StarDrive ReviewGuest_Jim_* - May 9, 2013
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Ships, Fleets, & War:
With a name like StarDrive, you would expect that ships are a primary component of the game, and you would be correct. Before we get to what makes StarDrive special though, we have to go through what makes it like other games. If you already know what other games are like though, just skip the next paragraph.
When you start a new game you have access to small freighters and small fighters, which are not particularly useful at the time. Only through research do the fighters become much more than the cheap unit you can use to explore the galaxy. Of course research will also unlock bigger and better ships. Corvettes, frigates, cruisers, battleships, and titans, along with medium and large freighters will eventually populate your navy. As there are multiple kinds of weapons, including energy beams, ballistics, and missiles, there are variants of each ship with the different armaments. It is important to note that while battleships and titans are offensive juggernauts, they are also very slow, due to their size. If you want a fast fleet, you do not want anything larger than a cruiser.
What really sets StarDrive apart from many other 4X games is the control you are given over your military. Perhaps the best example of this, if the least powerful within the game, is the ability to manually control any craft in the game. Using the WASD and F keys (F is for faster-than-light travel) you can pilot a ship through the entire galaxy, and I do mean through it all. Ships, platforms, and space stations are not limited to being within a certain distance from planets. If you want you can amass a giant fleet in deep space, with the support structures to maintain them.
The more powerful examples of your control over your military are your ability to arm your own ships and how fleets are created.
The shipyard is where you have the, at times daunting, task of designing your ships. Smaller hulls like the fighter, corvette, and even frigate are pretty easy to manage, but battleships and titans can take a long time to get right. (I have been staying away from designing my own space stations.) Ships are comprised of three basic compartments, with one hybrid. Engine compartments, marked E, are the only places you can put engines, and only engines and power conduits can be placed there. Internal compartments, marked I, house components such as power plants, fuel cells, ordinance storage, and more, while Outside compartments, marked O, are where you place your weapons. Some compartments are marked IO because they can accept both internal and outside components.
There are a lot of components you can install in your ships, but really it is just the weapons we are interested in here. Late game you have a large variety, as lasers, phasors, fusion beams, ions beams, flak cannons, artillery, torpedoes, rockets, and missiles all become available. Some of these weapons, such as the artillery, can only be placed in-line with the ship's core, but many are on turrets. Being on turrets in StarDrive does not mean the weapon can spin around to hit a target, where ever it is. Being on a turret means you, the player, get to set the direction the weapon's firing arc faces. This is accomplished by selecting the weapon on the ship, so you can see the arc, and drag it to where you want it to be. Hitting Tab or the Arcs button in the upper right will reveal the firing arcs for every weapon on the ship, but you are not able to change them from here. This is not a bad thing though, because if a large number of arcs are overlapping, grabbing the one you want may not be easy.
If you are not interested in completely designing your own ship, but still want to have some control over its armaments, you are able to load up the base designs in the game and manipulate them. Fortunately the developers were kind enough to program it so when you replace one turret with another (say replacing a fusion beam with a laser beam) the arc remains. This is very useful if you just want to upgrade weapons, but otherwise leave the design alone.
Now that you have your ships designed, it is time to assemble your fleet and start blowing stuff up! But, assembling your fleet is a little different than in many other 4X games. As 4X games are a variant of the RTS, it is not surprising that many 4X titles use a grouping mechanic, like what you find in RTSes. The mechanic is fairly straight forward; you take a bunch of built units and with the right keystroke, you assign them to a group that you can call on and command. StarDrive, however, reverses this mechanic as you can design the fleet before any ships are built for it. While this may sound like a bad design, because it takes more time to create a fleet, it enables other mechanics that are very useful.
When designing a fleet, the ships you have access to are given on the right, collected by their hull type. Click on the ship you want and click again on the grid to place it in the fleet. These ships do not need to be built at the time you do this, but you can access the ships you already own through the 'Owned' tab on the right.
As each ship can have very different armaments, the optimal attack strategy for these ships may also be very different. Clicking on the ship icons in the fleet view will allow you to assign different behaviors to the ships, such as circling targets, making straight passes, or holding still and rotating to keep the target in front. You can also set the behavioral preferences for the individual ships, such as operational radius, target size, and how it prioritizes targets. Do you want to go after the enemy ship with the most damage output or the most armor?
Perhaps the most useful aspect of this fleet design mechanic is that you can build to a fleet. Once you design the fleet, hit the 'Requisition' button and you can assign currently built ships to it or trigger the building of new ones. The build command is then sent to multiple colonies capable of the task, so work can be done in parallel. I find this makes it much easier to maintain fleets during prolonged battles or wars as with a few clicks, destroyed ships can be replaced without having to configure their behavior settings.
Of course, what is the point of a space navy if you do not destroy stuff with it? Luckily, there are plenty of targets. Opposing races are obviously one target, but you will also come across two other spacefaring enemies; pirates and the Remnant. The pirates seem to only ever occupy one system and the first time they meet you they try to extort you for some of your money. If you pay them, they largely leave you alone, but if you want to have a colony in that system, you will have to destroy them.
The Remnant are a different story, and in a sense represent the only story the game has. They are remnants of a long dead civilization, but powerful drones are still guarding certain planets. Once you have the right weapons though, they are fairly easy to destroy. Once you do destroy some, you will get a message that your researchers want to examine the wreckage and the 'Secrets' tech tree is opened. Not going to share more than that though, since it is a secret.
Combat is, on its own, nothing special. There are plenty of other space-based games with ship-to-ship combat out there already, and some of these have one feature StarDrive does not; 3D combat. Combat is completely two dimensional, and while that may seem like a step back to the games of yesteryear, ask yourself how much you would enjoy designing the entire volume of a titan-class ship, instead of just a cross-section? As impressive as three dimensional combat would be with the ship design and fleet design mechanic, the complexity of it all would be overwhelming for many gamers and likely many developers.