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The interface isn’t bad, but does feel outdated.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.


Huntsman: Winter’s Curse (PS4) Review

Developer/Publisher: Desert Owl Games, LLC. || Overall: 6.0

There are things in life that just seem inevitable. First and foremost are death and taxes, but, besides that classic example, the list doesn’t end there. A clear runner up would be emotions like happiness, sadness and anger, which are things that nothing short of a specific lobotomy or mental condition could prevent. Then we have other people, which are impossible to avoid because, according to how I know babies are made, we all start out coming out of a person. There is also disappointment that often comes when the starry-eyed optimism of youth gets a dose of the cold hard reality of adult life. Just like your very next breath, there are just some things that cannot be avoided… like movie tie-in games…

As inevitable as me mentioning Thor in this article.

As inevitable as me mentioning Thor in this article.

In the long tradition of movie tie-ins, Huntsman: Winter’s Curse sets its sights on your PS4’s storage data. Taking place in the Huntsman universe and serving as a sort of side-story to the events in the film, Huntsman: Winter’s Curse describes itself as a “adventure RPG with collectible card game elements” and for the most part gets that right. Though whether it can avoid the curse of a terrible movie tie-in game is another thing entirely.

Huntsman: Winter’s Curse quickly establishes a rhythm and then staunchly refuses to change it. Every bit of story is followed by an encounter, every encounter is then followed by a change of location, and every change of location then brings about more story. Along the way, a boss fight occurs and eventually after a few repeats of the established sequence, the game will end. While this may seem like the standard structure of most RPGs, it’s not so much that it uses a fairly common structure, it’s how Huntsman: Winter’s Curse handles it. The whole process is far too structured and leaves very little room for player agency. Every location has a set number of encounters and doesn’t allow for any exploration on the player’s part. Visiting a different location only requires scrolling over the desired location and then pressing “X” to go there. There is no actual walking or exploring to speak of. To add to that, all loot is tied to those encounters and there is no real way to get more. There are a few side quests, but even those are structured in the same way, where the encounters and loot are predetermined. If there is any attempt at giving the player agency, it can be seen in the choices the player is allowed to make throughout the story, but even those seem inconsequential in the long run. More often than not, the story ends up taking the same route regardless.

Don’t worry about what choice you pick, you’ll end up at the same place regardless.

Don’t worry about what choice you pick, you’ll end up at the same place regardless.

As far as the story goes, Huntsman: Winter’s Curse is a fun little side-adventure that isn’t too bogged down by the details of the movie. This makes it something that a person who has never seen the movie has a possibility of enjoying the story. Mentions and some cameos do exist, including a battle with the title character himself in all of his Chris-Hemsworth-Playing-Not-Thor glory (Inevitable!), but this story exists as a standalone within the universe.

The story is a familiar tale that pits our plucky and strong female protagonist and her roguish male companion on a quest through the Huntsman universe in search of her brothers. Of course, things are never that simple and she quickly finds herself on the opposing end of a powerful witch. This same fairy tale esthetic also bleeds into the presentation. The characters are drawn much like they were in some elaborate picture book and each part of the story is separated into a “book” that denotes each story arc. The characters speak in a fancy tone that can feel like they are hamming it up at times, but overall fit their character and circumstances. There are also enough twists and turns to keep the player interested, as long as they are able to get past the feeling of being led along by the wrist at every turn.

Another positive point is the combat. The system closely resembles the Active Time Battle system used in some Final Fantasy games but with the added benefit of having actions that can alter a character’s turn. Turn order is displayed above the action with a line that scrolls forward with the combatants represented by a portrait on it. Once the portrait reaches the end, that character is allowed to act. Where it gets interesting is in the cards that let you push back your opponents turn. Some allowing you to push a certain character’s action several turns back to either land a few hits or set up another combo with your cards.

Unfortunately, the way the combat looks isn’t exactly inspired.

Unfortunately, the way the combat looks isn’t exactly inspired.

Though, no matter how much fun I found the combat, it did nothing to make parts of the game feel any less half-baked. There are a number of bugs that I encountered, ranging from the annoyingly constant button lag to a frustrating glitch that didn’t allow me to change the equipment on my second character unless I exited the game. There is also a lack in variety among the cards available. I found myself with the exact same card across multiple equipment more often than you would think. Lastly, I just couldn’t shake the feeling that I was playing a glorified mobile game. Everything from the combat to the way you change locations and even the presentation screamed that this was originally intended for the mobile market instead of being a full-fledged console release.

All in all, Huntsman: Winter’s Curse is a noble attempt at a movie tie-in game that fails to impress. The combat and story is intriguing but the way the game handholds the player through the story can be annoying. And that still fails to address that the ample number of bugs in the game are grating, and the lack of variety when it comes to the cards can be no less a detriment to the experience. If you are interested in a game set in a Huntsman universe and don’t mind a bit of linearity, give it a try. On the other hand, if you are looking for an open experience with more variety, I’d recommend something else.