Tuesday, April 5, 2016

Star Ruler 2 - 11/20 hours

So I guess I really got sucked into this game. I've been playing it almost every waking moment since yesterday. I actually lost sleep over it.

The funny thing is that Star Ruler 2 is not all that much like the original Star Ruler. There are similarities - some of the aliens have returned, and certain planetary anomalies are the same - but Star Ruler 2 is glossier, sleeker. It is not quite so driven by menus and text and displays more of its information in graphical form. Technology, in particular, is no longer an open-ended math problem. As a result, the original Star Ruler's most striking figure - the breathtaking scale of its exploding numbers isn't really present. At least not to the same degree.

You still have very large fleets, but the way you gain and deploy them has changed. You now have to center a fleet around a flagship and then build support ships that hang around it in a cloud, and the ultimate size of your fleet is determined by your flagship's logistics rating. This can be very generous, especially with the larger ships, but maintenance costs act as a kind of soft cap. Too large a flagship and you'll wreck your empire's budget. . .

 Which is probably better from both a realism and a gameplay perspective, but I admit I'll miss having 10,000 planet-sized ships in the late game.

But what Star Ruler 2 lacks in gross excess, it makes up for in neat ideas. It probably has the best diplomacy system of any 4X game I've ever played. Basically, your empire earns influence points by having certain resources and building in play and you can spend those resources to by diplomatic action cards. Some cards give you special diplomatic actions like building a powerful university or annexing a star system. When you play these cards, your action goes up for a vote in the galactic senate, and you can play other cards to influence the vote - either to support the propositions of you and your allies or to block the propositions of your enemies. It's very engaging. So much so that the back and forth of the cardgame can actually distract me from the other business of empire-building, which has to be a first for me in a 4X diplomacy system.

Planet management is also kind of fun. There are different tiers of resources and to build up a bigger and better planet, you have to arrange complex trade webs where each planet of a certain rank is supported by a gradually widening pyramid of lower-ranked planets (to get a maxed-out level 5 planet, you need about 38 level 0 planets). Figuring out how to arrange the random assortment of worlds you start out with in order to maximize your empire's potential is exactly the sort of challenge I thrive upon.

The biggest flaw of Star Ruler 2 is that total conquest still appears to be the only victory condition. I haven't run into it as a huge roadblock yet, because I've mostly been experimenting with the different factions and learning about the tech tree and planet management systems, but if I ever get around to playing the late game, I'm certain it will annoy me to have to go around conquering everyone just to get a win.

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