies, citizens, fleets, tech, territory, and even approval rating. Ascension actually involves two distinct victory conditions, one of which could be seen as a tech victory, while the other is something… different. Expansion on the other hand is based on control of every special resource sector, things like the ordnance depots and black holes I mentioned earlier, and this offers a quicker end than a full on extermination. While at launch this was not the case, aside from extermination, each of these can now be toggled off from the main menu if undesired.
My experience with an ascension victory on brutal difficulty has made me a believer. While I did pull off an ascension win, the AI was hot on my heels in a near photo finish. An AI score victory was nearly at hand, with 950 of the 1000 required turns behind us, and they also had begun their push to an ascension victory as well based on the reporting of the ever present GNN news robot. A turtle victory is indeed possible, but careful diplomatic considerations help with this as does a defense fleet formidable enough to give them pause.
In all honestly, I should have lost that particular game. The Vulfar made a few attempts against me, but I used diplomacy and liberally gave tech away to keep them outside my borders. I’d also researched diplomatic techs and hired a diplomatic leader to keep the peace at all costs. The Chukk on the other hand were powerful, and had they responded when I began my ascension, they could have rolled their fleets in and decimated me. It would be nice to see this addressed in a future patch, so that players closing in on victory receive appropriate AI attention. I was of course only on brutal, not the brutal x2 or brutal x4 difficulties, so perhaps things would have been different had I been up to a tougher challenge.
Ground combat to please classic 4X fans
If the deterministic turn based ground combat in StarDrive 2 was a turnoff for you, you’ll be very happy to know that a much more abstract and classic system has now been put in place. While the original combat still remains for “away missions”, those like the quests for certain heroes, all planetary ground combat is now presented in an abstract manner. The forces involved appear on either side of the screen and a display shows their damage, hitpoints, and any modifiers they may have, whether due to their species or technology they’ve discovered. With a quick press of the “FIGHT” button, some lasers are fired back and forth and some troops die off. Combat can continue like this over several turns with each side trading shots until only one remains. This means that conquering a planet can take some time.
While not revolutionary, this system is something I know a lot of people wanted. The original system was innovative, but ultimately clunky and tedious at times. The AI also didn’t know how to control their units that well, so this system has placed both sides on a more equal footing.
Everything else you’d expect in a DLC
Aside from the headliners, this DLC includes a plethora of smaller additions to the game. There aren’t any new playable races, but there are some new techs. Not all of these can be discovered via traditional means either, so keep your eyes peeled as you explore the galaxy. There are new events, new goodies to find, and quests to pursue. There is even a new super weapon that you’ll know when you see it. The potential galaxy size has also doubled to 200.
While not part of the DLC specifically, it’s worth noting that StarDrive 2 itself has received some updates since my original review. So if you haven’t played recently, you may notice new features like Brutal x2 and Brutal x4 difficulties, AI planetary governors capable of automating some of your planets, and new “game-changing” starting techs that force you to adopt a completely different playstyle.
Sector Zero has managed to successfully alleviate several key issues with StarDrive 2. In some cases, it even fixes issues I didn’t realize the core game had. While it’s unfortunate that diplomatic options weren’t really touched and that alliances and federations are still non-existent, it’s clear that this DLC adds a lot and offers a good overall value. When it comes to DLC, often times they are nice to have, but hardly essential. In the case of Sector Zero, if you liked StarDrive 2 and want to enhance your experience with it in a meaningful way, this DLC is a must have.
Space Sector score:
– Hexes significantly change expansion for the better
– Addition of multiple victory conditions allows for new strategies
– Ground combat is simpler and less time consuming
– New techs, events, and a few surprises allow for further variation from game to game
– Constructing stations can involve a lot of micromanagement
– AI should respond to imminent player victory, at least on the harder difficulties
– Diplomatic options remain largely unchanged and limited
Keith Turner, also known as aReclusiveMind here on SpaceSector, has been an avid gamer ever since he first laid his hands on a Commodore 128 in the mid 1980s. He enjoys multiple computer game genres, but his primary interests are in deep strategy games, 4x games, rpgs, and action rpgs. He enjoys writing and hopes to contribute with additional reviews, previews, and informative AARs to the community. See all Keith’s posts here.Subscribe RSS
- StarDrive: Beta Pre-Orders Pushed to Beginning of 2013
- StarDrive: Dan’s New Teaser Video for Gamescon 2012
- StarDrive 2: New Video Shows Strategic and Tactical Layers
- StarDrive Heading to Steam for Pre-Purchase in 2 Months
- StarDrive Screens [Updated]