Sword of the Stars II: Lords of Winter Impressions - First Look

We take our first look at this ambitious new space strategy sequel from Kerberos at the 2011 Game Developers Conference.


Sword of the Stars II: Lords of Winter

The 2011 Game Developers Conference is a place where you can attend game discussion panels, but you can also see exciting new games like Sword of the Stars II. The sequel to the outstanding space strategy game from Kerberos will attempt to blaze a brand-new trail, make an entirely new experience, and retain everything that fans loved from the first game. In the sequel, you'll start out as a more-advanced civilization, beginning your space odyssey in the fusion age (leaving the fission age behind).

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In the first game, you started a new session tentatively sending out fragile scout ships in search of resources while gradually building a fleet of cruiser-class ships with the hope of eventually commanding a fleet with a powerful dreadnaught-class vessel. In the sequel, you'll skip the scouts and start your adventure commanding cruiser-class ships and the odd dreadnaught. And with great perseverance and a little luck, you'll potentially end up commanding one of the sequel's new massive leviathan-class vessels.

The exploration of known space will also change its complexion in Sword II. While the first game took place in a vast galaxy of 350 stars or so, this space was abstracted to an extent. Each star had one planet, and each planet could be exploited to a certain extent before you reached capacity. In Sword II, you'll find stars that are orbited by multiple planets, which may also have multiple moons. Different planets and moons may house different types of resources, while some planets might be barren of precious resources but be located centrally within the universe as an excellent trading hub. As a result, you may find yourself arranging different corners of your intergalactic holdings into specific roles. Your wealthy mining system might be on one side, your production-focused world might be on another side, and your trading hub planet might be smack dab in the middle. In addition, because you'll be dealing with planetary systems rather than single planets, you may encounter situations where you and one of your opponents occupy planets in the same system. This could lead to an awkward demilitarized (or not-so-demilitarized) zone between your holdings and potentially generate tension that may lead up to war. Considering that Sword II is adding a brand-new seventh faction (which remains unrevealed), the universe of Sword of the Stars II is definitely going to be a little more crowded.

Also, outer space will house more than just your forces and those of your opponents. Sword II will have smaller civilizations that may occupy their own systems, and while you have the option of conquering everything in your path, including these smaller factions, you might also consider declaring these areas as colonies under your protection. Declaring a protectorate will grant you additional bonuses from your colony but less overall control over the territory, as well as a potential responsibility to send help if the colony is attacked by one of your opponents. Exactly how you react in such situations will play into Sword II's alignment system. For instance, your empire may lean more toward fascism if you become a warmonger who conquers rather than colonizes and may lead to stronger military production but lower morale among your subjects. The game will give you alerts that will let you know when you appear to be treading down a certain path, at which point you can choose to continue or reconsider your actions.

Perhaps the biggest change in the sequel will be an addition that addresses one of the community's most common requests: expanding the first game's 2D combat model. The previous game conducted its massive space battles in an abstract manner that distilled hundreds of fighter ships into about 1,000 command points. While command points will return in the sequel, combat will no longer be restricted to a single plane. Instead, Sword II will have three planes for combat: a top plane, a middle plane, and a bottom plane, among which your ships, and those of your opponents, can move. These new planes will give players more tactical options in combat and also take advantage of the game's expanded ship models. It will still let you customize any ship in three parts, but it will also let you add secondary add-ons in subsections. In other words, while your colossal leviathan ship can now be equipped with laser batteries and a nifty new scanning subsection, it may still have a vulnerable underbelly that enemy ships can attack by descending to a lower plane and attacking upward (at which point, the capital ship's pilot will definitely want to descend to the lower plane to no longer expose the underside).

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Sword of the Stars II will add a lot of new features to an already-great game that will expand on the original game's spectacular space combat and in-depth exploration. The game is scheduled for release this September.

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