Developer Kerberos Studios should be ashamed of the product they’ve now released twice (thrice if you count the expansion). Masquerading as a strategy game is a collection of game-crashing bugs, inadequate introduction and tutorial, and a thick layer of ambiguity that coats every facet of the game. Not only does it feel unfinished, but also it falls short in almost every department after multiple patches and an expansion, with no noticeable changes to its most glaring problems. Sword of the Stars II: Enhanced Edition for PC is a digital manifestation of wasted potential.
Designed as a 4X (explore, expand, exploit and exterminate), players utilize a mix of turn-based strategy to explore a galaxy and manage planets along with real-time ship combat during confrontations with enemies and the elements. The game has a plethora of systems, allowing a ridiculous array of options when building ships and designing fleets. Unfortunately, there are no tutorials on how or why you might use a certain configuration over another. Turrets are completely articulating and have various firing patterns, with differing energy consumption and damage to certain types of armors. None of this is explained to the players since there are no tool tips, walk-through or even a story based campaign. A beginner’s guide is included in the game’s launcher, but it does little to clarify the confusion that permeates the game’s most basic systems.
Just as problematic, Sword of the Stars II is missing a sense of urgency and importance to the economy. In other strategy games, economy is paramount. Having no currency means your production is halted and income takes a priority. Crippling a player’s economy almost always means victory. In Sword of the Stars II, I was paranoid about my spending and was extremely frugal. Unfortunately, I had no idea that some of my bases were in the red from the offset and I quickly found myself with a million in debt. Rather than panicking, I decided to see how far the debt ceiling was, and after reaching a cool 15 million in the hole, I quit the game and started anew. It was baffling to see something as integral to an empire as its economy meant so little in something disguised as a simulation.
In terms of graphics, everything is an exercise in satisfactory. Settings are almost nonexistent, except for resolution, windowed mode and a few check boxes. Backdrops can look pretty, at times, but the effect wears off quickly as you rotate the screen and realize that most assets are two-dimensional. You are left with an image from the Hubble Telescope with some glowing orbs over it. Character portraits are generic and basic, bereft of personality or uniqueness. Even the loading screen character art feels like it was extracted from generations past and has a strange, cartoonish quality and doesn’t mesh with the harsh industrial atmosphere. Ships lie on the opposite side of the spectrum. Designs can be intricate and beautiful, depending on the selected race. It is a shame that they are not modeled on the map and fleets of well-designed cruisers are reduced to a single model.
Sword of the Stars II: Enhanced Edition is an incredible disappointment. The game refuses to teach you its own systems, some of which don’t seem to matter at all. The art is underwhelming and the sound design is utterly forgetful. The only thing this game has going for it is the community that has latched onto the series. With all of its complexity and customization options, there are those seeking to crack the code. Sharing in their confusion, they have banded together to experiment and share results. Each game creates another set of data that can be shared and compared to find the optimum settings to economy, ship blueprints and other systems. Kerberos Studios inadvertently created a civil and symbiotic relationship between strangers on the internet by giving them a common strife. Even if you are a fan of the genre, there are much better options available that are enjoyable and worthy of your money.