Hands-On Preview: Star Ruler (PC – Eurasian & Australian Edition)

Star Ruler is the 4X space strategy title from Blind Mind Studios and Iceberg interactive, with a release date of September 16th in Europe, Asia and Australia. Generally I like my 4X strategy games a little more down to earth, like Civilization, but when given the chance to play the 1.08.0 version of Star Ruler, I decided to step outside my usual tastes and give the game a whirl.

Basically, if you enjoyed Sins of a Solar Empire or Sword of the Stars, you’ll find Star Ruler to be right up your alley. Like most indie sci-fi 4X titles, Star Empire is pretty weak in the graphics department, but the incredibly deep engine providing a wide array of choices for you as you conquer and colonize entire worlds.

From the start, you can customize almost every aspect of your race, as well as those you’ll be “competing” with that are controlled by the game’s A.I. or other players. There are roughly two dozen traits that can aid or hinder your race’s development. Natural Terraformers is a free trait (others cost a few points, while other give you points due to negative conditions) so I tended to go with that. You can control everything about the game from the shape of the galaxy you’ll be playing in to what tech branches will be available when you start the game.

Loading up a game does take a bit longer than you would expect, but you have to be prepared the second it starts as you are not even given breathing room to decide what to do or even check where you are. From that first second, your people begin researching skills and things start occurring. If this is too much for you, you can slow the game’s speed down to 0.03x to give yourself some breathing room and not feel like you are wasting precious time learning controls and what is around you. I’m a dawdler at first in a game like Age of Empires or Elemental as I like to look what is around me. As those are turn based strategy, I can do just that. With a 4X strategy game. You don’t have that luxury, so if you are new to this style of play, you have to be fleet of finger, as well as of mind.

The tutorial is…intense to say the least. There are so many things to think about and manage in this game, from skill building to terraforming to political leaders that you can easily find yourself overwhelmed. This will be especially true for casual and younger gamers. As I said earlier, you pretty much need to be a huge fan of this genre and have played many a game like its ilk to be comfortable with this right away. I actually suggest running through the tutorial twice. Once to get the basics and a second time to ensure you know what you are doing before you start a game. Either that or make sure your first game only features you and no other players, A.I. or otherwise so you can really learn the game.

There are nineteen possible skills you can research, from Material Sciences to Sociology. Several of these are locked at the start of a regular game and each skill provides your race with different advantages. For example, studying Particle Physics gives you access to things like the Muon Cannon, the Bussard Ramjet, and a Bussard Ram Scoop while Energy Science can give you things like solar power cells. Some skills, when combined at a certain level of experience can unlock new items for your people. A good example of this is the Ion Thruster, which becomes unlocked when you level up both the Propulsion and Energy Science skills to level five. There’s no right or wrong way to build your people and each gamer will find a particular set of items, abilities and the like better suited to their style of game play.

I can’t say the controls are the best I’ve ever encountered in one of these games and there are so many minute commands that I would get things confused when I first started the game. Eventually I made mental notes of how to do everything, but in just a few seconds you can definitely tell that Star Empire isn’t made to be user friendly or welcoming to newcomers – it’s made specifically for the PC gamers that eat, live and breathe this type of gameplay. Panning in particular is a problem. Sometimes it works and sometimes it doesn’t.

The demo is a bit buggy. If you leave the game sitting for a few minutes, or you play for an extended period of time, it will crash on you and you’ll have to do a hard reset or close the game via Task Manager. Now this is just a demo so bugs and issues like that are to be expected, and really, you’ll shouldn’t just leave a game that runs in real time like this one sitting, but if you start to hear the music slow down, you’ll know it’s about to crash to save and exit out quickly.

The music of Star Ruler has a real New Age circa the mid 1990s to it. Remember that CD Pure Moods that was sold via Time Life commercials back in the day? The soundtrack to this game sounds a lot like that. It’s very soothing which is an odd juxtaposition with how intense the game is as you micromanage a dozen aspects of your people at once. It’s a very nice soundtrack, but I can also see some people find it a bit too laid back and serene for the whole “conquering of galaxies” motif.

I have to say, my time with Star Ruler left me about impressed with the sheer amount of options and things to do in the game. I tend to be more of an RPG or point and click adventure game when when it comes to what I play on my PC, but fans of this genre will have plenty of reasons to want to pick up the Star Ruler demo and see if it is worth investing in. I’ve barely scratched the surface of all there is to see and do in the game and as I’ve said, it’s a very deep game, so if you’re looking for something that will take a long time to master and you’re a fan of the genre, this is a game you’ll want to snag as soon as it becomes available.

Star Ruler has a MSRP of $19.99 and it will be released in the Eastern Hemisphere on September 16th, 2011. To learn more about Star Ruler, you can either visit Iceberg Interactive‘s homepage, or that of the developer, Blind Mind Studios. North American gamers will be happy to know that the game is available to them (and has been since August, 2010) at sites like Gamer’s Gate and Impulse. If you are interested in playing the demo, feel free to download it from Softpedia.



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