It's safe to say most gamers will probably have come across a 4X Strategy game at some point- those Xs standing for eXplore, eXpand, eXploit, and eXterminate (though I propose a fifth X, eXtremely long loading times). You play as a clan, or civilisation, or race, or maybe even a lone character, and hope to grow into a flourishing empire, competing against others, offline or online, to achieve victory in a variety of ways. Each individual title tends to have its own win conditions, but the vast majority offer some sort of military, scientific and diplomatic approaches as standard.
Many years ago, probably the biggest name in the 4X Strategy market was Sid Meier. Over the years, however, a growing number of games have appeared to rival Civilization and Alpha Centauri; from Age of Wonders to Endless Space. Now Grey Wolf Entertainment enters the fray; but will Dawn of Andromeda stand out in a field that's already littered with space-themed strategies, like debris in an asteroid belt?.
Dawn of Andromeda is available on Steam for £22.99.
Dawn of Andromeda takes place, fittingly, in the galaxy of Andromeda, where numerous planets, artefacts and civilisations wait to be discovered and explored. The more you explore, the more things you encounter; anything from black holes to pirates. Each neighbouring star system you send your ships to could lead to valuable discoveries, or to opening a whole new can of wormholes.
There are eight pre-built races you can choose to play as, including the Terran Union (basically humans), The Orolith Confederation (your standard pink aliens), the Ynan Commonwealth (gas orbs vaguely reminiscent of Ziggy from Quantum Leap, without the LEGO remote control), and five others that look like Doctor Who villains waiting to happen.
Each civilisation comes with its own traits which tend to aid a certain type of victory, but as always- it's down to you, as the leader, to determine your fate. Well, the AI also has an impact. if they slaughter you, well, that's technically their fault.
However, if you're feeling creative, there is also the option to create your own race, to customise every aspect of your forthcoming civilisation- from appearance to traits and exclusive technologies- options not present in many of the big 4X games, so it's a nice touch.
And when I say "off on your own", that's exactly what I mean. While there are tutorial prompts which tell you what things are, they don't do the best job of explaining things, and there is no out-and-out tutorial mode, which I find always tends to help accommodate both novices and experienced strategy players alike, easing them into the nuances of the game. This is one of the few 4X games I've played which more or less throws you in at the deep end- while not every game has a demonstrative tutorial mode, they do tend to offer some hints- such as Civilization's assistant recommendations.
The other alternative is Custom Game; this offers the more traditional element found in similar games, where every feature is editable; difficulty (though not speed), scarcity or abundance of resources, minor factions and pirates; even the background colour of the galaxy. There's also the option of "total war" mode, which effectively removes diplomacy and turns the game into a vehement free-for-all of aggression and selfishness. Rather like Black Friday sales.
Beginning a game with this means you start with the galaxy unexplored and must encounter civilisations for yourself. You're even tasked with selecting your council members, who have an impact on your government, from foreign relations to science.
Custom Game also allows you to select the victory conditions; while eras predefine what you need (or don't need) to do in order to win, the play styles synonymous with 4X games are more freely available to pursue in Custom Game; there are four ways of winning;
- Diplomatic Victory: Allying with or exterminating every other faction in the game
- Research Ascendancy: Accruing 200 technology points, then researching the "Ascendancy" project
- Economic Victory: Earning a positive balance of at least 800 credits in your treasury
- Rebuild the Sceptre of Kri: Discovering three parts of the fabled Sceptre of Kri by exploring the galaxy, then reassembling it
All the recognisable features of 4X games are there- tech trees, diplomacy screens, city (or rather, planet) management, et cetera. What's different about Dawn– and not in a good way- is there is very little micro-management in your colonies. You can choose which units you want to build (scout ship to explore, colony ship to expand, Protector Station for military defence, and so on), but you cannot choose to build specific infrastructure; instead, you invest points in categories like "Housing" and "Industry", which ambiently improve production of resources, depending on the amount of points being invested in them. The exact effects are a little unclear in this department, as are some of the displays (I can't for the life of me figure out what the 0/2, 1/2 or 2/2s mean), and full understanding of anything in the game involves extensive reading of the codex, which many may find rather dull and irritating. Me being one- I don't mind reading, but I don't want to have to read everything
Of course, the vast bulk of exploring, fighting, gathering, colonising, nose-picking, and so on, is tasked to spaceships. These can be built in the colony screen (by clicking on a planet). You're not just limited to the predetermined ones- oh no. If you feel your colony ship needs a bit more protection from the pesky clan whose blackmail attempts at "protecting" you chose to ignore, you can customise a unit, and do just that. This, like many things in the game, is something I discovered by fluke during my gameplay style of "click everything until I get to what I meant to find", rather than being informed of in advance. (I'll say it again- it's not the most user-friendly of games. While it might not be rocket science, it's certainly spaceship science.)
Once you've built your ships, it's time to send them off to do something, because sitting around doing nothing is the job of Homer Simpson and TV critics. The real-time nature of the game means you have to pay attention to each ship in your empire- where they're going, who they're fighting, or what they've found. There are no helpful hints or reminders- if you've forgotten about a scout ship, then it'll remain where it is until a space archaeologist discovers it and its dead crew several millennia in the future. While this may not be a problem early in the game, when you're ruling over 15 or so colonies, it's easy to overlook Oscar the Scout Ship from Orolith I.
Combat seems a little lacking at the moment. It's difficult to follow, as they seem to have removed the zoom feature present in Early Access that allows ships to be more visible, meaning battles appear as little more than ants shooting projectiles and occasionally exploding. The real-time nature means you have limited control over what's happening, and combat seems for the most part automated. It's all a little lacklustre, and definitely not a highlight of the game.
At the moment, there is no mod support or multiplayer- while this may not be a big deal for some people, others wax lyrical about such features, and are often crucial to games' longevity. However, this being real-time, I'd imagine multiplayer to be rather unbalanced, if one player is on top of everything while others simply have no clue what's going on- turn-based strategies, in my opinion, lend themselves to a multiplayer mode much better, as players are given time to figure out what hell they're doing. Indeed, not one comment I've seen regarding this game has lamented the lack of a multiplayer- and don't expect to find one here, either. It's not a feature every game needs to have, and for the moment, nor does this; with the mechanics as they are, I don't see it as particularly feasible; and altering them to better suit a multiplayer means you risk losing sight of the original game. Also, I'd be even worse online than I am offline. So kudos to Grey Wolf Entertainment, who have focussed solely (for now) on perfecting a single player experience.
Graphics and Sound
The art of Dawn of Andromeda is really rather good. Each faction has its own introduction screen, and colony, victory and defeat screens also feature artwork. Outside of this, however, Space is (somewhat expectedly), one big void- albeit one with a customisable colour. So if you get bored of staring at a purple galaxy, you can start again and turn it orange.
Yes, it's dotted with planets, stars and the like, but the beautiful art style doesn't carry across to the real-time main game outside of menu screens, which is where you will be spending the vast majority of your time (other than on a loading screen), as your ships move across the galaxy. The view gets a little dull; compared to similar games, it's an enjoyable experience watching scouts discover new terrain in Civilization or Alpha Centauri. In Dawn, your scouts will travel through a wormhole, and discover more purple. Yes, the nature of space is probably what elicits this; but nonetheless, it's rather dull. For me, variety is what keeps games interesting; for instance, the ever changing terrain in Euro Truck Simulator 2 makes the rather menial job of driving a truck an enjoyable experience, while Train Simulator features much less of that, making train driving rather more boring. (I bet you weren't expecting those two "games" to be mentioned in this review.)
There is no voice acting or speech of any kind present, which is not necessarily a bad thing. Indeed, sometimes voice acting in a 4X game can get exceedingly annoying- Age of Wonders III, for instance, insists on reading out most of the story at an agonisingly slow pace, when it's much faster just to read the text and get on with…er…whatever you do in that game. Hence, I have no complaints about the lack of voices in Dawn of Andromeda. If anything, it allows you to imagine for yourself what the races might sound like. For instance, I personally gave the Orolith a Munchkin voice, while the Terrans sound like Samuel L Jackson.
Similarly, the music is nothing to shout about. Mainly because in space, nobody can hear you scream. It's a suitably mysterious, gentle soundtrack, which doesn't particularly distract or attract in any way. In a way, this is extremely beneficial- if it was irritating, you'd be screwed, as it's all you'll hear for the vast majority of the game- everyone seems to be mute, even the spaceships' exhausts, and unfortunately, none of the races seem to have invented radio, or Spotify (maybe their wifi signal isn't great).
4X games tend to fall into two categories; afflicters of "One More Turn" syndrome or the "I can't get into this, but I've tried for so long my 2-hour Steam refund window has expired" type. Dawn of Andromeda, for me, was a 4X in the latter. Of all genres of 4X games, I would say space exploration is the most saturated- Alpha Centauri, Beyond Earth, Endless Space, Stellaris, Galactic Civilizations, the void goes on. Of course, none of these are perfect, and some (looking at you, Beyond Earth) can be incredibly disappointing. So if a new, jaw-droppingly outstanding title came along, there's plenty of space (pun certainly intended) in gamers' libraries. This, in my opinion, is not one of those titles.
While Dawn does have some interesting nuances, like the custom race features, at present it's nothing special. There's nothing visually exciting, other than some nice artwork on certain screens, and unless you know what you're doing and what you want to do (so perhaps everyone but me), it can get dull rather quickly- especially as the game is real-time, rather than turn based. For me, not having a clue made the experience rather underwhelming, and the growing of a beard as it loaded a little unrewarding- full understanding would entail a borderline Tolkien length of reading (though thankfully there isn't anything regarding the creation of rabbit stew in Dawn). Others, perhaps those more at ease with real-time 4Xs and the other nuances the game has to offer, may well enjoy Dawn of Andromeda– there is an abundance of positive reviews on Steam, so such people do exist. But for a newbie to the genre, I'd recommend starting somewhere else.
However, the studio continues to work on it- after being in Early Access for several months, its full release came on May 4th (rather fittingly for a space-themed game, being "Official" Star Wars Day). So who knows? One day, when more features are added, I may grow to enjoy it. For now, I find the whole thing somewhat unintuitive, so it's back to Endless Legend I go. Just…one…more…turn.
|+ Nice artwork||– Not very beginner-friendly|
|+ Various eras to choose from||– No micro-management|
|+ Customisable races||– Poor combat|
|+ Continued development||– Nothing special|