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Tantalizing Details Revealed about Sword of the Stars II

At GameSquad, we are science fiction fanatics.   Movies, books, games…it doesn’t matter, we love it all. 

But especially the games.

4X games in particular give us the greatest light speed rush.  Whenever we hear about a new game that allows us to assume the throne of a galactic emperor, well…it is a thrill that makes us squeal like green Martian girls.  Okay maybe it’s just me squealing like a Martian girl, but that's besides the point. 

Right now there is a trinity of superior 4X games to choose from:  Stardock’s classic Galactic Civilizations II, Ironclad’s Sins of a Solar Empire, and Kerberos Studios’ Sword of the Stars.   All three have succeeded in developing a cult-like following by offering a unique take on interstellar mayhem.  For example, GalCiv II offers a superior planetary development model, while SotS has a wonderful tech tree.  And, of course, Sins is set in a unique RTS environment. 

While all are great games, in my opinion they all share one shortcoming:  none of them offer a compelling fleet experience.  Oh sure, they all offer lots of ship explodiness, but not in a very satisfying way.  To begin with, these vessels are remarkably fragile and seem to completely explode after taking a rather brief pounding.   Sure, you could argue that this is due to the incredible power for futuristic weaponry…but that really isn’t a satisfying explanation.  This fragility not only strikes me as  an indication of superficiality, but it also limits the gameplay in that most battles quickly become one of attrition and little else.  Instead of having fleets pound away at each other by smartly targeting specific ship systems and vulnerabilities, what you get is little more than a dogfight where an accurate burst of fire is sufficient to score a kill.   

A second shortcoming involves how the vessels engage in combat.   In all three, the ships engage each other at point blank range, something that is really quite silly when you think about it.  Here we have interstellar vessels packed with futuristic electronics and weaponry…yet the crews are so cross-eyed or incompetent that they have to practically pull right alongside another vessel to score a hit.  Really?  Jeez, I would think that these ships would be at least as capable as contemporary naval warships which can easily engage targets that are far beyond visual range.  Again, not only is this silly, but it also limits gameplay in that at such short ranges, the value of smart tactical maneuvering is completely removed  from the victory equation. 

Clearly there is room for improvement in the world of 4X sci-fi strategy gaming.  Fortunately, there are two companies that seem poised to kick things up a notch in the realism depart.  The first is Blind Mind Studios’ Star Ruler…but more on this indie effort at a future time.  The second company is (once again) Kerberos Studios who is currently working on a sequel to their popular Sword of the Stars.  While details are still scarce, bits of information are starting to trickle out here and there…and it all sounds very exciting. 

To begin with, check out this video interview with Kerberos’ CEO, Martin Cirulis:

Now, I don’t know about you, but that has me very excited.   To begin with, the mention that there will now be detailed star-systems with planetary orbits and space terrain is a welcome change from the simplistic systems we have become used to over the years.  Finally, players will have room for strategic maneuvering within a system, not to mention the need to “scout” for the enemy.  This change alone has the potential to make for a thorougly unique 4X experience.  What is more, the additional factor that players will now give orders in 2-D while enjoying a 3-D resolution suggests a retreat from the fast-paced RTS blob warfare of the original to something more thoughtful and almost WeGo sounding (to be clear, there is no indication that there actually is a WeGo facet to SotS II).  I am really tired of just grouping a  bunch of ships and throwing them at the enemy while hoping for the best.  Ideally, this new method of issuing orders will restore some much needed depth to managing a battle.  Lastly, ship sub-systems and long range carrier duels...excuse me while I wipe a tear from my eye.  All in all, it sounds like my two complaints from above will be addressed in some fashion by SotS II...and then some!

In addition to those details, GameSpot had the following impressions based upon a tech demo at E3:

“They pulled up the game engine to show a giant cruiser. The ship was detailed and had a lovely, colorful look about it. Stewart pointed out several details, including the holographic badges that appeared on the ship and little animations that helped flesh out the visuals. As for the game, Kerberos promises deeper ship customization; you can even name each individual ship, and the name will be rendered on the vessel. The combat is moving away from traditional real-time strategy combat in which you simply pound on your target until it's destroyed. Instead, ships will behave differently based on what kind of damage you have done. You might take certain systems down or penetrate the ship's armor but not its hull. Certain types of weapons might pierce through to the center of the vessel, while others will barely scratch the surface. In other words, you have to think about more than just your enemy's health bar.”

Sword of the Stars II sounds like a great game in the making.  Add in the additional details (from a recent Strategy Informer interview) that empires can now be subdivided into self-governing provinces – with all  the subsequent political ramifications that implies - and that a form of abstracted ground combat will be included, and SotS II is a game that is now at the top of my prospective 2011 Hit Parade (Q1 to be exact). 

Kerberos is hinting that the first video teaser should be released next week, so stay tuned!  In the mean time, check out some incredible new images in the gallery.