Stars in Shadow is a new indie 4X game that has arrived on Steam’s early access program. The game was developed by a two-man team consisting of Sven Olsen and Jim Francis. Inspired by the classic games of the genre such as Master of Orion 2 among others, it seeks not only to emulate the great mechanics and design of old but also to build upon it.
Stars in Shadow is currently in BETA on Steam’s early access program and while most of the mechanics are in place, some of the late game and additional features for certain systems, such as diplomacy, have yet to be implemented.
At the start of the game you can choose from a selection of races to play as. The variety of races on show have a varied design and distinct playstyles which is enforced by each race having specific racial advantages. More race specific mechanics are planned to be added later in development but for now there are simple differences. Humans for example have had earth destroyed long ago and are a nomadic race and as such have no homeworld to start off with.
What comes into play instantly even on the race selection screen is how wonderful the stylized art direction of the game is. The whole experience lends itself to not only the genre but to the fact that it looks like a quality game without the need for the high level graphics of its triple A competitors. The art style has a timeless quality to it which leaves the game open to being a comparison for some time to come.
Once you are all set with your race selection, the game like the multitude of others in the genre starts the same way. You are given some resources, a colony ship as well as a trade and scout vessel and off you go to explore, expand, exploit and exterminate. Of course before most of that can be done, you’ll need to set to work producing resource production buildings and stabilize your own economy.
All the tech
Researching new technologies is as important as it is a given in the genre. Where Stars in Shadow differs however is that currently researching one technology doesn’t exclude another. This potentially means that in a long game you can unlock every single technology. While on one hand its certainly nice to be able to research anything you want, the lack of exclusion leaves little consequence to pursuing a specific playstyle.
After several turns of doing nothing but building industrial buildings, it’ll be time to start building ships to send off into the unknown. You cannot defend against an alien invasion without battleships after all. Combat is a simple and somewhat dull affair that uses a turn based system. Late game battles are not decided on tactical skill but instead on having research the better weapon and shield technologies.
While ships do have a few abilities such as boarding, the entire experience can’t help but feel void of depth and meaning. After recently playing Halcyon 6 Starbase Commander where each ship has its own unique abilities and stats, Stars in Shadow feels like it is missing a certain spark when it comes to combat.
Combat however could become more meaningful with the implementation of racial abilities as has been promised by the developer. Races like the Yoral will be able to use racial specific abilities in combat that no other race can. Changes like this may make all the difference in the final product however it would not hurt to add some ship specific abilities in there.
The good point of ships is that they are completely customizable. Once a technology is researched such as nuclear missles, your able to edit or create a new ship design using an existing ship class and kit it out how you want. Factors such as size and power have to be taken into consideration for example you can equip a small destroyer with a giant lazer cannon design for a battlecruiser. Vreating your own ship designs however adds to the depth of the overall game.
Something that many 4X games get completely wrong is diplomacy. It is a common bugbear of fans of the genre that diplomacy mechanics are often meaningless or outright broken. Stars in Shadow doesn’t break the mould here with a fairly standard diplomacy system in play. The developers have promised to give the diplomacy system some spice by adding lots of text and AI personalities.
The control scheme of the game works well with its various menus and user interfaces. Everything for the most part requires nought but a click, if sometimes a little too much here and there. That being said the entire game is easy enough to pick up and play.
Phasers to maximum!
The game runs extremely well, no doubt in part to the simple yet brilliant art assets. Very few machines should have any problems running the game from a hardware standpoint. The game will no doubt have its share of beta flaws with a bugs once in a while but during our time, we found no issues.
OS: Windows XP, Vista, 7, 8, 10
Processor: Intel Core 2.6 GHz or equivalent
Memory: 4 GB RAM
Graphics: NVIDIA Geforce 8 Series or better
Storage: 3 GB available space
Additional Notes: Stars in Shadow requires the OpenGL framebuffer extension. This extension is present on almost all graphics drivers released after 2010, but laptops made before 2010 with vendor-locked graphics drivers may not be able to run the game.
OS: Windows 7,8,10
Processor: Intel Core Duo 3.0 GHz or equivalent
Memory: 8 GB RAM
Graphics: NVIDIA Geforce 400 Series or better, 1 GB RAM
Storage: 3 GB available space
While the game is out now in early access, the full release is looking closer to the end of 2016. The developers have expressed a desire to only remain in early access for around 10 weeks to gather enough player feedback for full launch.
Stars in Shadow is a well-produced indie 4X that thanks to its stylized art style and the promise of racial abilities, does more than enough to stand out. the core mechanics do enough to be held up against its competitors.
Fans of the genre will be right at home and find a game that is both simple and fun to play. While the combat certainly lacks some substance the overall quality of the two man made game is clear to see at this point.
While the game does have a few problems the promised additions to the game when full launch comes could be the extra juice needed to really take this game up a notch. The feedback given by players in the early access phase could also led to some interesting changes.
Most Anticipated Feature: Racial abilities might just tip the scales on this one and be the added component the game needs to really stand out.