Sword of the Stars: Ultimate Collection PC
Published by: Paradox Interactive
Developed by: Kerberos Productions
If you're a fan of 4X (eXplore, eXpand, eXploit and eXterminate) strategy games and you haven't yet experienced the Sword of the Stars, then this Ultimate Collection is definitely the way to do so. The reason for this is that the two expansions made some important additions to the original game that really helped to make it a more satisfying experience. Available for just under £25, the Ultimate Collection includes the original Sword of the Stars, Sword of the Stars: Born of Blood and Sword of the Stars: A Murder of Crows. This review essentially gives a quick overview of the Ultimate Collection.
Like in all space-based 4X games the goal in Sword of the Stars is to explore the galaxy and inhabit previously unknown planets whilst engaging in research, diplomacy and, occasionally, conflict with other races. The game is set in the year 2405 and a new technology, the Node Drive, has been discovered. This new technology allows travel at speeds that are quicker than the speed of light making it much easier to explore the galaxy. It doesn't take long for it all to go wrong however when an attack from an unknown alien race highlights the fact that the humans are both not alone and not as powerful as they thought they were.
In total there are six playable races (Human, Hiver, Tarkas, Liir, Zuul and Morrigi) to play as. You can choose to create your own games or play one of many scenarios if you're up for a challenge. There are over 200 technologies that are researched on dynamic tech trees. You'll get to engage in spacecraft design and a variety of other tasks that you would expect in a space-based 4X game. What you won't be doing however is being bogged down with micromanagement in the same way as you would in other games of this type. The game has a simplified interface allowing you to alter various settings for each planet by adjusting a few slider bars. Nothing feels like it's been buried away under a series of menus and the game is all the more approachable for this. A Murder of Crows added some interface improvements that you're going to benefit from in this collection.
The game was primarily intended to be a multiplayer experience and it's definitely a more enjoyable experience when playing against human opposition. Up to eight players can take part over a LAN or Internet connection. You can choose to form alliances or teams and you can take on the AI if you wish. You can select the amount of time both the strategic and combat turns will take ranging from as little as sixty to six hundred seconds (or unlimited for the strategic turns). The initial treasury, colonies and technology settings can all be adjusted and you can even pick from eighteen different map shapes or customise one of your own should you wish to. All of the settings mean you can have a multiplayer game that doesn't go on forever although it's definitely not a game that can played when you're short on time.
Sword of the Stars may be an impressive game in some respects but in regards to its graphics it's actually quite a plain looking game. In fact when compared to most strategy games that have been released over the last few years it all looks quite basic. The user interface is also rather lacking and could have been more user friendly. I found that it lacked polish and wasn't as intuitive as it could have been. I personally didn't appreciated the 3D tech trees and would have preferred a traditional 2D one but I daresay some will appreciate the attempt to do something different. The 3D battles do look quite good however and when you have a large scale conflict it can look very dramatic.
Sword of the Stars: Ultimate Collection won't cause deaf gamers any real problems but it's not as deaf gamer friendly as it could have been. In the game's tutorial section you'll find some text tutorial messages that are by no means comprehensive, and some video clips that go into a lot more detail of how to make the most of the game. These video tutorials do a lot to negate the rather unintuitive nature of the interface as they show you exactly how to make use of everything. Sadly these movie clips are not subtitled and are therefore useless for deaf gamers. During the main game there's quite a bit of verbal only feedback when you issue orders and choose a technology to research and so forth and deaf gamers will not be aware of this. You do get text info that scrolls across the bottom of the screen and you can usually get more information by double clicking on this scrolling text.
Provided that you don't already own the original game and one of the expansions, Sword of the Stars: Ultimate Collection is excellent value for money and fans of 4X strategy titles should definitely consider putting this collection on their wish lists. Sword of the Stars was already an enjoyable game by itself but the two expansions that followed helped to spice things up and generally improve the experience by adding new races and features. In effect then, Sword of the Stars: Ultimate Collection is definitely the best choice for those who have yet to experience the series.