Sword of the Stars is a game about space combat, much likes Sins of a Solar Empire. Whereas Sins focuses on fast game-play, Sword of the Stars instead focuses on personalization of your fleet. Your entire space armada can consist of destroyers, cruisers and dreadnoughts designed entirely by you. The Complete Collection gives you not only the original game, but also the three expansions: Born in Blood, Murder of Crows, and Argos Naval Yard.
Humanity, having ascertained that it is alone in the galaxy, finishes its first starship, set to colonize a distant galaxy. However, just after leaving orbit the ship is attacked and destroyed by an unknown fleet of enemy ships, which proceed to assault the earth. The invaders are repulsed with staggering costs for humanity. Now aware of the threats amongst the stars, the human race begins expanding its dominion over the stars with stronger and tougher ships, encountering more and more species.
This is all merely backstory, though much more information on each species and their philosophy is provided in the manual and a tie-in novel, all written by Arinn Dembo. The races on offer are Humanity, the reptilian Tarka, insect-like Hivers, the space-dolphin Liir, a warrior race known as the Zuul, and the Morrigi (bird-people from space!). Each species has a distinct theme, which is reflected in the way it plays in the main game.
Originally released in 2006, the game has an aesthetic that seems almost cartoonish at times, especially in the case of the ships. However, this is rarely an issue as each species has a distinct look for each of their ships, easily allowing the player to identify the different types of craft in the midst of battle.
Combat tends to be fluid, with no drop in quality, especially on today’s computers, although it’s generally inadvisable to build an entire fleet of carriers or missile boats, lest your computer crash from the strain of trying to track over a thousand missiles or attack craft.
The game is split into two halves – one part consists of you managing your fleets, giving them orders, researching new technologies and the like. This is all done on a turn based galactic map, with the control of planets being the aim of the game. There is no micromanagement of your planets however, as economy, terraforming and trade are emphasized through the use of slider bars, resulting in faster infrastructure growth, greater population increase or decreased research times.
Most of the game revolves around the space combat between fleets, which is played out on a 2D/3D map. The player orders their ships on a 2D plane but ships will automatically move in three dimensions (so as to avoid collisions for example). Orders to fire consist of the player clicking on the section of the enemy ship they want damaged, such as turrets or engines. Also, there are no health bars – rather the condition of a ship is reflected by its appearance. Damage is portrayed on the actual craft, steadily worsening until it is barely hanging together. This makes the game more visual, and entertaining, as there is something a tad more engaging about having to constantly check on your ship’s condition rather than just glancing at a steadily decreasing green bar of health.
Technology is one of the game’s driving features – newer tech is needed to build bigger and more effective warships. However, the tech tree is always randomized for each race. Some races have better odds of having access to certain technologies, but no two games are ever the same – once you may be dependent on ballistic projectiles, and in another game have nothing but laser power, and in a third a mix of both. This is rarely outright frustrating, though in some minor instances it can cripple the way you play the game (a lack of developed engines for example, or having access to technology your species can’t research anyway).
Each race is also distinct from the other in several ways, the most notable being their method of traveling between planets. Humanity is confined to node lines – preexisting links between planets, which limits their movement as the chance of choke points occurring is relatively high. The Tarka have no such restrictions, traveling all over the galaxy without an issue. Hivers are the slowest race, taking ages to travel between planets. Once there however, they can construct gates to teleport their forces. All planets become equidistant from each other, allowing reinforcements to show up from the opposite side of the galaxy in a flash. As for the dolphin-like Liir, their ships travel faster the further they get from planets, meaning that long trips take the same amount of time as short trips in most instances.