*Advertising disclosure* Though Black Shell Media was a former advertising partner, this review is not influenced by that relationship.
Thank you, Black Shell Media, for the review key! This review is based on the early access beta.
“A simple premise” is an overstatement for the setup of Empires of Creation. When you start a game, a small, medium, or large galaxy is procedurally generated in a pretty spiral. Several stars are automatically claimed by existing empires and pirates. The tutorial introduces a small colored dot among the sea of stars. That dot is your fleet of ten ships. You experience a brief fighting tutorial then fly your dot to the star of a habitable system. After setting this system to be your capital, the game lets you go.
It is reasonable to ask, “Let me go do what?” You and I know a game called “Empires of Creation” is about galactic conquest, but the game does shockingly little to explain how to go about that. When I explain a game mechanic in this review, understand that I had to figure it out on my own. It may have been fun; it may have been boring; it was usually glitchy. Rarely, however, was it explained. The knowledge of the game evidenced in the next paragraph took a couple hours of trial, error, and game-breaking error to collect.
Strong Points: Battles are fun to watch; arena mode is entertaining; a variety of ships results in a varied, customizable fleet
Weak Points: Glitchy menus, quest triggers, galaxy interaction, controls, battles and more lead to many game-breaking states; lack of instruction in basic gameplay
Moral Warnings: While gameplay is highly abstracted, the player is a galactic conqueror without provocation
The goal of Empires of Creation is to build up a fleet and destroy opposing empires. While this sounds like the standard goal of a grand strategy game, Empires of Creation is centered on the combat. There is little trade, diplomacy, or research to interact with. What’s there feeds into combat. You can buy or sell a great variety of ships in different systems to aid you in battles. You can, in theory, recruit allies to join you in fights against other empires. You can edit the rate at which systems under your control produce new ships. Every 10,000 currency units or so, you can buy a colonizer ship to expand your empire. Taking over an empire’s colonies lowers their opinion of you. You can take on missions such as investigating a pirate base or recovering stolen supplies. This is virtually all of the grand strategy available, and it pales in importance compared to the space battles themselves.
Fortunately, the combat is interesting. Battles start when fleets meet in galaxy view or you raid a planet. Retreat at the cost of some ships or fight. If you engage, the game switches to arena mode, a top-down two-dimensional view of the fleets facing off. There might be dozens of ships on each side. They rush to the middle of the screen; lasers, missiles, and debris light up the void of space. The ships put on a remarkably nice show, bobbing and circling each other in a straightforward deathmatch. The noisy blips of lasers and tiny explosions are satisfying, though the background music of the game as a whole is underwhelming. You can set your ships to aggressive or defensive modes, and they react as expected. At any time you can initiate a retreat countdown timer. You can also take direct control of a ship to join the fray. Be aware that you will probably ram into ships more than the AI will.
These battles are either mindless bloodbaths or strategic engagements. You can see how many ships a planet or fleet has from galaxy mode, and the game displays your odds of winning a given fight as a percentage. Visiting different planets will reveal a range of ships to field in battle. If you want to fill your army with replaceable drones, you can. If you want to make bombing runs, you can. Some ships lay mines; others shoot missiles. All have a rechargeable shield. It can be fun to field a variety of ships, but I have rarely come out of a battle with more than half of my fleet intact. Taking direct control of a ship doesn’t help since–understandably–one ship can only do so much. I said battles are mindless or strategic because I honestly haven’t figured out which it is. On the one hand, fielding better-equipped ships gives better odds. On the other hand, fights are usually won by a hair, with the victorious side’s fleet reduced to five ships or less. It is not very satisfying to limp out of every engagement. Worse, you have a fleet size limit that grows with your empire. This makes for a brutal early game when you will not be able to overwhelm anyone with numbers and must scrape by selectively raiding small outposts. For what it’s worth, there is a challenge arena mode that pits a single ship you control against waves of enemies. Power-ups and allied ships drop periodically. It’s good, albeit ephemeral, fun.
Higher is better
(10/10 is perfect)
Game Score – 64%
Gameplay – 13/20
Graphics – 8/10
Sound – 7/10
Stability – 1/5
Controls – 3/5
Morality Score – 92%
Violence – 8/10
Language – 10/10
Sexual Content – 10/10
Occult/Supernatural – 10/10
Cultural/Moral/Ethical – 8/10
Moral issues are limited due to the high level of abstraction. Pirates exist, as do wars and planetary takeovers. It’s all presented in the simple graphics of dots attacking each other in space. If you don’t mind being the one performing a planetary takeover, there’s nothing to worry about.
If this is what you received by paying $5, it might be worth it, especially for those who enjoy the grand strategy and 4X genres but don’t have a knack for them. Alas, this is not what you get. Instead, at this point, you get a glitchy beta. Fights will not begin correctly. Completed missions will not be recognized. Sprites will disappear, causing successful battles to end in retreat. Elements of the interface will disappear randomly and never return. The game will crash. My playthroughs were races to see how much content I could complete before a game-breaking error. I would save to later find that my file would not load–assuming the game let me save at all in the first place. This is why I can’t speak to endgame play. I cannot overstate how much of a deal breaker these problems are. Yes, I remember the days of leaving games running because I couldn’t reach a save point. Other games I’ve twisted to avoid game-ending glitches. Empires of Creation is fun, but not that fun. At least arena mode seems to run fine (except for the music, which cuts out completely).
This review is based on a beta build of the game available in early access. As such, it is possible that, upon full release, the issues discussed may be mitigated or eliminated. I hope so, because a stable build of the current content would be worth the price. I like what Bundle of Sticks has done so far with Empires of Creation. If the developers release a new build of the game, I will happily amend these statements. They haven’t, and I can only speak for what we’ve seen.