Star Ruler ReviewPublisher: Mind Blind Studios
Platform: PC Exclusive
UK Price (as reviewed): £12.99 (inc VAT)
US Price (as reviewed): $15.99 (ex tax)
The 4X (explore, expand, exploit and exterminate) space game genre has been blessed with a large number of great games: the Homeworld and X series to name just a few. These well loved games have been joined by new member: Star Ruler. Developed and published by Blind Mind Studios, Star Ruler does a surprisingly good job of competing with these titles, even though it's a brand new series.
Star Ruler is, right from the off, incredibly intricate and complex, even by the standard of other popular 4X titles. You can tailor the universe to your whim, specifying the scale and size of the universe, from a single star system, all the way up to a dumbbell shaped galaxy with more than 10,000 stars and an almost uncountable number of planets. The size of the in-game universe is only limited by the processing power of your PC, which means most bit-gamer
readers will probably be in for a treat, scale wise.
The maps are also procedurally generated according to some basic solar principles, with binary star systems and other solar phenomenon thrown into the mix to help keep the game interesting. Unlike some other 4X games, Star Ruler won't bore you with samey star systems. And this is all before you've even started the game.
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As with other 4X titles, players have the ability to research, design, build and command vast fleets of ships, but must learn to balance this micromanagement with managing a galactic empire of mind boggling proportions. Unsurprisingly, this can be as taxing and confusing as it sounds. New players can find themselves disorientated by the sheer mass of information. What's more, the tutorial only describes the basics, with some features not explicitly described or even hinted at, making the experience very daunting for new players.
For example, the galaxy is generated with a wide variety of planetary conditions and star-types, but there's no explanation of how the different planet types can influence your plans. Would a toxic atmosphere affect the huge mining operations under construction, or is it just cosmetic? What exactly is meant by semi-sentience in regard to a planet? There's a huge amount of detail packed into Star Ruler, but much of it is rendered inaccessible by a lack of proper descriptions. We spent most of our time with the game furiously alt-tabbing to Google just so we could find out information such as the behaviour of a heavy element star, and whether it was likely to explode if attacked.
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Star Ruler is relatively straightforward once you've learned the facts, but until then you can expect most matches to end in bitter disappointment, despite some concessions to accessibility. You can, for example, flatten the normally 3D maps to a 2D plane, should you find that easier to cope with.
Another helpful touch is the ability to randomise the tech tree links, preventing anyone who's been playing this game since the beta rushing you with a hundred, doomsday-weapon-firing capital ships before you've worked out how to unlock shield tech. You can even automate the whole process of researching, if you can bear the thought of having to micromanage yet another aspect of the game. These features do help to make Star Ruler more beginner-friendly, but they didn't stop us getting stomped on when we ventured online.
Once you've invested the time to get familiar with Star Ruler's quirks and foibles, it becomes incredibly easy to launch waves of destroyers upon foolish opponents, or to select the right planets in which to invest, either in the online multiplayer or singleplayer modes. The problem is that Star Ruler requires such a large initial investment in terms of time, rather than presenting a decent tutorial at the beginning.
However, despite the steep learning curve, Star Ruler is a very impressive game that will instantly appeal to ardent 4X fans. It is
a pain to have so much information unexplained, but once you've let Star Ruler sink its claws into your time, it doesn't let go easily.