Summary: We go hands-on with a preview build of the upcoming 4X-real time space strategy game from developer Kerberos Productions.
Kerberos Productions was formed by members of the former Barking Dog Studios, who developed two space based strategy games in Homeworld: Cataclysm and Treasure Planet: Battle at Procyon (Barking Dog was bought by Rockstar a few years ago and are currently working on the long-in-development game Bully). Sword of the Stars' storyline takes place in the far future where the human race expands beyond our small solar system. Since this is a space strategy and combat game, the human race naturally encounters three alien races in their trek through the stars, and they aren't exactly happy to see us.
One of the more interesting aspects of the game is that all four playable races have different ways in getting around the galaxy. The human race uses the Node drive, which can only be used in certain solar systems that have a "node" that allows access to a faster-than-light rapid transit solution. Not all star systems have a node, however, which means sometimes human starships have to take the slow boat to Centauri. The alien bug like race known as the Hivers don't have a native faster-than-light (FTL) drive solution but can establish Teleport Gates in each system that be used by the slow ships to transport between star systems. The token reptilian aliens (reptaliens?) called the Tarka have Warp Drives for their starships that allow for transport from star to star. Finally, the aquatic race called the Liir have what they called the Stutter Warp, which allow for shorter but instant transport not only between stars but inside star systems as well.
As we mentioned before, Sword of the Stars uses turn based gameplay for planning. You will be able to build your ships, colonize planets in the game's galaxy, and research new technologies. Much like Galactic Civilizations II, Sword of the Stars will allow you to actually custom design your own ships with the game providing over 290 different types of sections you can add to your ships. The game gives you access to just a few designs but as you research more technologies more sections open up for you to use. The game has three main classes (Destroyers, Cruisers and Dreadnoughts) and you can mix and match sections to give your ships upgraded or new abilities. Naturally, each of the four alien races has different types of technology trees to research. Of course you can arm your ships to the teeth with turrets, mines, and beam weapons and with certain exceptions can load out their ships however they feel like it.
The strategy portion of Sword of the Stars also includes a 3D map of the fictional galaxy, unlike the 2D maps that most of these types of games have. You can rotate and zoom in and out of the strategy map and get info on each star system by left clicking the planet's icon. In our build of the game the developers recommended we play as the humans with a relatively small 50 planet galaxy by creating a custom game. The game is definitely focused on building your fleets and it uses info like resources, population, industrial output and more to affect how many ships a player can make.
As you complete your strategy turn and move your ships through the galaxies, the AI driven alien races take their turns as well. If you or they don't encounter each other in space at the end of each turn you move on to your next strategic portion. However, if your ships do encounter the alien races in space....well, that's when things start to go boom.
The real time strategy gameplay of Sword of the Stars isn't quite like Homeworld, but more like the recent Empire at War. The visuals and ships are in full 3D but the actual combat is fixed on a 2D plane. However, each battle has a pre-determined time to complete (anywhere from three to 10 minutes). After your time is up you and your enemy can go back to the strategic mode to get reinforcements and do other options before continuing the battle. Visually the game, even in this early build, looks terrific with some impressive looking ship models and great weapons and visual effects.
Based on our brief time with the preview build of the game, Sword of the Stars is looking to be an ambitious game that is trying to mix the complex interface of a 4X space strategy game with the fun and fast paced action of an RTS title. The big question is can Kerberos Productions fulfill the lofty goals and the mix of real and turn based gameplay in the final retail version. At the moment the game is set to be released via publisher Lighthouse Interactive in June. We hope to post up another more detailed preview of the game (which will include our experience in playing the multiplayer modes) before the game's release.
Click Here! for Sword of the Stars screenshots!
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