Lords of the Black Sun

Lords of the Black Sun

Written by Tom Bitterman on 6/3/2014 for PC  

Miss “Master of Orion”?  Soon you will be able to scratch that itch with “Lords of the Black Sun”.  The game, formerly known as “Star Lords”, reached beta status in mid-April.

Admittedly, “alpha” and “beta” are just words.  Well, sure, technically they're Greek letters, but you know what I mean.  “Lords of the Black Sun” (LoBS) could use some serious debugging.  It is Paradox-from-ten-years-ago buggy right now.  If you are interested in getting into game beta testing this would be an interesting place to start.  It is currently available on Steam Early Access for $24.99 and the developers at Arkavi Studios are interested in tester feedback.

LoBS aims for epic turn-based 4X strategy in the classic mold of “Master of Orion” and “Galactic Civilizations”.  The developers embrace the idea that the game will be complex, with lots of interacting subsystems.

The basic setup is standard space 4X stuff.  There is an assortment of different species, each of which has advantages and disadvantages which affect their ability to perform various in-game actions.  For example, some species are smarter – they can get research done faster.  Other are more gregarious – they are more resistant to social unrest.  These species have decided that the galaxy is only big enough for one of them.  As the player, you choose which race to be the boss of and guide their efforts.

The first step toward eliminating your enemies is to expand your puny, single-planet empire.  Your scout ship will poke around and find habitable planets, which you can then send a colony ship to.  Each planet has a limited number of building slots into which you can build installations.  Installations range from the basic factories and research labs to trade missions, embassies and tourist traps.  The efforts of your various planets will, if you build well, sum up into a powerful empire-wide economy.

You will appreciate this economy when another species settles a planet in a solar system that you thought of as yours.  At that point you will want to build a bunch of warships and make your enemies pay.  Actual spaceship-to-spaceship combat is done on a separate tactical combat screen.  Ship facing matters, so there is room for tactical maneuvering.  Overall, however, ship design and combat is pretty plain and could use some more attention.  It offered glimpses of “Master of Orion”, but has a long way to go.



The above description is standard 4X stuff, and LoBS is firmly in this tradition.  The difference between an OK 4X and a great 4X lies in the subsystems and the way they interact.  In a great 4X, the subsystems are interesting in their own right, and force the player into tough choices.  The choices are clear, the subsystems themselves are intuitive, and a simple, optimal path is elusive.  For example, tactical spaceship combat in Master of Orion could have been a good game all on its own.  Throw it together with an economic model and you get choices like “How many ships can I build?” “How fast?” “Is it better building fewer, bigger ships or more small one?”.  Add diplomacy and you get questions like “Where should I station my ships?” “Can I trust those guys, so I can build fewer and spend the money elsewhere?”.  This just scratches the surface.

And this is where LoBS has the most work to do.  It can be difficult to tell why things are happening in your economy, which makes it confusing to decide what to build next.  The various subsytems (combat, basebuilding, diplomacy, etc.) while functional, are not that interesting in themselves.  When put together they make for a functional game, but nothing that great.  LoBS is still in beta, so the devs have all the time in the world to work on putting more fun into the game.  The basics are here, what is needed are the final touches that move a game from good to great.

* The product in this article was sent to us by the developer/company for review.

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