As I mentioned in my review of the Steam version of Heroes of Steel RPG, I first came across Trese Brothers games simply because I wanted a basic space trading game. Star Traders RPG Elite became the first Android game I paid money for, having stuck to free games until then, simply because I was hooked. Now, imagine my surprise when I was approached to play the newest take on it just prior to launch, this time 4X in Star Traders 4X Empires. For the uninitiated a 4X game is turn-based and the good ones are set in space. You have to explore the map, expand your empire, exploit neighbours through treaty and maybe exterminate them.
I had played a few 4X titles before this, which is part of the reason why I got excited. The Trese Brothers had already established a world with Star Traders RPG - big ‘families’ running the worlds across the galaxy. This is a sequel to that game with you colonising worlds for each of the families after humanity was almost wiped out. You have to research technology on each planet, build upgrades such as mines and habitation units and explore a galaxy of between 25 and 90 worlds. The size of the galaxy is chosen before you start the game, with a huge selection from 36x36 to 150x150 squares.
The bigger the universe, the more colonies you need to establish. Your exploring and attack ships run on Water Fuel, which is refilled when in vicinity of a colonised world. You can create and edit ship types, equipping different weapons, more fuel or what have you, depending on the ship. For instance, you don’t need many weapons on a colony ship, but you do on an attack vessel. And due to the reason the Star Traders are on the run, you’ll need attack vessels as much as colony ships.
The Xenos - a race of intergalactic maniacs - have set forth to wipe the universe clean of your people. So of course they set about doing this after you’re nice and settled, rebuilding civilisation as you knew it. They aren’t the only enemies, as people within your government will try to overthrow you and there are other civilisations who are just as eager to populate worlds as you are.
This being 4X, there isn’t much more to it than that. Your ships go where you tell them to and do what you say (scan, fire, colonise), until their action points are at zero. On planets you need to build, in the government you need to govern - then End Turn and wait for everyone else to carry out their moves.
The inspiration from other space-based 4X titles, such as Master of Orion are quite apparent. It doesn’t tarnish Star Traders 4X Empires in any way, as there are worse games to base your UI on after all. It is set out perfectly for a phone or tablet, though not if you have big fingers. The buttons are a little on the small side, even on my Samsung Galaxy S4, which has a big screen. The graphics are in the Trese Brothers’ style, which means hand-drawn and very well designed with high quality textures on the ships. The worlds themselves aren’t shown in the main map, but when you enter a world to manage it you are shown all of it’s information such as minerals, population and morale. Combat between ships takes place on the map screen, with shots or missiles fired between two ships with a neat little animation. There are no hit points displayed unless your ship is selected, so their attacks can be a little more tense than yours - but fuel and hull strength are clear at the top of the screen the rest of the time.
The music is better than I found in the Trese Brothers’ other recent title Heroes of Steel RPG on Steam, feeling more epic in scope and with a less obtrusive repeat. So much less obtrusive that I didn’t even realise it was repeating until I listened out for it.
The 4X genre isn’t easy to pull off, but Star Traders 4X Empires manages. Again, since this is 4X, the storyline is usually only a framework and there is no end objective other than survive. However, the story in Star Traders 4X is interesting and full, with a library accessible at any time in-game to read up on the history of this universe. With the large technology tree, you can replay a dozen times and get yourself different results; one time research weaponry first, the next research larger mines. Even if your empire doesn’t sucumb to Xeno attack, you’ll want to play this time and again. Especially because, in true Trese Brothers style, it has probably been updated five times since you began reading this review with bug fixes, improvements and hopefully as promised, a much better tutorial.
Star Traders 4X Empires (Reviewed on Android)
This game is great, with minimal or no negatives.
The 4X genre isn’t easy to pull off, but Star Traders 4X Empires manages. Replayable with a deep storyline, though on-screen controls can be fiddly.