Monday, February 27, 2017

StarDrive - 6/20 hours

Having completed one full game of StarDrive, I have to say it's serviceable. It has all the basic stuff that you would expect in a 4X game, and it's all implemented fairly well, but there's nothing in it that captures the imagination or inspires great feelings of either love or hate.

I guess I like the infrastructure, a little. In order to expand in the most efficient way possible, you have to build freighters that can move food, minerals, and people from planet to planet, carefully marshaling your resources to insure that infertile worlds nonetheless get enough food to grow and that your shipyards have enough minerals to deploy a defense in a timely fashion.

On the other hand, that proved to be pretty shallow and I learned most everything I needed to know about in around an hour (tops). The tech tree is short (with about 2-3 buildings per resource category) and mostly devoted to ship improvements.

I wonder if this was a deliberate design choice. A lot of the Steam reviewers complained that this game was incomplete, abandoned early in favor of a premature sequel. And there is definitely a certain perfunctory feeling around some of game's mechanics and presentation. It took me far longer than it should have to find the difficulty settings. I only learned how to ship food and minerals after reading a guide online. The transcendence victory was rooted in implied lore that never got fleshed out in the actual game (and was pretty weak, besides).

However, it's also possible that StarDrive is simply a "basic" 4X. It doesn't need an elaborate individual identity because all it does is present the fundamentals of the 4X experience. I can sort of see it. There is a parsimony about the game's mechanics. You don't have to worry about population happiness or internal rebellions or strategic resources or any the other embellishments that mark more ambitious attempts at the genre.

I'm not sure, though. If StarDrive is deliberately scaled-down, why is its trade-route system so fiddly? Why is ship construction so complex? I suppose, in theory, it might be a tactical ship combat game with some incidental planet management, but if so I abused it mightily by just building overwhelmingly powerful fleets and throwing them at the enemy willy-nilly. Maybe that's just the consequence of playing on easy mode, though.

Either way, playing through StarDrive was a pleasant, if uninspiring experience. My plan is to kick it up to normal mode and try for a diplomatic victory. Maybe see if I can somehow parlay my economics-focused strategy into incomparable galactic power. Or maybe just run out the clock getting into and losing pointless wars.

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