Lost Empire: Immortals First Impressions
This turn-based space strategy game will let you try to conquer galaxies full of thousands of stars.
The turn-based space strategy genre may not be as large as it once was, but it still has a devoted following. The genre was defined early on by such games as 1993's Master of Orion and, more recently, by the Galactic Civilizations franchise. The basic formula throughout all these games is similar: start with a single planet, build fleets to explore the galaxy, colonize star systems, research new technologies, and wage war on your interstellar neighbors. Now comes Lost Empire: Immortals, a new turn-based space strategy game from Danish developer Pollux Gamelabs. This is an ambitiously big game, with galactic maps that have as many as 5,000 star systems. At the same time, it looks like it will bring an interesting new take on the genre.
The game's backstory is a bit complex. Basically, the galaxy was once ruled by a race of immortal beings. Then, a devastating war erupted, leaving only two immortals alive. By the time of the game, the two immortals have become rivals and look to recruit mortal races to their cause. You play as one of six species (one of them is human) as you attempt to build an interstellar empire. In the game's story mode, you'll have a chance to pursue missions given to you by one of the immortal beings. The story mode will build throughout the course of the game, and eventually you'll get to a point where you'll either have to ally with the immortal beings or defy them, which means you'll be in for a big fight. However, there will also be a sandbox mode that will let you play Lost Empire as a traditional 4X game. (4X stands for explore, expand, exploit, and exterminate; this is the basic formula of many turn-based strategy games.)
When you start a game, you select various parameters, such as what race to play as, what special abilities or bonuses to start with, the size of the galaxy, and so on. Galaxy sizes range from small, which are suitable for a handful of races, to absolutely stupendous. Of course, the larger the galaxy size, the longer the game will play out. A game on the largest game map, with 5,000 stars, could take weeks or longer, whereas a smaller scale game could take hours or a few days.
You start with a single home world, a scout fleet, and a colonization fleet. Your fleets can only go beyond a certain range from your star systems, and it's important to colonize nearby stars to therefore extend the range of your fleets. Lost Empire features a free movement system, so you can send fleets anywhere in the interstellar medium; they're not restricted from moving strictly between star systems like they are in many games. The scale of the game is one year per turn, and the game features simultaneous resolution. Basically, you plot out your fleet movements each turn, giving waypoints, destinations, and orders to your fleets. When you hit the turn button, the game resolves all faction turns simultaneously, and you see how everything unfolds. Then, a new turn begins, and you can adjust existing orders or issue new ones.
When you colonize a planet, you can designate it to specialize in trade, defense, farming, mining (for minerals, the primary resource in the game), or construction. This is designed to keep micromanagement to a minimum because you could eventually create an empire of 50 to 100 star systems in a large game. Star systems can also help you churn out new ships. There are eight hull types in the game, ranging from scout and patrol craft to lumbering battleships and stationary (save for one race) starbases. Ship design will let you take the latest research that you've conducted and swap in different components, such as weapons or engines.
It'll be important to create balanced fleets, with a nice mix of small and large vessels. That's because you can designate doctrines for your ships to use. For example, you might want to send smaller and faster vessels darting around to attack the enemy's flank while your big, lumbering warships go up the middle. Battles themselves are not interactive once they start. You can just get the results automatically presented to you or you can go in and watch the battle unfold. For example, you can move and zoom the camera around to perhaps take a picture or record some video of the action.
War is just diplomacy taken to the extremes, though. There are definitely milder forms of diplomacy in the game. You can establish embassies, form trade pacts, perform espionage or sabotage, and more. There are also minor races throughout the galaxy. These are smaller factions that lack the ambition and drive to become major empires. How you deal with them is up to you; you can conquer them, or you can try to bribe them. This opens up a nice way of harassing your rivals because you can bribe the minor races on their borders, basically fueling a low-level conflict.
Finally, there's an interesting leader system in the game. All races have a chance to recruit leaders and great leaders each turn. These are basically specialists that you can assign to give you a boost in military, economic, or agricultural affairs. The kicker is that all leaders will eventually age and die, so you've got to use them wisely. Because a turn equals one year, a human leader may stick around for only about 50 turns, but some alien races live much longer, and their leaders can survive for hundreds of turns.
Based on all that, Lost Empire looks like a pretty intriguing game for space strategy fans. It's a large game with a lot of potential, and the idea of being able to play an epic-sized space strategy is tempting. Lost Empire will also ship with a multiplayer suite, but we didn't get a chance to check it out, and it sounds like the single-player will have plenty for you to manage. Pollux is busy finishing the game, and it's scheduled to ship at the end of March.