Having never played 2006's Sword Of The Stars I didn't know what to expect going into Kerberos Productions' followup, Sword Of The Stars II: Lords Of Winter. Deciding to go in with a fresh set of eyes and not read up on the series beforehand I launched the game and was left perplexed by the complete lack of any kind of tutorial. Even when it comes to your very basic, generic, strategy title I've always liked having the option of being able to run through a tutorial, even if it's just to get a quick visual run down of the games user interface and the basics of how it works.
While those with experience in the genre, or even the games predecessor, may not miss this, completely neglecting to include one instantly alienates those who are new to this type of game and expecting them to be able to put their heads down and get right into it may put them off from ever going near one again. They have provided a beginners guide and manual, but only if you visit the official site and look for it.
In-game options are sparse with volume levels, end turn delay, and turning the main menu background combat on or off. If you want to change any video options you'll need to exit the game, restart it and do so via the launch window; if you want to change the windowed resolution, you'll need to input it manually or drag the edges of the game window to the size you want as there's no presets. This isn't really a negative but I wasn't expecting it.
There is an in-game Encyclopedia which has information such as backgrounds on the different races and various tech levels. While this is a nice inclusion, especially for those new to Sword Of The Stars, it's a shame they didn't see fit to finish it as I came across a number of entries that had no content whatsoever.
Sword Of The Stars II doesn't feature a campaign mode, instead it gives the player the option of skirmishes with various game types and options that can be customized such as setting the resources on and average size of planets; turn time limits ranging between 15 seconds to 15 minutes (as well as no limit) and the number of players as well as which species might appear. Seven victory conditions are available such as Last Side Standing and Land Grab, with 25 maps you can choose from ranging in size between 2 and 8 players. There is also a tab to list "scenario maps" which doesn't do anything and appears to be another feature that was overlooked.
After making sure the settings are to your liking you move onto the Game Lobby, here you can set your Empires Name, Faction, Avatar, Badge, Empire/Ship Colour and AI Difficulty. There is also the option to increase (or even decrease for those wanting a bigger challenge) your starting systems, technologies and money. You also have the ability to change these options for each of the AI players.
After I'd loaded up a game with default options I started to feel the lack of an in depth tutorial (they have supplied a simple list of notes you can access in game which give a very basic overview of of the games UI) and I ended up downloading the manual and clicking around the in game option screens to get an idea of what I had available to me. And the game has a lot of features for you to play with; 14 different research types with various upgrades; ship design where you can modify armour, weaponry, engines etc; there are various other options for managing your empire and diplomacy options for when you encounter other players and whether you want to start treaties, trade or wage war.
As previously mentioned Sword Of The Stars II is turn based; within your turn you can set objectives for your ships such as surveying a new star, colonizing planets and building new stations. There are numerous management screens for building and customizing fleets, setting construction orders for your ships and stations, and managing your empire's income such as tax rates for the population and amount of funds you want to pump into researching new tech. With each new turn you get clear updates on your research progress, surveying etc. Allowing you to decide how you want to progress during the game.
This adds a rather nice element, being a strategy game using a turn based mechanic it allows you to get a real overview of your empire without worrying about a sneak attack while you're deciding what tech you want to research next or planning the next few turns of fleet movement or ship construction. It starts to feel kind of like a game of chess, moving your pieces across the board, planning numerous moves ahead and trying to read what your opponent is trying to do so you can counteract them before they can make their move to try and topple you.
Audio wise the game is unremarkable, the music is generic with the sort of pieces you'd expect in a space/military game and the sound you get while moving over and selecting a star or menu item has the sort of beeping you find in b grade sci-fi movies. While you don't go into a strategy game expecting sound on the same level as a first person shooter it feels lazy and some of the voice work had me heading to the audio settings to turn it off. The same goes for the graphics, you don't expect high definition detail but it looks pretty rough and bland, with a single unmoving background of distant stars.
For those willing to overlook its many shortcomings and put in the time to learn and get to grips with how the game plays as well as get stuck into using the games various game modes and options I think in the long term it could be rewarding (some heavy patching wouldn't hurt). But as it currently stands Sword Of The Stars II is an incomplete game that could have done with 6 more months of development to do some heavy ironing, bashing and general hitting it with a hammer.
- Various game modes
- Numerous options to customize gameplay
- No tutorial
- No single player campaign
- Limited in game help/hints
- Limited in game audio/video options