Sword of the Stars II: Lords of Winter Review

Sword of the Stars II is a hot mess, beleaguered by crash bugs, freezes, a poor user interface, and limited tutorials.

Sword of the Stars II: Lords of Winter is a huge disappointment. After more than a dozen patches as of this review, it remains a buggy, difficult-to-play mess, prone to multiple crash bugs and freezes, obscured by unclear mechanics, and bereft of helpful guidance. Even if you have a great deal of patience and a professed love of deep strategy games set in space, you should avoid Sword of the Stars II until developer Kerberos Productions has fixed the unfinished product it's currently selling.

The basic structure of this 4X (explore, expand, exploit, exterminate) space game blends turn-based strategizing with real-time combat. The turn-based portion is all about exploring the galaxy and building your empire. Activities here include designing ships, building space stations, creating fleets, researching new technologies, engaging in diplomacy, managing your economy, colonizing worlds, and plotting your next move. The real-time proceedings are all about blasting your enemy into cosmic dust or preserving your own forces against overwhelming odds. As the game progresses, a rhythm develops in the turn-based portion as you check in on your economy, your fleets, and your tech status, and then balance all of this in your intergalactic checkbook. It’s here where you build your grand strategy for winning the game, though this is far from an easy task thanks to the technical issues and poor interface.

Sword of the Stars II is a pretty game. Even the galactic map is alive with colors and information.

One of the game's greatest frustrations is that it doesn't teach you how to play it. It lacks a tutorial, and even the seasoned strategists at whom the game is targeted would benefit from something that walked you through its confusing systems. A downloadable beginner's guide and some basic tutorial screens were patched in, but even with this help, Sword of the Stars II is often baffling. The various information screens for your economy and starship design are similarly arcane. The graphs that show the differences between weapons are small and difficult to understand. This makes deciding which weapons you want to install on your starships perplexing; the game doesn't do a good job of explaining how the different types of damage affect potential targets or the power drains (and other costs) of using such weapons. Easy-to-digest information is the lifeblood of strategy games, and Sword of the Stars II fails to present it to you properly.

The game lacks a story-driven campaign or even scenarios--the single-player portion is all about fighting one of the six factions. This could have been satisfying, but right now, it's difficult to finish a skirmish. The game crashes and freezes constantly. During a one-on-one match against the AI, you might find a hurdle greater than any fleet of starships: crash bugs. The game might crash repeatedly when you attempt to take a planet that would have provided a tactical advantage had it fallen, and will do so on multiple maps. The game can crash in other instances as well, such as when clicking on the menu button to save the game. Even worse, some patches have fixed certain bugs but introduced others.

Sword of the Stars II also suffers from interface woes. If you select a fleet and then select a planetary system for a mission, the game takes you to a screen where you…pick a fleet for the mission. The fleet manager is supposed to let you put your ships into formations, but sometimes it shows only your command ship as eligible for placement. Planetary information screens pop up and can't be easily closed. You find yourself wrestling with the game's interface frequently, and sadly, some of these issues are so intrinsic to the game design that they seem beyond patching.

The basic tutorial screens provide some assistance, but oftentimes they don't provide enough information.

Combat also presents problems. As you're building and organizing your fleets, you can plot their formation on a grid. This includes putting ships above or below the standard "middle" plane. Yet when fleets go into combat, the formations disappear; cruisers, command ships, and other vessels appear side by side, in one line, wiping out painstaking work devising formations that take advantage of the fleet's ships and their weapons. This also removes some of the strategy from combat. Sure, you can attempt to rebuild your formations, but because the combat view centers on one ship (typically, but not always, your fleet's command vessel), this makes it difficult to get your ships into the formation you want. This centering also makes it difficult to view combat and control your vessels. It's especially annoying when the view centers on a vessel that's slower than others in your fleet; you either advance more slowly or leave the ship behind and accept a limited view of the stellar battlefield.

Another frustration in combat is the timer. When you set up your game, you may not notice the rather small field that controls the length of combat. The default length of five minutes is sometimes too short for you to maneuver your fleet to your opponents or polish them off. You can advance the clock during combat, so don't fret about setting the timer longer. The last thing you want to do is waste a couple of turns finishing off an enemy because you set the length of combat to be too short.

Multiplayer is just as problematic. It's difficult to find games to jump into (it could take days find an open game to join, because the server is just that barren), and between crashes and frequent disconnects, it's tough to remain in the game you've started. Multiplayer games use maps from the single-player game, and so are prone to the same sorts of bugs.

The Sol fleet launches a volley at the enemy. The visuals for combat are so cool that you can watch individual turrets fire away.

The most frustrating aspect of Sword of the Stars II is that, despite all of its problems, the game had great potential. It looks beautiful, with some pretty cool ship designs, such as the humans' blocky Babylon 5-inspired ships or the more organic designs of some of the alien races. Turrets rotate and fire, and as your ships accumulate damage, rents and holes appear, turrets explode, and fires burn. While the game doesn't always provide adequate information, it's fun to tinker with the starship design tools--especially when you're kitting out the larger ships, such as dreadnoughts and the new, massive Leviathans. The new Battle Riders--destroyer-type vessels that lack interstellar engines and require carrier ships--are a lot of fun to play with as well; they're cheaper to construct than standard cruisers, but they can prove to be powerful in battle. And even if combat is sometimes difficult to control, it's fun to watch big ships blow up in space.

Sword of the Stars II: Lords of Winter should never have been released in this condition. It's a shame that more than a month and a half since its debut, Sword of the Stars II is still in an unstable, difficult-to-play state. The greatest shame, however, is that while Sword of the Stars II isn't that much fun to play, it possesses the spark that could have ignited something great.

The Good
Beautiful and interesting ship designs
Fun to design and tinker with starships
The Bad
A devastating array of bugs, crashes, and broken features
Information is buried in difficult-to-read graphs and screens
User interface is a mess
3
Bad
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20 comments
box2003
box2003

There were new patches released recently and this beautiful game is much more stable, faster. I really enjoy this game, it DOES NOT freezes or anything. User interface is just perfect! :) I guess the learning curve might be a little to high for some, but just give yourself a favor, learn it and the whole universe opens for you :)) The battles are just awesome! One of a kind.

Larsifant
Larsifant

I just bought it (due to immensly good reviews ;) ) 22.01.2012. And it seems to me that they have truly fixed alot of the issues, and most of all the crashes. I have played three hours and never crashed. The only problem is that they have buried all the functions of the game underneath many menus and different screens, whereas the original was extremely user-friendly and clean. If you are going to buy sword of the stars, buy the first one and play online with a friend (that is pure fun) if you do not already own it (19.99€-steam all dlc osv). The morale is: it is not as bad as it used to be, and the graphics are BEAUTIFUL (designing ships, then testing with names you choose yourself on the side of it OOOH BOY!)

gijas
gijas

I heard the crashes were mostly fixed?

BlackTempler100
BlackTempler100

This is a good game but the bugs killing it and make it no playable you cannot play 85 turns without crashs !!!

leopanter4
leopanter4

the review is BAD why i think so: having just watched the review of anno 2070 i must say that this isnt a fair score, since anno also has a crap interface, almost no tutorial, hard to understand screens of information and missions that keep you guessing what the actual task is... etc.. i also had some crashes playing anno and that scored 8.5 the review of anno reads about the same as this one, the score however does not also the reviewer didnt write a single strongpoint of the game, the lore the difference in playstiles over 6 races, replayability, switching from single to multiplayer. i do however agree that sots2 in it's current state is very bad, mostly unplayable, because of bugs, missing features and constant crashes, but the focus of the review wasnt on those major drawbacks so the score didnt get a real explanation in the text. also the game wasnt explained well at all, and also as someone already comented, the reviewer didnt notice that a double-click or a middle click or a alt+click focuses on anything in a tactical screen giving an indication on the level of dedication the reviewer put into this the review is as good as the sots2 game: misinformative, wrong, half-written and missing half of needed content...

GrahamZ
GrahamZ

There are several people giving this game a good review, but every single one of them says that 'this is GOING to be a good game. You can ONLY review a game as-is, not as you think it will be at some unknown date in the future. And Gamespot's review is totally fair. Did they make mistakes in the review? Probably. But to be fair, the game lacks a decent tutorial, has an incredibly frustrating UI and bugs, bugs, and more bugs. You can't blame any normal person on giving up before figuring out that parts of the game are not broken. I know I did. I loved Sword of the Stars 1, and Sword of the Stars II is not the game I had hoped it would be. It's not even close.

pepepepepepepe
pepepepepepepe

This "GAME" reminds me about Elemental war of magic...we all know what's going to be the future of SOTS 2

Bujincarl
Bujincarl

Stopped reading right at the complaint about the camera in tactical view. You do know that double clicking on veritably anything centers your view on that? A moon, a star, a ship, the enemies ship? If you couldnt even be bothered to find that out it calls the entire review into question. Poorly researched drivel. Games still busted as hell tho.

salemonz
salemonz

One of the most infuriating things I've experienced was catching soldiers lying straight to my face as an NCO. They'd sit there, all smiles and lie. They'd figure I was too stupid to notice, too ignorant to catch on or whatever. It would set me off. When these devs sat there, all smiles, no hints at the broken game, all the way up to release day...it reminded me of those times. Infuriating. Got my money back. Playing the original SOTS. SOTS 2 can die in a fire.

Cobra5
Cobra5

I'm worried that even after the bugs are gon, the game might not be that great. I do have it, which was a waste of money already, so maybe my oppinion has just been poisoned by feeling like I was ripped off and cheated out of $40 for a game that's barely beta quality. But underneath the bugs, so many of the things that have been changed from SotS1 are terrible changes. They've expanded every simple action into a whole process. Buying ships, creating fleets, giving orders, doing research... these are no longer things you do but each one now a whole process that requires you to go through several menu dialogues. Even IF it worked without crashing, it seems the entire point of SotS1->SotS2 has been to slow down everything and make it almost impossible to get to battle.

SomeDays2
SomeDays2

im hoping i can play this soon. it looks pretty freakin sweet =)

Zloth2
Zloth2

I'm hoping this game will be in a playable state in a few months. In the meantime, anyone looking at this game might want to check out the original Sword of the Stars. That HAS been patched and strongly supported for a very long time. Plus it's cheap!

Telekenesis123
Telekenesis123

It's such a shame that these (potentially) awesome 4X type games (I know this isn't pure 4X) always seem to be to much for the team to handle and they are always released as broken, half completed buggy messes. But this is Kerbebos we're talking about here, it's their MO.

AbandonedFish
AbandonedFish

@KPAC77 Seems like professionals and users alike agree with Gamespot's low score. Besides, it's not only bugs that cause issues; it's other things like UI design, user friendliness and the lack of a narrative. SotS II also has to deal with broken MP and odd design decisions it would seem. If a game has to have a beginner's guide and some tutorials patched in after release, something's gone wrong.

vidalaac
vidalaac

It is really a very fair review.... and I am a fan of the original, played for years and had waited for this one to be much better. Kerberos mislead us into believing the game was finished and was perfect. They kept on talking about features that aren't even implemented yet... after all the last patches. And there are many other problems the reviewer didn't mention (probably he didn't tried to like the game as much as I did). One such thing is the fact that you can't play any of the big maps, because of the very thing that is trying to make the game playable: the patches! Every new patch is not compatible with the older versions, so your save games can't be used properly (I am not making this up, it is explained in the forums). Unless you are capable to finish the game in a few days you're out of luck... oh and the game is auto-patched every time you start it, since it is a Steam only game! The list can go on and on... I am pretty sure this one will only get finished by the first or second expansion a year from now... that is, if the fans can keep it alive.

KPAC77
KPAC77

With those criticisms, skyrim should have got a 3 as well but got a near perfect score. The ui is buggy and poor especially for pc, it has numerous crashes, patches introduced more bugs, and the number of bugs runs into the hundreds despite several patches. Can we have fair reviewing please gamespot?

KillerJuan77
KillerJuan77

I remember playing the first one's demo, I loved it (I'm not even sure why I hadn't bought it yet) but this is just sad. What happened?

cr8ive
cr8ive

@oscaromarjp: I thought it looked almost identical w/ the Mass Effect cover art

oscaromarjp
oscaromarjp

Is Just Me Or The Cover It's Evocating Star Wars..?

Sword of the Stars II: Lords of Winter More Info

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  • First Released
    • PC
    Sword of the Stars II: Lords of Winter is the follow-up to the hit 4X franchise Sword of Stars.
    4.1
    Average User RatingOut of 81 User Ratings
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    Developed by:
    Kerberos Productions
    Published by:
    Paradox Interactive
    Genres:
    Turn-Based, Strategy
    Content is generally suitable for ages 13 and up. May contain violence, suggestive themes, crude humor, minimal blood, simulated gambling and/or infrequent use of strong language.
    Teen
    All Platforms
    Fantasy Violence, Mild Blood, Mild Language, Suggestive Themes, Violence