Crashed in Space: A Sword of the Stars II Diary

I’ve owned Sword of the Stars 2 since it was released about six months ago. I have yet to finish a single game. More than that, I have yet to make contact with another player, even in the smallest size galaxy! The game is incredibly prone to crashing, breaking, not working, working in a way other than intended and closing itself without warning at random intervals. That said, I am very fond of the original Sword of the Stars and the development team have been patching the game an average of two times a week since it was released.

We’re now on Revision 20461c. No, this isn’t a beta, it’s a live game. Yeah, they screwed up quite badly.

I do enjoy giving things a chance though! What follows is my attempt to play a fairly small scale game vs the AI with three players. I shall be the Sol Force, otherwise known as the standard-issue decent at pretty much everything Humans.

Admiral on the Bridge!

Okay, here we are at the main menu. Well, well, the options menu works now! No graphics settings though. No cancel button either. Still, the very first patch for the live game actually removed the options menu completely as it didn’t work at all. Progress! I note that the music’s rather good, I hadn’t really noticed it before.

Enough fiddling with audio sliders, it’s time to hit Create Game. I’m prompted to choose a preset map from one of 25 – unlike the original, there’s no random map generator. Also, the “Scenarios” button doesn’t work. This still isn’t looking terribly promising. I set up a game on a 3-player map called “Wave”, leave the other settings at default and launch the game.

The interface still seems a bit sluggish. There’s an irritating and noticeable delay launching the research screen. The in-game encyclopaedia takes bloody ages, and actually shows you a loading screen for several seconds when you close it! A lot of the encyclopaedia entries are still missing – clicking a hyperlink that points to ‘fleets’ leads to a blank page, for example. Fleets are pretty important!

The lack of a properly comprehensive encyclopaedia is a problem because this game is complicated. SotS was fairly deep, with lots of things to keep on top of, but most of those things worked in a reasonably straightforward way. Something as basic as moving a fleet is a major procedure here; you can’t command fleets at the strategic level directly. Instead, you create a mission, and then assign a fleet to execute it. You can’t command any fleet that doesn’t have a command ship. You can’t issue orders to any fleet currently on a mission except to abort that mission, which will send them all the way back to base. Ships also go all the way back to base after completing their mission, so if you want to survey three systems with one fleet you end up with this situation:

  1. Create survey mission in system 1. Assign survey fleet to survey mission. 4 turns to complete.
  2. Fleet flies out, spends a couple of turns in the system and then comes back, even though it has enough supplies to go on to the next system before heading back.
  3. Wait for fleet to get back to base  Create another survey mission in system 2. Assign fleet to mission. 6 turns required.
  4. See 2.
  5. Wait for fleet to get all the way back to base. Create another survey mission in system 3, assign the fleet to it.
  6. Wait another six turns because your admiral has to report back to you personally after each mission, despite the fact that he can talk to you instantly from anywhere in the galaxy. Consider getting new staff.

Time to look at what the game’s given me to start off with. Bah. I have a good dozen planets spread across my three systems, but the vast majority of them are utterly rubbish. Other than my 3 already inhabited planets, only one is potentially habitable and its climate hazard is a marginal 500. I send my colony fleet out anyway, since it hasn’t got anything better to do. I also dispatch my survey fleet to have a look at a nearby system.

Meanwhile, let’s start researching FTL economics straight away. Trade is really important in the long term, but it’ll tie up my researchers for 13 whole turns. Ouch.

I click end turn lots and lots. My survey fleet very, very slowly pushes back the boundaries of explored space. I could build more ships, but ships are expensive and you can’t do anything with individual ships. I’d have to build a command ship and a couple of supply ships and assign an admiral to command before I’d have another unit capable of surveying. The extended range / scout class doesn’t even exist in this game!

This has the effect of slowing the game down compared to the original.

Eventually, some things happen. FTL economics finishes, and I build some freighters and civilian stations at enormous expense. About 20 turns in, my colony fleet is STILL running back and forth between my capital and my new colony planet. I’d found a couple of much nicer planets in neighbouring systems, but colony fleets continue to support new colonies until they’re self sufficient. I’ll have to wait. I could build a couple of new colony ships of course, but then I’d have to build a command ship, supply ships, assign an admiral and form a new fleet, and I really don’t have the money for all that.

This is interesting! I discover an inhabited planet. I’m informed that I can shrug and fly off, attack them straight away or study them. I decide to study them, and am informed that I should build a science station. In their system. In orbit of their planet. I’m sure they won’t mind. I send my construction fleet off (sorry, create a construct station mission and assign my construction fleet to it) and begin researching Protectorates in the hope that I can one day integrate them into my empire. Since my colony fleet appears to be occupied forever, it’d be nice to have another system. I’m informed that it’ll be 23 turns.

Two turns later, my construction fleet arrives in the system and I’m informed that I have fulfilled the conditions required to begin studying this minor race. The station isn’t actually built yet, and won’t have any actual modules for another ten turns or so. Ah, well. I divert some funding to this project.

I click end turn some more. I play about with the financial sliders and wonder why all my empire’s money disappears into a black hole if I reduce security funding too much. What do I need an intelligence budget for? I haven’t even encountered another empire yet!

Suddenly: Slavers attack my third system! Fortunately, my colony fleet had just arrived to deliver even more support to the second planet. Unfortunately, the command ship is the only combat vessel in the entire fleet, the others consisting of colony ships and supply transports. The admiral takes her flagship out on its own, leaving the other ships behind the planet, and with the help of the planetary defences manages to rout the much larger pirate force. Outstanding! I’d give her a medal if I could.

After this, I decide to park a cruiser in orbit of each planet. With this objective in mind, I hit the design screen and upgrade the basic ship with some improved technologies: UV lasers, missile launchers, a heavy driver and armour plating. The excellent Hammerhead command section goes in as well. Because nothing can ever be simple, I now have to go to the ruinous expense of building a prototype, even though this design is based on a previous, successful one.

This has the effect of slowing down the game.

I order a prototype Ajax B built at a cost of all of my damn money.

A few more turns pass. My study of the minor race looks set to finish around the same time as my protectorate research. I order a diplomatic station constructed, tweak those economic sliders heavily in favour of savings, and since the prototype hasn’t exploded, build a lovely new Ajax B at each of my systems.

A couple of turns later, some kind of strange spectral ships attack one of my planets. I have a nice new cruiser in orbit, but it turns out that any ship not assigned to a fleet disappears into oblivion and isn’t available in combat. My construction fleet is in the system, but they’re busy building a station so they aren’t available either, despite the fact that the battle takes place in orbit of the planet they’re supposed to be building at. My planetary defences completely destroy the enemy, but not before nearly one hundred million civilians are killed.

So, you can’t just leave a few ships to defend a system, they have to be assigned to a fleet with a command ship and admiral. This probably has the effect of slowing down the game or something.

I need some good news. My researchers decide to cheer me up by completing their survey of the minor race, and finishing Protectorates 5 turns early. It turns out that my neighbours are sentient otter people. I click the ‘diplomacy’ button on the survey report, but my ottery friends don’t appear anywhere in the diplomacy interface, and I can’t seem to find any other way to interact with them. I suppose I could conquer them, but I haven’t spend 20 turns researching the peaceful integration of minor races for that.

A turn later, a fleet appears on my sensors, bound for one of my systems. It’s the Tarkas, another player! An actual player race! What is going to happen now? Somehow I can tell that the fleet is just on a survey mission. I’m fairly certain that doesn’t give them the right to wonder around in my systems, but the admiral in command of that system either can’t find them or seems inclined to let them go about their business. The Tarkas leader isn’t hostile to me, but nor is he particularly chatty. Ah well. The diplomacy interface is awful, absolutely diabolical. In fact, the entire diplomacy system is bloody mental, most importantly in that it doesn’t feel like communicating or negotiating in any way. The best part of the whole diplomacy interface is the background picture, which is of a fairly unremarkable conference table. Yup.

My colony fleet is STILL supporting that first planet that I colonised about 40 turns ago. At some point, the 1500 odd colonists managed to completely destroy the biosphere of the entire planet. Progress is picking up now by the looks of things. About bloody time. The way colonisation work tends to have the effect of slowing down the game. Surprised?

The Tarkas are still hanging about in one of my systems when I get the battle warning for my capital system. It’s a single ship, a ghost ship called – naturally – The Flying Dutchman. Luckily, my principle battle fleet is in the system. Unluckily, it’s nothing particularly special. Even more unluckily, the enemy ship is a dreadnought.

I manoeuvre to engage. My fleet and the planetary defences let loose a constant torrent of missiles while I charge my units towards the enemy. He rolls up and blows away my trade station as if it was made of tissue paper. I discover that ships default to ‘1x’ speed, and order them to increase to ‘2x’.

“Accelerate to double speed!”
“Sir, we’re at full speed already. We can’t go any faster. That’s why it’s called ‘full speed’, sir”
“I SAID DOUBLE SPEED, DAMN IT!”

He then proceeds to lead my units on a merry chase around the system, severely damaging them in the process. Having ‘chased’ the enemy out of range of the planet, I order my units to withdraw. It strikes me that the damage modelling is really deep. A quick scan of the damage report on one of my cruisers reveals that in addition to various other issues, the turret hydraulics have failed.

“This is a battle cruiser, how can we lose all turret hydraulics across the ship at once?! Do we still even USE hydraulics?”

The battle ends in a draw. I take a quick look at my damages. My ships took a real beating; I almost lost my command ship. The enemy ship is barely scratched. Even worse, a quick look at the Fleets tab reveals that unlike most random encounters, the enemy ship hangs around in the system afterwards, so I’ll have to keep fighting it! I’m starting to actually engage with the game now. I have one of the new Ajax Bs in reserve. I add it to the fleet, and order two more constructed. I open up the fleet manager so I can make sure the new ship is actually deployed.

The game crashes to the desktop with no error message.

Shouting ensues.

-DK.

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