Stars in Shadow is a turn based 4X strategy game set in space. The player leads their chosen faction through different ages of technological enlightenment as they explore the universe. The game does a great job at immersing the player into its universe. The quirky art style has a big hand in this. Each of the seven races boasts their own technological and research strengths. Diplomacy in the game is in depth but self-explanatory. Depending on the selected races traits diplomacy is improved or hindered. That being said, diplomatic campaigns are actually viable. I really enjoyed my playing as Human space hippies. The game uses in game events to create diplomatic issues and opportunities between the factions. Depending on the player’s choices and strategies, opposing races can grow to dislike or admire the decisions made to colonise planets or breaking diplomatic promises. Players can decide to action on this events if they wish to make amends for their actions.
The game boasts a turn based combat system and provides a smooth UI for the player to use during battle. I was impressed with the combat interface. The UI is lovingly designed to provide the player with as much control as possible from the least amount of clicks possible. Controlling ships involves adjusting course headings, targets during engagements and delivering the ships weapon payloads. Players can select what weapons to use and when. Ships can have direct fire weapons, hanger bays to launch fighters and bombers, missiles which travel X distance per turn and personal defense weapons (PD). PD weapons can be ordered to fire at incoming enemy missiles or to destroy crippled ships unworthy of your ships main gun. Alternatively, if PD weapons are not given orders during the players turn, they will enter the next round and react to enemy ships and incoming missiles. The combat system is so fluid that it is easy for players to make tactical errors if they decide to spam orders. During one battle I spammed orders and was brutally reproached for it by the enemy fleet.
Planets are defended by defense system and orbital facilities. As usual these need to be destroyed before ground forces can invade. Ground combat is abstracted. It basically involves selecting which defensive hard points to attack or to continue the orbital bombardment.
Once your ground forces have cleared up any remaining resistance on a captured planet it’s time to lay the foundations for a soon profitable addition to your empire. The game uses a similar population management system as Stellaris, except instead of pops in a grid players get pops in slots. The population determines how specialized a planet can become through the use of improvement slots and infrastructure. Orbital and defensive slots are used to develop technology. Planets depend on infrastructure to develop into prime colonies.
I like that a planet cannot change its developed outputs and bonuses quickly. To this requires an overhaul of the planets infrastructure. The good news is that infrastructure is upgraded automatically as technology is improved. The bad news is that each planet needs to be specialized. Players shouldn’t get greedy when colonizing planets. It’s important to have a plan in place for each planet. Some planets just aren’t worth it. A planet with a hazardous biome and high mineral count is far from ideal for a Human race. For one, the population is going to be penalized heavily, they’ll probably starve unless resources are drawn from a nearby colony and even then it will take a long time to really harvest the rich planet. Rich planets are important in the provision of metals for your empire. It’s these metals which will grant you the facilities to develop and improve ships and technologies. If playing as a carbon based race fertile planets are the baby boomers of your empire. A good example of this would be settling a Human race on a large, fertile, mineral rich planet with a GIA biome. Food? Check. Metal for ships? Check. Ozone layer? Check.
Each planet has its own biome which can be terraformed through the use of technology, or the player can choose to settle mixed races on the same planet. I liked that even at the extremes of the technology tree terraforming was never a given bonus. Although improved terraforming technology will increase the chances of optimally terraforming a planet, the effects of it will be reasonable at best. This means players cannot be greedy when colonising hazardous planets but can choose instead to settle a different race. My favourite aspect of colony management was coupling different races on the same planet. An example of this would be to merge a human and aquatic race on a GIA biome. Or settling a noncarbon or resilient race on an arid planet, such as the one with a high mineral count. Doing this, has a chance to raise the max population of a planet.
I haven’t mentioned the awesome Ship Designer until now as I’m still coming to grips with. Unfortunately the layout design could be better. It’s certainly manageable but unlike the optimized battle system it feels very clunky. On the other hand the options the ship designer provides is delicious. I probably spent the majority of my first campaign pimping out my fleet. Rebellion was rife due to my neglect. Like any maniacal dictator it’s more important to have huge fleet to bombard the social dissidents of your empire. I’ll go into more detail in the full review, once I’ve gotten a firm grasp of the ship designer. In the mean time I hope to come across a relic event which I’ve read about on the community pages. Apparently this leads to specific technological breakthroughs for your race during a campaign. Buckle up nerds.
* The product in this article was sent to us by the developer/company.