Cheap PC game deals are going to be ten-a-penny come Cyber Monday, but as usual, digital distributors are making merry in the run up to Christmas. Sword Of The Stars II: Enhanced Edition is a steal at only £3 at Bundle Stars, at least, if you aren't already charting the wild black yonder in Starpoint Gemini 2.
Sword Of The Stars II was an absolute mess at launch, but the Enhanced Edition has fixed and improved almost every facet of the game. The lore, expansion and real-time battles are a lot of fun, though a restrictive 'mission' system and substandard tutorial ensures that we're looking at more of a Masters Of Orion 3 as opposed to Masters Of Orion 2. Still, again, £3, there's a difference between a great game and a great deal - this is the latter.
Platform: PC (reviewed) | Xbox One version TBA
Developer: Amplitude Studios
Don't call it a Roguelike. Dungeon Of The Endless may feature permadeath and dungeon crawling, but one word can't do justice to this extraordinary genre-defying beast. To take a stab at pigeonholing it, I suppose that 'Real-Time Turn-Based Strategic 4X Tower Defence Roguelike RPG hybrid' is probably the closest I can get.
So the first thing you need to know is that Dungeon Of The Endless uses traditional Roguelike genre staples as a launchpad for a totally fresh and unique Sci-Fi experience that continually switches up the pace and challenge in exciting new ways.
The second and most important thing you need to know, however, is that it's absolutely bloody fantastic. Dungeon Of The Endless was already impressive when Ampltude Studios released the alpha last year, and has only grown stronger due to user feedback and honest painstaking hard work. I'm having trouble finding anything remotely wrong with it, but explaining how all of its crazy genre-blending systems interlock will take some doing.Click here to read more...
Platform: PC (Steam, £26.99)
Developer: Amplitude Studios
Early Access has been dragged through the mud over the last few months, but it often doesn't get enough credit. For every failure there's a developer who makes a plan and sticks to it, engages fans without losing sight of their goals, then finally delivers a worthwhile game that couldn't have been made any other way. The system works.
Endless Legend is one of those success stories: a superb, solid and delightfully innovative take on the 4X genre from Amplitude Studios, the fearsome strategy fiends behind the excellent Endless Space and upcoming Roguelike masterclass Dungeon Of The Endless. As you've probably worked out by now, all three games take place at different times in the same universe, a sensational Sci-Fi fantasy fusion that kicks out elves and dwarves in favour of aliens, constructs, mad cultists, robot ghosts and necrophagous insects. It's a beautiful thing, both in terms of the overall aesthetic and some exciting design decisions.
I'm going to assume that you have a working knowledge of 4X games, preferably hex-based specimens like Civilization, Warlock and Age Of Wonders III, because otherwise this review is going to require several hundred words to explain the basic mechanics. To briefly recap, Endless Legend subscribes to a familiar basic formula of picking a race with different stats, starting out with a settler, building a city and then cracking on with the four Xs: exploration, expansion, exploitation and extermination . You'll research new technologies, move units around a hex-based world, engage in diplomacy and generally rise to dominance through fair means and foul.
Here's the instruction manual if you want to know more. Rather than dwelling on minutae, we're going to discuss how Endless Legend subverts and reinvigorates the familiar genre template with fresh new ideas.Click here to read more...
Master Of Orion 1 & 2 | GOG | £1.19 (so cheap)
Many latter-day 4X games have tried, but none have quite managed to unseat Master Of Orion 2 as the best space 4X title of all time. It really is superb, as you'd expect from Microprose and SimTex in their prime. £1.20 is also incredibly cheap, netting you the original game as well for all you retronauts.
Master Of Orion 3 isn't included in the bundle, which is fantastic news.
Endless Space is one of the best latter-day 4X titles, featuring deep gameplay and controversial yet exciting card-based fleet battles. Definitely worth checking out, especially at £4.21 with the excellent Disharmony expansion. You'll get a Steam key for PC and Mac. Thanks to jaystan @ HUKD!
Alpha Centauri fans rejoice, because Civilization: Beyond Earth is looking seductively hexual in a newly-released walkthrough video from co-lead designer Will Miller. Sid must have been busy. Either way, the video is exactly the same as the demonstration journalists witnessed behind closed doors at E3, so enjoy your full access pass to what will hopefully be a seriously impressive 4X contender.
You'll see diplomacy, survival, exploration, hexagons aplenty and combat on multiple fronts, alongside a newly-confirmed October 24th release date. We've got our fingers crossed for this one (partly because we've been playing so much Distant Worlds and Endless Legend recently that our hands have deformed, admittedly).
Jon and I have been playing a fair few 4X games of late, and so we decided to have a little recorded chat about the state of the genre, why it seems to be coming back in such a big way lately, and why so many of those games are actually falling rather short.
Endless Space has been a bright beacon in recent memory, but even that game had its faults. We're seeing a number of games such as Drox Operative and The Last Federation incorporate 4X elements into hybrid setups, but is that the answer? And how is it that so many of these games are emerging, lacking a universe boasting any sort of distinctive personality or flavour?
Over the course of half an hour, we hope to root out a few answers. Let us know what you make of it all in the comments below!
We've fast-forwarded a little bit for the second part of the Lords of the Black Sun preview. My humans have gone out and conquered a few more planets, but everyone is still playing nice. Even the pirates are all being utterly delightful.
That's not how this is supposed to be!
Time to build an enormous fleet and start cracking some skulls. In this second video, we take a look at combat and espionage, using an agent to go behind enemy lines and pinch some money off of our neighbours.
As I say towards the end of the video, Lords of the Black Sun has a promising foundation laid out here. Arkavi have managed to get the basics of a decent 4X game in play, and it should be remembered that the game is still in Early Access. But I struggle to see why the game is being priced close to £20. There's just nothing here that really stands out. The AI is a little more aggressive on the higher difficulty levels, but there's little to distinguish the various races from one another.
Furthermore, it strikes me that so much more could be made of the universe. It's not enough to simply have a star map, eight thumbnails of hand-drawn alien races, and to adjust a couple of sliders here and there to create a setting that demands interest. It used to be, but we already have 4X games that perfected that formula. Modern 4X titles need to kick on in some respect and try to deliver something that doesn't just resemble a copy of games that have come before.
To be fair to Lords of the Black Sun, story elements are yet to come, but it remains to be seen how they'll tie into things. Strategy games don't need stories, but context can certainly help. I just want to see more depth everywhere -- from more expansive, exciting research options to more background lore to more variety in terms of racial playstyles. The eight races play out in fairly similar fashion to one another as far as I can tell (I've tested four of them at this point) and there are still too many empty turns.Click here to read more...
Everyone's making 4X games these days, it seems. But the trouble with a well-worn genre that's been practically perfected in the likes of Galactic Civilizations II and, before that, the utterly sublime Masters of Orion II is that it can become difficult for newcomers to make a mark. Endless Space had a worthy bash at it, but even with that game, after a while I just found myself firing up DOSbox and thanking GOG for allowing me to go back in time and delight once more in a childhood spent conquering galaxies in MOO and its sequel.
In many ways, GOG has ruined the modern space-based 4X market. If you can play Masters of Orion II for a fiver, why the hell would you ever need any other pretender?
Enter Lords of the Black Sun, or the game formerly known as Star Lords. It's in beta right now, a term that has admittedly lost its once-singular meaning these days -- it's basically done, but it's missing a few bits such as story elements, occasionally crashes to the desktop, and occasionally seems a bit sparse.
The 4X formula is pretty addictive, and that makes it very easy to create a game that sucks you in via a strategic template of sorts. I'm not saying that Lords of the Black Sun copies the games that have come before, it's just that... wait, no that's exactly what I'm saying. But every single game in this genre has done that, so it's not that big of a deal. What is a big deal, however, is just how generic things feel. I've sunk several hours into the game, and the core gameplay is enjoyable, but too often you just find yourself endlessly ending turns. The UI is small and finicky, though pleasingly rather uncluttered and easy to navigate, but the level of depth doesn't seem to be there yet. One of my biggest bugbears is not being able to see the diplomatic relations of my allies. In fact, simple visual communication in general is not exactly one of the game's fortes.Click here to read more...
Developer: Arcen Games
I've never played anything remotely like The Last Federation, even if it looks like any number of space 4X games from yesteryear at first glance. Eight unique races reach out to the stars from their home planets, seeking conquest and coexistence depending on their philosophies. They build fleets, research technologies, make treaties and break them with impunity; thriving and dying in a meticulously-modelled situation that's detailed down to internal politics and populations.
And we can't play as any of them... because they're all AI.
We stand alone as the Hydral, the last of an extinct race of interstellar tyrants with dreams of uniting the galaxy into one eternal federation... and crushing any species who stands in the way. We're the dark heart lurking at the centre of the universe, the multi-headed tentacular puppet master, working behind the scenes to apply pressure through political coups, financial skullduggery, science and fleet combat; subtly influencing the balance of power with both the carrot, stick, cloak, dagger and gravity lance.
It's really rather wonderful, and a revolutionary twist on the 4X legends of yore.Click here to read more...
Yes, Firaxis. Yes. YESSSSSSS!
Ahem.Click here to read more...
Developer: Triumph Studios
Publisher: Triumph Studios
I've been searching for a new 4X addiction for some considerable time now, and Age Of Wonders III is almost certainly it. Years in the making and completed with a hefty bung from Markus "Notch" Persson, this fantastical turn-based sequel offers streamlined grand strategy, incredibly tense tactical battles and compelling RPG elements to boot. Somewhere between Civilization V, X-COM, Heroes Of Might & Magic, Warlock and Spellforce, it allows you to create your own hero from various unique classes and races, then lead their faction to victory through exploration, expansion and ruthless extermination.
But more importantly than that, Age Of Wonders III just creates a wonderful and unpredictable world to live in every time you play. This is a land where steampunk flame tanks and terrifying dragons do battle against rainbow unicorns and pixies. You'll find a "longsword of dire penguin slaying" before being assaulted by flocks of ravenous depraved aquatic birds from beyond the pale. Every hex you uncover, every cavern, temple, woodland glade and dark corner of the expansive maps holds opportunities for treasure, adventure or advancement - or new threats to desperately repel.
Wonders never cease. Which is why the review took so long.Click here to read more...
Horizon was on course to become a space 4X contender, but its addictive gameplay and fantastic diplomacy system are let down by awful combat and tedious busywork. You can read our 5/10 review for the gory details.
However, this recently-released title is now only £5.75 on GamersGate, which will save you a whopping £17. I reckon that's probably appropriate, at least if you've played GalCiv and MOO2 to death recently and hate Endless Space's divisive fleet combat.
Developer: L30 Interactive
Publisher: Iceberg Interactive
The space 4X genre is in a very strange place right now. There's demand and supply thanks to crowd-funding and early access, yet we still don't have a truly great modern game that gives GalCiv, Master Of Orion 2 and Birth Of The Federation a run for their money. Even the magnificent Endless Space alienated many players with its controversial card combat, while we've seen so many promising titles release unfinished, unpolished or plain unplayable.
But all hope is not lost. Cue Horizon, an unapologetically old-school affair that dreams of the genre's glory years. Players lead their chosen race to dominate sprawling galaxies, expanding their reach with new colonies, exploring the wild frontier and tech trees, exploiting virgin territory and exterminating all comers when diplomacy fails. Offering unique races and turn-based fleet combat, Horizon has been on our radar for some considerable time.
Having previewed the Early Access build a few weeks ago, I was worried that Horizon might need a lot of work to bring it up to snuff, but a massive v.1.0. patch put paid to many of my concerns. Minutes turned to hours as I led the fledgling human race to take its first steps towards becoming a major galactic superpower.
Sadly, continued play reveals that L30 Interactive have built an otherwise enjoyable game on shaky foundations.Click here to read more...
Developer: L30 Interactive
Publisher: Iceberg Interactive
When it comes to creating a new Sci-Fi 4X game, you could do a lot worse than taking inspiration from Master Of Orion 2.
Horizon dreams of the golden age of eXploration, eXpansion, eXploitation and eXtermination, those MOO and Alpha Centauri days, wherein we'd leap into enormous galaxies and lead our civilizations to dominance through canny diplomacy, cutting edge research and colonisation. Not to mention wielding enormous fleets in tactical turn-based combat. Rather than trying to reinvent the genre, L30 Interactive are trying to bring it back in all its deeply involved, complex, occasionally overwhelming and rewarding glory. Promising eleven races, sprawling tech trees, massive randomly-generated galaxies and highly customisable fleets, they're certainly not scrimping on content.
Having sunk some considerable hours into the beta build (available on Steam Early Access for £18.98), I can report that Horizon is broadly on the right track. But can it deliver when the project hits v.1.0 next month?Click here to read more...
If you're having trouble deciding on a 4X deal today, buy this over StarDrive. Costs less, has more content, is much better.
Amplitude Studios have officially announced Endless Legend, a "fantasy 4X" game that will release alongside the previously-teased as Dungeon Of The Endless. Expect the same eXploration, eXpansion, eXploitation, and eXtermination we're used to from the genre, but set in a world of heroes, quests and legendary creatures.Click here to read more...
Sword Of The Stars II Enhanced Edition | GamersGate | £3.75 (save £11)