Space Wars: Interstellar Empires (PC) Early Access Preview

Developer: Desert Owl Games | Publisher: ToHeroes Game Studios || Outlook: Not Good

Space Wars: Interstellar Empires ventures into the bold frontier of slow, turn-based MMO.  Space Wars: Interstellar Something or Other takes the usual issue you have with this genre, speed of gameplay, and doubles the issue by having two phases per turn.  It’s a bit baffling how anyone can have the patience to play when the rule-set is laid out like this, not to mention since this is an MMO where you have to grind to get anywhere.  Uhh… No thanks.

For me, it was easy to make the comparison to Star Trek: Online.  You have warring factions, you get a ship, then you have space battles.  You allocate shields, power, choose which weapons to shoot, yadda yadda.  Except where Star Trek: Online is all real-time, you have a slow and plodding turn-based mechanic in Space Wars.  Don’t get me wrong, I have no qualms with it being turn-based by design, where it becomes an issue is speed and seemingly needless complexity.

As stated, Space Wars has two phases per turn — an Allocation phase and a Combat phase.  Each turn has an Allocation phase where, depending on the stage of the battle, you decide what issues to fix and how to change your combat posture.  Your combat posture includes allocating power to different systems such as shields, movement, weapons, etc.  You can also repair damage if you’ve got any to repair.  This phase lasts until everyone hits “End Turn” but the maximum amount of time is sixty full seconds.  Then, you have the Combat phase where everyone gets their own sixty full seconds to make their moves and attack considering the preparations they made in Allocation mode.  Depending on how many ships are in battle, your turn may not come for another few minutes, and after you’re done with your turn, it could be another few minutes before the Allocation phase starts all over again.  We’re talking about the potential of ten to fifteen minutes per turn at this point, and I already want to open the airlock and get sucked into the emptiness of space.  At least I’d die quicker that way, and wouldn’t have to live knowing how much of a disappointment Star Wars: The Last Jedi was.

The interface isn’t bad, but does feel outdated.  It isn’t really pleasurable to hit the different buttons and modify shields by clicking just the right pixel or clicking multiple times to modify one piece of your Allocation phase’s bells and whistles.  The interface adds to the feeling that there is a layer of needless complexity involved, and many of the numbers/doohickeys don’t feel rewarding considering the gameplay flow.  Each weapon you shoot has a targeting arc meaning you have to be pointing the right direction to shoot.  You can change the direction your ship is facing to shoot with your other weapons in the same Combat phase, so its like why do I have to go through all of those hoops?  Just automate it for me, or simplify it with some other value.  I don’t want to control my weapons through three different mechanics, I just want to control them directly.

On a grander scale the game is based on PVP between factions, which two of the four are currently available during this phase of Early Access.  The map is persistent as each faction vies for more territory and the only way for a faction to expand is to take over another faction’s slice of the galaxy.  Entering on-going fights to help out in this effort is the highlight of this dynamic.  However, if you enter a sector already in the midst of battle, you’ll be stuck in a limbo of sorts until the battle has a “Transit” phase, typically after a full turn has been completed.  I can appreciate that tactics may all of a sudden change when new players enter the battle as existing battles rage on, but it sucks for the person waiting upwards of what could be five or ten minutes before they get to do anything without forewarning.  Also, there is information on what ships are currently fighting, but this can change at any point since players hop in and out all the time.  If you go into the sector looking to fight similar ships to you, you may just end up fighting ships that can one-shot you instead.  Now that’s what I call fun!

There are some PVE missions to take part in.  While the gameplay flow is much less cumbersome, it’s also not as eventful and half of the time you’re searching for the enemy on a large map, hoping you run across them before Alt-F4 becomes a viable plan to defeat them.  There is also an XP system and Leadership Points that you can earn to unlock things and progress your Captain/Crew.  Of course, as a free to play game, there are currencies you can purchase to improve your game and skip all of the grinding and immediately begin to pound asses without knowing what the hell you’re doing.  So there’s, that, too.

Since the game is in Early Access, all of your progress and characters can be reset to scratch at any time, without notice.  Cool!  Granted the game can change drastically from one patch to the next, it doesn’t exactly inspire me to keep playing something coined as an MMO if progress can be reset on whim.  What is the point, especially when it takes a lot of time to get a level or unlock ships?  I don’t even get brownie points for the 10 xp I earned before the reset.

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