Being a big fan of sci-fi and a curious newcomer to the management genre, IXION was both an exciting yet terrifying game to take on as a review. Even just the Steam page explaining what the game is all about seems daunting — particularly when the description starts piling on things you've got to do: keep your crew happy, open new sectors, avoid mutiny, survive...
That is my main issue with management games and why I haven't been able to get past the newb stage: they're very complex, unforgiving, and usually overwhelming. Not to mention that, if you never get past the stage of relying on the main objectives, it's just really a game about following orders barked by the game.
Regardless, I entered IXION with a heart full of hope; I desperately wanted to like this beautiful sci-fi game about managing humankind in outer space.
Upon booting up the game, I got thrown smack in the middle of a half-empty sector full of container boxes with alloy. A little chat box appeared in the bottom right corner as characters spoke to me, letting me know what I was to do: clean up the sector and prepare it for our mission.
I'm going to be honest with you: despite how in love I was with the graphics, the characters painted a slightly bad picture. It wasn't even the game's fault — too many titles have made me sit through what feels like hours of chatter from quirky characters that eventually become just annoying. And the fact that I was introduced to like three different characters within a single moment — one of them who, for unknown reasons, seemed to be eating whilst speaking to us (which you can disable thanks to a misophonia accessibility setting) — made me think it was going to be one of those titles. Too many new faces, a lot of pompous or naggy dialogue, and everything usually amounting to nothing but a blur of NPC names.
Fortunately, the game only sat me through a bit of dialogue and then suddenly left me be, and what came of the story later (and it's NPCs) was amazing. I sat there waiting for the slew of tutorials to appear, teaching me how to navigate the sci-fi scenario or at least more chat boxes... but nothing. To the side of my screen on the left, there was a little notification lighting up called tutorials, and when I clicked it, I found all the information I needed: what the hull was, what the sectors were, how to gather resources, etc.
I felt a strange sense of freedom as I immediately began building stuff around the sector. And although to me, the lack of bombarding tutorials is fantastic because I've got a pretty short attention span and usually forget half the instructions, this might be a deal breaker for some: IXION does not hold your hand. It drops you into the game, gives you easy access to the tutorials by simply clicking the button on the left, and that's it — it's up to you to survive after that.
Of course, no matter how many times you play a genre, every time you enter a sci-fi setting, there will be a lot of new things to learn. This is especially true in management sims, where the mechanics can change so abruptly. Because of that, my progression through the game was a bit clunky — the first sector's buildings were in awkward positions, I didn't fully understand how to pass resources onto other areas, and I messed up the exploration by leaving some of the planets before examining everything I wanted. All of this was mainly due to my lack of knowledge of how things worked, but I absolutely loved it.
Learning things and having to re-do certain tasks — especially when I had to restart the chapter because of a quickly-approaching game over — were not annoying. IXION has many mechanics that are made incredibly challenging and annoying in other games, such as managing the trust and love of a community or risking mutiny, but the game manages to make it easy to understand and operate. In fact, every time that I messed up and got near a game over or backed myself into a corner, I'd realised it was because of my own fault, such as when it didn't occur to me to upgrade buildings along the path. Despite the lack of upgrading, the game was more than manageable, especially if I paid attention.
You will need a ton of that, too, as you'll have a lot going on at the same time. You've got three views of the Tiqqun (the spaceship): the sector view, which allows you to look at everything you've built within the ship; the outside view, which lets you see the solar panels and engines; and the system view, which zooms out completely allowing you to see the entire solar system you're in. This is all very easy to navigate (as everything else in the game), but you still have to have a pretty decent attention span, as you'll need to keep track of the community inside the Tiqqun (especially the quickly-dwindling resources), each sector, and the multiple vessels you send out into space.
This was one of my absolute favourite mechanics about IXION: the exploration. Managing the sectors is very fun because the game doesn't penalise you when you want to remove a building, and one of the easiest things to mess up — A.K.A. the roads — has no cost and takes basically no time to build. You have multiple buildings to research and place, and its systems are quite intuitive. But that's not all — you also get to explore space through different vessels and find points of interest or minerals through probes.
Every time you find a point of interest, such as a planet or a new ship, your crew will spend some time there and then send you a message. These messages are events that occur during their visit to the point, such as finding something within the area they could potentially loot or examine. You get a few options to pick from, and sometimes what you choose can lead to the death of a member. I personally loved exploring the entire solar system before heading to a new one! Unfortunately, I never got to find out if this was a bug or a mechanic, but once you leave a point of interest, you can't go back to it. This was a bit of a bummer, as sometimes I arrived in areas before I needed them and had to harvest or react before ready. But realistically speaking, it's a minor complaint in the grand scheme of things, especially when the game is so fantastic in every aspect.
As for the story — I'd like to not mention it much to not spoil. I think IXION's plot is fantastic and enthralling, so the less you know about it, the better. But I will say this: I absolutely loved the fact that there was even a narrative to begin with. It made the management of the people within the Tiqqun that much more meaningful, as there were actual events I was following. I was so into the story, in fact, that I sometimes wanted to fast-forward through the gameplay to get to the next bit. Adding a story to the management genre breathed life into it; it's seems like such a simple addition, but it was a complete game changer for me.
And, of course, there are the graphics and sound design —IXION charmed me easily with its presentation: the way the camera pans around the sectors was trippy and constantly reminded me I was floating in outer space. The animations and style were beautiful, futuristic, and steel-y; even the music and the sound design did a great job of keeping me immersed in the moment.
I could scarcely think of a negative thing to say about this game. It does a fantastic job at offering a ton of mechanics that fill up your time but never annoying, the story is enthralling, and everything works smoothly. There's no reason for you not to pick the game up if you're a fan of sci-fi and the management genre.
IXION (Reviewed on Windows)
Outstanding. Why do you not have this game already?
Beautiful setting and sound design, fantastic story, and perfectly implemented gameplay mechanics make IXION an easy 10 for me.