Star Trek: Deep Space Nine: Dominion Wars Updated Preview
We take a look at the latest build for Simon & Schuster's Star Trek strategy game.
Though the TV show saw its ups and downs in terms of quality, there's no denying that the last few seasons of Star Trek: Deep Space Nine provided some of the most exciting moments in Star Trek history. In these seasons, fans saw some memorable moments occur with the Romulan Empire allying itself with the Federation and the Klingons against the massive Dominion fleet, which comprised Cardassian, Jem 'Hadar, and Breen ships. After more than a few defeats, the Federation and its allies pushed the Dominion fleet out of Deep Space Nine and sealed off the wormhole before any more Dominion reinforcements could arrive. Simon & Schuster hopes that its upcoming strategy game, Deep Space Nine: Dominion War, appeals to fans of the series as it attempts to re-create the last few seasons, complete with all the factions, ships, and missions from the TV series.
Dominion Wars isn't an ordinary strategy game--you don't have the ability to create units or structures, and there are no resources to worry about during the actual game. In fact, one aspect of the game that probably involves more strategy than the game itself is the fleet customization screen. Once you select a single-player campaign--there are both Federation and Dominion campaigns--Dominion Wars moves into a briefing screen, which is then followed by the fleet customization screen (where there are a number of different options to choose from) and six empty slots at the bottom of the screen. To begin a mission, at least one of these slots must be filled with a ship, which you select from a list, as well as a captain. This may sound fairly straightforward, but there's an added dimension to this process because you have a limited number of credits for "purchasing" a ship, captain, and secondary items. For example, one combination that you may want to start out with is the Federation ship Defiant and Commander Worf, but the problem is that these two selections deplete so many credits that it's impossible to include any additional ships for that mission. This isn't necessarily a negative aspect of the game, since the Defiant and Worf combination is often a better alternative than having three weaker ships and three lesser-skilled officers in the battle.
In addition to ship and captain selection, there are a few more options to change in the fleet customization screen, and these can have a profound impact on the outcome of a battle. Under the crew option, you can select from three different types of crewmembers to put on your ship, each of which have their own unique properties. The blue-shirt crewmembers can be used as part of away teams for taking over enemy ships as well as for defense, and engineering crewmembers can repair your ship during battle. The more you have of a particular crewmember, the higher your chances are of being successful in accomplishing a specific task, but again, crewmembers also cost credits, so you have to make a compromise between the number of crewmembers and what you want to include in the rest of your fleet. Another option in this screen is the secondary items menu, which lets you add new items to your ship--ones that boost your weapon and maneuvering capabilities.
Easier to Use
When you finally customize the fleet you want for a mission, you have chance to become familiar with Dominion Wars' camera system and controls. When not in battle, Dominion Wars' camera actually works quite well--with the mouse, you move in any direction around a single ship, making it possible to look for enemy ships directly behind you or to the sides. Additionally, you can zoom in and out to get a closer look at your ship. By default, the camera zooms out whenever you select more than one ship. However, in the current build of the game, this camera can become a little problematic because the movements of your ship can be chaotic during a battle, making it difficult to move the camera at an angle that's actually useful. It's also difficult to select a new target at these moments because it takes a while to maneuver the camera into a proper position, where you can target new enemies.
As noted before, Dominion Wars doesn't let you build new units or engage in some of the more typical conventions of the genre. The ships you select at the fleet customization screen is all that you have for a particular battle, though occasionally, you can capture enemy ships and make them part of your fleet. In this respect, as well as others, Dominion Wars shares much in common with Interplay's Starfleet Command, but both Simon & Schuster and the development team at Gizmo quickly pointed out that Dominion Wars has a much more simplified menu system, which should appeal to people who were intimidated by Starfleet Command's extensive menu system.
All the menus you need in Dominion Wars are literally right in front of you. Ordering a boarding party to beam over to another ship is incredibly easy--all you do is click on the small crewmember icon in the center of the screen, decide how many crewmembers you want to send over, and they're instantly transported over to the enemy ship. Other controls, such as shields customization, power levels, weapon status, and maneuvering, are all basically on the same menu. This can make the game much easier to get into right away, but there are some problems with this simplified system. Whenever you click on an enemy target with the mouse, the lower-right menu---where you can give orders such as cloak, balance shields, or guard another ship--changes into an attack menu that gives you a number of different tactical options, such as targeting specific areas of a ship, and evasive maneuvering, fire at will. Unfortunately, if you ever want to cloak your ship during battle, you have to switch between the two menus by clicking a small icon at the bottom of the screen. If you're in a crowd of enemy ships, the few seconds it takes to switch between menus often leaves your ship open to attack.
Battle can be much more complicated than you may initially suspect. When playing through the first few missions of the game, it's easy to select all your ships and order them to perform basic attacks when an enemy comes along. The very first mission for the Federation Alliance is to go into the Badlands to escort a few small Federation supply ships and protect them from any Marquis attacks, so you really don't need to know anything but the basic attack commands. However, subsequent missions for both campaigns can become very difficult rather quickly if you continue to use select all your ships at once and order them to attack. Some useful strategies later on require that you break up your fleet and have each ship perform a different task based on the difficulty of the task and the expected amount of enemy presence in the area. You might send the Defiant or another similarly powerful ship on its own, while smaller ships, like the Federation Steam Runner, should have an escort. The same applies to the Dominion fleet as well. In addition, it becomes apparent that you can't just send your ships directly into a horde of enemy ships and hope that you win by firing off more torpedoes than the enemy. Obviously, engaging less-powerful enemy ships first is always the best option, but occasionally, you have to send one of your ships into an enemy fleet to draw out the smaller ships and bring them back to an area where you can safely deal with them.
There are some incredibly spectacular battles in Dominion Wars. Since the game tries to follow the storyline of the TV show as closely as possible, some of the later Federation campaign missions take place near the space station Deep Space Nine, which has been captured by Dominion--you even get to try to recapture it. In this mission, you have to not only break through the front line of defenses, but also deal with the enormous Dominion fleet at the station itself. This scene contains at the very least six huge Cardassian ships flying around the station, along with equally large-sized Breen and Jem 'Hadar ships and numerous smaller fighters. Needless to say, these battles are intense and filled with plenty of action.
Dominion Wars is still a little rough around the edges, but understandably so since the current build is in an alpha-plus stage. The game looks very good and is easily one of the best-looking Star Trek games to date. Each of the Deep Space Nine locales, like the Badlands, is immediately identifiable, and there's plenty of detail on individual ships. AI looks like it still needs some work, since some ships quite often remain stationary either when fired upon or when you order them to attack other ships. Surprisingly, even at such an early stage, the multiplayer mode works quite well, and there don't appear to be any serious unexpected problems, though Simon & Schuster admits that there's still a significant amount of balancing and tweaking to be done. Deep Space Nine: Dominion Wars is due out at the end of May.
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