Tuesday, February 28, 2017

StarDrive - 10/20 hours

I'm about two-thirds of the way into my second StarDrive game, and am right on course to win it, though to my shame, it's going to be by the lame "ascension" victory again. I just find the constant warfare necessary to get the other victories to be dispiriting.

It could be that my general level of aggression is waning as I get older. I've noticed myself yelling less and shaking my head in silent disapproval more. However, I think with StarDrive, a likelier explanation is that the combat simply isn't fun enough to make me want to do it.

Now, combat in strategy games is always kind of dire, and StarDrive has some advantages over most, in that it really does matter how your ships are positioned. The ship construction minigame is extremely elaborate. Each weapon must be placed with an appropriate firing arc, you have to use internal bulkheads to protect fragile ship systems, each block you place has a certain number of hit points to resist damage. And it all plays out on the battlefield. Hits on your left side will damage your left-most components, and turning your ship to face another way can bring new weapons and armor to bare.

In theory, you could slow the game down to its lowest speed level and exploit every advantage out of your superior human intelligence by engaging in unparalleled feats of admiralship, but in practice it's much easier to just out-build and out-tech your foes and just swarm them with superior numbers.

But that's not what makes conquest in StarDrive a chore. What really does the system in is a flaw that was barely tolerable in Stellaris, and nearly unforgivable in a game with a fraction of the charm and personality - all planetary conquest must go through both a space and a ground stage, with your ground units being separately built and having the durability of tissue paper in space. Seriously, building up a force of Space Marines and then watching them trundle around the galaxy in those shitty little ships of theirs is just the worst.

Instead of going from strength to strength, painting the map with the terrifying fruits of my technology, I'm stuck baby-sitting a bunch of sluggish hangers-on, who are individually quite helpless against any reasonably set-up enemy planet.

The obvious thing to do in this situation is activate the plodding and implacable part of my game and just methodically move from planet to planet, expending however much time and resources was necessary to achieve my goal. And if I were playing a turn-based game, I'd have no trouble with that, but StarDrive's RTS style gameplay is thwarting me here. I'm too worried about dividing my attention and being outflanked to do anything but bunker down and go for the peaceful victory condition . . . as underwhelming as that might be.

I guess I'm just going to have to tough it out, though. StarDrive isn't quite the relaxing walk in the park that I hoped it was going to be, but at least it has spaceships and aliens and infrastructure, and those are always enough to keep me at least nominally interested.

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