Have you been looking for a new space related strategy game to try? Are you a fan of 4X strategy games? Have you heard of StarDrive 2 and wondered if you should purchase it? If your answer to any of these is yes, then I invite you to come read this review of StarDrive 2.
So for those of you that do not know, StarDrive 2 is a 4X strategy game recently released by Zero Sum Games. The game itself can be found on Steam for PC, Mac, and Linux and sells for $30 USD. If you base your opinion solely on what you see reviewers say on Steam, then you might get some mixed signals about the game. Before I even clicked play, I had seen people say: “OH MY GOSH BEST GAME EVER” and then saw others say “major let down” (I’m paraphrasing of course). When you see polar opposite reviews appear quite frequently, what are you to expect when you click buy? So I’m going to break down for you my thoughts on the game, and if you would like to skip that and get a less detailed version there will be a summary of my review at the bottom of the article, as well as brief summaries below each paragraph which will be italicized to make them stand out.
Learning Curve 7.5/10
The learning curve of Star Drive 2 was in the simplest terms, harsh. However, to the developers defense they have released a patch addressing this issue, making easy mode easier while keeping the other modes just as challenging for returning players. Before this was done, I often found myself broke and destroyed before I had more than a handful of colonies. My main issue with this is that while the tutorial is good, it leaves a lot of information out, that then required me to play and lose over and over again until I figured out what the tutorial hadn’t taught me. This caused a lot of frustration on my end, and drastically hurt my first impression of the game. New players though will not experience this negative first impression to the same extent due to the patch, which is a huge plus.
Star Drive 2 has a steep but rewarding learning curve that once overcome makes the game incredibly enjoyable, just be ready to grit your teeth on your ride to the top of the curve.
So if you like your games rich with story and with a somewhat linear objective in front of you, then you might be slightly disappointed by StarDrive 2. The game does not have a story mode, however it does have a campaign. When you pick the race you are going to be playing the game as, you will get a short description of how your selected race came about acquiring the StarDrive that now allows it to go out and interact with the Universe. Each race has their own different story, but it is the same story each time (i.e. if you play human twice in a row, it will be the same story both times. If you play with a human and then someone else, there will be different stories). After this is done, you are placed into the game map with your sole objective being to conquer it. The various AI enemies that are placed on the map with you will act out their roles with accuracy, which can often allow for fun manipulation and Role Playing. The game also tries to incorporate some stories or “bonus objectives” in the form of the leaders for hire or events, because they often will have missions that they need your aid with and if you complete the request or event, you will be rewarded. Overall the story/lore behind StarDrive 2 was a little shallow. Trust me when I say this however, when you hit play, the story will be the last thing on your mind.
All in all the story/lore of StarDrive 2 wasn’t anything to brag about, and I often found myself wishing that there was more than just the same repeated opening paragraphs to go off of. However this is very typical of 4X games and I did not feel that the lack of a huge indulgent story took away from the experience, but it could have if you like your games mostly for story.
The first thing you’ll notice when you start up StarDrive 2 is the load screen, and honestly the first time I saw it I was very impressed. The main menu, the load screens going into the game, all of them had phenomenal art that both really impressed me and helped me get into the mood of the game world itself. Moving away from art and into gameplay, the Universe in the game was still very beautiful and well made. If you took the time to scroll in as close as you could on your ships in space, you would also notice they look rather detailed considering how many ships there are on the gargantuan map the game takes place on. However, the visuals behind the space combat and ground combat could have been improved, and they were lacking in flavor. In conclusion though, the grand scale of the map coupled with the sheer amount of things going on in it, definitely takes your mind away from caring about the already decent quality of the graphics.
4X strategy games are seldom known for having top of the line graphics, so StarDrives more minimal graphics did not hurt the overall quality of the game.
The game play in StarDrive 2 was a bit of a hit and miss with me at first, but by the end of it I was in love. The first time I started a match I was instantly bombarded with noticing just how much is going on in the universe. StarDrive 2 is the type of game that requires micromanaging, meaning that I needed to do everything from assigning occupational roles to my citizens, to outfitting my fleets of warships. For me when I played, I played with five other AI so there were six players total. So since there were five opponents to think of as well as my own empire to build, I had a lot of choices to make.
- Do I want to find a more peaceful AI and try to make a trade agreement?
- Do I want to go ahead and eliminate an AI early on?
- Do I want to start expanding as far as I can?
- Do I want to deal with these bloody space pirates that keep coming in and trying to raid my planets?
- Do I want to begin researching for my economy or for my ships?
As you can see the list can go on indefinitely, and that is the beauty of the gameplay. I am constantly allowed to make my own decisions and watch as the repercussions literally reverberate throughout the entire universe. I truly love the way StarDrive 2 makes me feel the way I imagined Emperor Palpatine (Star Wars reference) feeling when he was crafting his empire. The biggest faults I found in gameplay were the ground and space battles. Granted, for most of these you could simply do an auto battle, but whenever you couldn’t I struggled with understanding just what was going on. I actually reached a point where I avoided doing some of the side missions for my leaders because I hated the ground combat that much.
Overall the gameplay of StarDrive 2 was superb, leaving me wanting little. However it did have its faults whenever you couldn’t automate the battles, and there in lies my disappointment.
Replay Value 9/10
After you finish a match, whether you win or lose, you will be ranked based on a pre-made chart from 1-15 with 1 being the best and 15 being the worst. The highest ranking on the chart means you are a master strategist while a lower ranking means you might not be as good as you thought you were. With that being said, the highest rank I ever achieved was 5th on easy. Now trust me I know, that looks pretty sad. StarDrive 2 is arguably one of the most challenging 4X strategy games I have ever played, and I feel like that does wonders for its replay value. I constantly feel the need to try and go back and do it all differently, to see if I can do it more effectively and hopefully not die this time. I also find myself wanting to try and beat the game with each of the different races, trying to figure out the strategies that are most effective with each. The only thing that deters me from giving it a 10/10 on its replay value is the time that matches take as well as the difficulty of the game. It took me almost 3 hours on easy to win a match, and for someone who takes more time micromanaging, I can imagine it taking even longer to win a match depending on your skill level. Since the matches take so long, its definitely not something i’ll just be able to whip out and play as often as I’d wish, but it is definitely something I will enjoy playing again and again until I master it.
The game has great replay value, the only issue is that the length of matches can deter gamers from being able to play it as often as they would wish due to the sheer amount of time and energy the game demands.
The game does its best to bring together everything it has to offer and present it to you in a very user friendly interface. The drawback to this mostly comes into play later in the game, because of the sheer amount of things that need your managing. This can cause your interface to get a little more confusing as your worlds begin to run together and you slowly start to forget about some worlds in favor of others. I do not blame this on the developer, but on the magnitude of the game itself.
The game has a ton to offer and does a good job of putting it in front of you with a pretty bow on top, it can just get overwhelming and buggy towards the end.
Overall Score 8.2/10
When it’s all said and done, StarDrive 2 definitely has its faults, but the things the game did good more often than not made me forget all about the bad. In just 16 hours StarDrive 2 stole my heart and became one of my favorite 4X strategy games to date. This is definitely a game I have enjoyed playing, and I highly recommend it if you are a fan of 4X strategy games, space games, and/or empire builder games because it is practically a steal at $30. However, if the story behind the game is a make-it-or-break-it factor, then this might not be the game for you.
About the Author
I am a fan of the 4X genre though I would dare say I am quite terrible at them. Before writing this review I spent over 16 hours playing the game, trying out more than half of the available races as well as trying multiple different strategies. I had no prior experience with StarDrive 1, and did not begin playing the game with any preconceived notion of how I thought the game should work.