In 2011, Zero Sum Games raised a modest amount of $17,676 on Kickstarter to develop StarDrive, a 4X game with a space empire setting in the vein of Masters of Orion.
The game promised several features on its Kickstarter page, such as race customization, deep ship design, and multiplayer. Now, after a closed beta, the game has finally been released at the end of last month published by Iceberg Interactive, but sadly it seems like it did not reach its promised state.
The basic objective of StarDrive is to expand your empire through colonization and conquest. You build great fleets and research new technology while exploring the universe, discovering new star systems, and look for the best planets to colonize to improve your empire. StarDrive will let you control your empire to your heart’s desire. You can focus on science and research all of technologies yourself, or focus on trying to steal tech from other empires to save on research costs. You can try and conquer the universe at the start of the game with fleets of small space ships, or wait and research to get the largest ships with enormous guns to blow your enemies out of existence. Sadly, the game is hampered by several problems.
First of all, the game lacks its promised multiplayer mode completely, which must be a huge disappointment for its Kickstarter supporters and followers who were looking forward to playing this game with their friends. Alongside that disappointment, the game has launched with major technical problems. By the end of a long game of StarDrive your FPS (frames per second) will easily have fallen down to single digits simulating and rendering all of the different space empires that you’ll be competing and fighting with over the control of the universe.
Another major technical problem is that the further you go into the game the more the game will start crashing, to the point that I had to save every few minutes because the game would crash at least a dozen times in the endgame and I’d lose 10 minutes of progress every time it did. Both these problems almost make the game completely unplayable.
Aside from the numerous technical problems the game suffers, I found the fleet combat to be very disinteresing. Because even though you can command all of our ships yourself, by the time you’ve got large fleets they’ll be so large that it becomes a fight between two large blobs of ships. You can already configure the tactics of every ship type in the ship design menu so there’s no point in controlling your ships directly, and it might even be damaging to your own fleet to do so.
The game has a lot of redeeming factors, although they still don’t make up for the game breaking technical problems. For example, the diplomacy and race customization in this game is very good. There are 8 different races, each with their own personality. You have the highly honorable space bear samurais, the highly religious race who believe everyone should be destroyed for their god, a race of narcissistic aliens that try to enslave other races to serve them, and several other interesting races. They each behave differently towards the player which affects if they’ll make deals with the player. There is also a nice race customization system that allows you to create a race to suite your playstyle, adding perks on a point based system. You can increase science research, or get an awesome starting planet to built into an early conquest strategy, although you might have to trade that off with less transporting room on your trade ships or a penalty to your overall production.
Another thing that I really liked was that all systems seem to tie into each other. You can build the largest fleet in the galaxy to discourage and defend yourself from your enemies, but that will tank your income which you can medicate again by raising your taxes and that will then affect your production rates. You can expand your empire at a fast rate to increase your production, but then you will need to produce more food on your core planets to feed your colonies, which also stretches your supply lines and your empire, making them more vulnerable to attacks and invasions. You can send out scouts to explore the galaxy as well, looking for relics and other empires to make trade deals with that will increase your income over time. But there is also good sides about hiding yourself, if the other empires don’t know you’re there they can’t attack you or steal from you.
One of the most advertised features of StarDrive is its ship designing mechanic. In StarDrive you’re able to customize your ship to your own liking, the position of all the guns on your ship and its power systems. As I mentioned before, you can customize the AI tactics of your ship, so when your ship has taken a lot of damage on its starboard side you can set it to turn around and start firing from its port side, and you can order scouts to avoid combat completely.
The only problem I have is that the statistics screen, things like the speed of the ship, how much it can transport and such is very confusing. There is no proper tutorial on how to build your ships properly. Now that I’m talking about it, all the tutorials are pretty bare bones. The game leaves you to figure it out for yourself as how to most of the systems work on an advanced level.
In conclusion, StarDrive was a game with lot of potential and promises from its Kickstarter, but sadly fails to live up to expectations. Technical problems make the game nigh unplayable the more you play and the few good bits of StarDrive do not make it good enough to justify the $30 price tag.
This review was based on a final version of the game provided by Iceberg Interactive