While there are quite a lot of good titles that come out amidst the mediocre fare that floods the ocean of video games, there are some that slip in which are rather humiliating displays of incompetency and inconsideration. A lot of these games have been written into the annals of legend as the worst among the rest, not to mention that they provide cannon fodder for angry reviewers everywhere. Sword of the Stars II was no different when it first came out, but here it is again with an enhanced edition.
Sword of the Stars II sounded like a cool 4X strategy game at first, but it flopped hard when it was released while still unfinished. The developers delivered an apology to the gaming public and with tail tucked between their legs, they came out with an “enhanced edition” thirteen months later and tried again to release it. This time, there are less things to complain about. At least it’s playable now, but you’ll still find its design to be rather head-scratching at best.
The user interface is still just as bad as in the first release. If there’s a game design class that focuses on user interface, then they should use this game as an example of bad UI design. While you can leave the unpolished details aside, like letters and numbers that glitch up every now and then, it’s the disorganization and dissent of the interface itself that serves to perplex.
You can have the manual by your side as reference, and you’ll still be confused. This game is not something that you can learn just by playing it, so you will need a tutorial. Maybe you’ll even need to earn a degree on this game before you can even play it since it’s so frustrating. Unfortunately, there’s no tutorial in this game to speak of, so you’re feeling your way in the dark here. The camera controls also make brain surgery seem childish, requiring a high degree of self control to not want to smash your monitor after having to negotiate with the camera for an extended period of time.
As for gameplay, you get to choose between seven races, which is a lot even for an expansive game. Three is usually the magic number when it comes to races for strategy games since designers can work off a rock-paper-scissors dynamic between the three in various ways. Designing and balancing seven factions would take up a lot of time, so perhaps this was one of the mistakes committed by the developers. Each race has its own strengths and weaknesses, with a new race being added to this enhanced edition. Perhaps the strategy game that has more than seven races is Sid Meier’s Civilization series, but that game’s quite an exception in the first place.
The game comes in two major phases, with the galaxy map view in turn-based action and battles in real time. There are several victory conditions that you can achieve in order to win, so you have to focus your strategy around one or two for best effect. These conditions include being the last man standing, conquering a large enough area of the map for a period of time, and so on. You get to manage your economy, build ships, research upgrades, scout the space around you, and fight your opponents in order to find a way to win.
The missions are disjointed and uninteresting, with survey missions being separate from colonization missions. Considering that those two things seem to go hand in hand, it’s too bad that you can’t play it together. Also, battles are limited to 12 minutes, which may sound like a good idea to avoid long battles that may get boring. The only problem is that 12 minutes is not enough time to get anything significant done, so you’re left with draw after draw.
Sadly, this is not the first time that Paradox Interactive published a sub-par title, the other notable example being Gettysburg: Armored Warfare, which has become notorious for being somewhat a modern equivalent of Battlecruiser 3000 AD in terms of how unfinished it was. Paradox has released quality games like the Mount & Blade series and War of the Roses though, so they’re not totally a trash heap. But to think that they’ve published two sad displays of incompetency is just disappointing.
It’s a less embarrassing edition, but it’s still not really satisfactory. Unfortunately, the goals set for this ambitious project proved to lofty for this particular game. If you are looking for good space strategy games, then look no further than Sins of a Solar Empire and Endless Space.
Tested in PC. Final Score: 4/10