Sword of the Stars: A Murder of Crows & Argos Naval Yard Review

by on 10th Nov 2009

If you tried to follow the development of Sword of the Stars game through StrategyCore reviews alone, you might be just a little bit behind. "Just a little bit" would mean two expansions and two collections…

We’ll make it up to you.

Our latest SotS review left off at Born of Blood, a huge expansion of Sword of the Stars universe. A new biotech forged warlike race, Zuul, was introduced. With a unique way of travel that suits their longing to hurt everything, even space itself. Trade came into play and, conveniently, so does raiding. Zuul, being what they are, brought enslaving and harvester ships to gather slaves. A whole lot of new research, weapons, ship sections and effects were unveiled. Enough to turn a somewhat bland strategy with fantastic parts – randomized tech tree, sectioned ship design, 3D map, real-time battles and so forth – into a game that became an addiction for me.

Kerberos Productions didn’t decide to stop there.

For the buyer’s convenience of getting both parts of the game at the same time Collector’s Edition came out in May 2008. But it had other goodies, too! Instead of packing a T-shirt, a Tarka egg or Liir battlesuit it had a SotS-verse novel, The Deacon's Tale. I’ll leave the critics to evaluate literary worth, but to me it was a huge lore-boost, something that really got me to think differently of the game I’m playing.

After A Murder of Crows expansion came out it was bundled into “SotS: Ultimate Collection”. Latest addition, Argos Naval Yard, doesn’t have an official collection of its own but download stores usually assign a term “complete” to their bundles of Ultimate collection and Argos Naval Yard.

 

A Murder of Crows (AMoC)

“Who in the right mind would murder them crows?!” was the first thing to come to my mind in November 2008… I let myself be educated by Arinn Dembo, the mastermind behind the SotS novel and storytelling, that murder connected to crows means flock. And some flock it is.

Morrigi entered the struggle for control of the universe. More accurately, re-entered. They are a race with the oldest recorded use of stellar drive, and were once rulers of the universe. As with each great civilization, they suffered a decline which gave other races a chance to grab their piece of the stellar pie. Some of the random encounters we see in SotS are actually their leftovers. Colony traps, asteroid traps, ancient ruins... all belonged to Morrigi once upon a time. This gives them an edge, as they are not affected by these encounters – they even profit from some.

Morrigi are large winged and feathered serpent-like creatures, tied to our legends of dragons. Seriously, did you know dragon legends stem from all over the Earth? AMoC explains how this happened! Well, not exactly but SotS-verse implies we might have been visited by Morrigi in the distant past. They have some psyonic abilities, like making you see them as beautiful, shiny members of your own race, but I guess they forgot to remove the wings. You can guess the rest. By the way, those small, baroque child-like cherubs must have been invented later, after their dragon ancestry was somewhat forgotten.

But they wouldn’t really be a new SotS race if they didn’t have their own unique way of stellar travel. Their drive is called Void Cutter and its effects make Morrigi fleets travel faster if there are more ships in them – within reason, naturally. Mixing ships of different sizes helps as each ship size has a limit to the additional speed it can contribute to the fleet. They have specialized ships to further enhance the gravitational focusing effect. Note that destroyer sized grav ship will only help you in fission, its cruiser sized counterpart in fusion and dreadnaught in anti-matter era of the game. Having obsolete ships will slow you down as they have a lower maximum speed and grav ships are no exception. While a grav ship will propel your fleets faster among the stars, it can use its gravitational powers to slow down enemy ships in a battle.

Aaaaah, but Morrigi brought goodies for others, too! New weapons, new ship sections, new warfare!

Weapons

Complex Ordinance Launchers shoot missile confusing ordinance, gravity field generators, mine and drone packs from far away. Multi-warhead missiles overload your point defence and Kinetic Kill missiles will kick you out of the sky. Zuul got a Disruptor Whip to power down enemy weaponry – and can mount it onto drones! Enough of weapons, I haven’t mentioned even half of the new toys. I don’t want to bore you with each new weapon out there but their number and usage will ensure that you won’t get bored playing. Especially when you encounter one you know no defence for… You will learn. The hard way.

AMoC technology additions

Carriers of any sort have long been asked for and Kerberos delivered drone carriers. Morrigi get to use them from the start but they are available to all. In the beginning of the game they tend to make a huge impression, especially to those who did not have the luck to get point defence as a research option. The power of drones gets smaller toward the end of the game with more powerful beam weapons and point defences but they remain useful throughout the game. Combined with a huge array of possible weapons and defences they can be either very fast assassins, missile shield or a combination of both. Very useful especially for reaching those long range buggers you can’t catch with your warships.

Space stations! Specialized constructor ships can build special purpose stations, be it for trade, command and control, science, repair, long range sensors or just added living space –  though the latter are reserved for Morrigi.

Spy satellites can be deployed in systems with asteroids. They slowly gather data on enemy technology but don’t expect them to salvage those missing technologies you want.

A longer time spent in the same universe with other races brings more need to communicate. Just knowing the language is not enough, you need to know the intricate details of their vocabulary, dialects and purpose-specific jargon will yield more results and Xeno Technology is here to let you study all this. Understanding is one thing, using language as a tool for victory is another. Only a sufficient level of new tech will enable you to demand surrender of an enemy colony or even of a whole empire.

Since you can speak to all these aliens, wouldn’t it be great to have them around? You didn’t learn all those languages just to send emails!

Population(s!)

Population on your worlds is now divided into imperial (hardliners) and civilian (we just want to live in peace). This is a big change. When you research “incorporate” level of Xeno Technology you don’t need to kill everybody on that alien planet. Hardliners must go, naturally, but civilians are able to accept your rule, and live on if you decide to let them. Your terraforming can make their lives a bit harsh but hey, at least they survived the bombardment! And you actually can alter that terraforming slider so that they feel a bit more welcome. They add to the taxes, so why not let them stay? “Accommodate” will make them feel right at home and their kin will move to your worlds if you let them.

You can change the population slider to your liking and end up with more aliens on your colonies than your own people or even overpopulate your colonies and see them slowly use up the natural resources needed for production. But they will add new trade routes for a long time. If you can turn that money into more and more profit, you will not regret seeing most of the colonies slowly turn into depleted industrial graveyards. Being an environmentalist this overpopulation system makes me kind of sad, really. The Zuul way has become the best way and sustainable development will prove to be a losing strategy in the game.

The above mentioned are not the only levels of knowing aliens but for more you’ll just have to play the game. Don’t expect me to lead you through Latin-Hiver dictionary!

 

Argos Naval Yard (ANY)

Needless to say when ANY was offered for pre-order in June this year (see, we’re catching up), I grabbed it instantly. Okay, it wasn’t instantly – I used up that first instant to get familiar with the feeling of not getting a box with a nice disc inside. I have never before bought a downloadable game yet ANY doesn’t come in any other form. I am not sorry to have surpassed my prejudices. Takes far less space on the shelf and cannot be chewed on by children!

ANY didn’t bring complete economic or population overhauls, as with previous expansions. It brought a load of cool new technologies to be researched, new ship sections and the like though.

Diplomacy was augmented with hardware this time. Meaning ships, naturally. Propaganda ship stationed near or at planets of another empire, will send carefully selected sweet words and slowly win their hearts. Zuul don’t really care about what others think of them so they thought of terrorizer ships instead to bring along with their war-fleets. Those destroy the enemy’s morale and make them surrender more willingly.

Drones get an overhaul with advanced drone frames. That certainly did make drones end-game worthy. Heavy drones, advanced assault shuttles and cruisers able to carry assault shuttles make a lot of difference. Drones can now be mounted on satellites, too.

Tarka empires got an added drone bonus – battle riders! These demand some more research investment and bring a carrier section for Tarka dreadnoughts. A dreadnaught with a carrier section carries three hunters, autonomous manned ships with no faster-than-light propulsion. Basically well armoured and weapon-laden single-section cruisers.

Contrary to the Tarka hammer approach to drones, Morrigi remembered their old, more intricate techniques of autonomous drones. They can now construct colony and asteroid belt tricksters. These lay the feared colony and mining traps, preventing colonization and mining (or refining) in systems they don’t intend to use for themselves at the moment. A mining trap can obliterate a whole war fleet that wants to refuel through refining – definitely useful in a war.

Previously you were only able to take over existing asteroid monitors. Well, now you can build some! Add armour and weapons to your liking and set your constructor cruiser to build it in systems with asteroids. It is pretty expensive but it adds firepower without the loss of command points, just like satellites.

New plasma weapons were discovered and start with polarized plasmatics for small turrets. This and its further development for bigger turrets – chakkar and chakram – are disk-like plasma weapons that completely disregard ship armour. They saw their way into the hull and are useful if an opponent was lucky with armour technologies.

Just to name a few more toys; interceptor missiles, focused shielding, inertial cannon, scanner satellites, pursuit section and on and on. Far too many to describe or even list them all.

The dark side lightens up

There was a section called “The dark side” in StrategyCore’s Born of Blood review. I thought I’d just copy it here and my work is done, but no. Sneaky Kerberos decided us reviewers should write it all from scratch.

So what is different?

Asteroids are no longer automatically a target and they can take some pounding before they fall apart. This means that you can hide in asteroid shadow for longer and that you can use it as a way to get closer to the planet before you are targeted by planetary missiles. I’ve managed to cripple well developed colonies from asteroid shadow; target incoming satellites with long range weaponry and let the dogs… err, assault shuttles… out when a gap is created. Not many sights are nicer than an enemy colony lit up by shuttles’ strafe runs.

Things that Kerberos obviously decided are out of SotS scope remain. A large number of specialized weapons and gadgets has not decreased micromanagement in battles. Command and control, as is implemented, does prevent ship numbers to grow out of scale so it is manageable yet, I’d love it if more autonomy in a battle was possible. When I want to use combined long and close range ships a lot of babysitting is needed on both ends. In single player mode this means you will usually pause the game a lot. Guard command is something that would be of a lot of help… Not only for dedicated PD ships but drones, too! You can equip drones with PD but if you want them to function you need to target an enemy ship. This means that they will fly there and expose themselves even when they only have a defensive role. You can’t assign them to buzz around your own ships and provide a much safer PD shield.

 

Closing comments

The scale of this game has grown over all my expectations. I’m still deciding whether this is a good thing, but it is mostly because I don’t have enough time to master it all. Seriously, I haven’t even seen some of the things I wrote to you about! And I left even more out. With the sheer number of additions I’m not embarrassed to admit it. The thing I’m most sorry about is that I’m unable to give a good description of multiplayer. Kerberos’ forums are a testament to people playing it and loving it. While I can (sometimes) manage the AI, I wouldn’t be able to stand my ground in MP. I don’t use cheap tricks to confuse the AI (cloaked ships with bio-weaponry, targeting one colony then changing direction to attack another one) but in MP you need to use all the advantages you can get – or so I hear.

This review will not give you ratings though. There are several reasons for that. Firstly, it wouldn’t be objective. I read up on other space strategies but nothing has really moved me enough to even try it. An accurate comparison is thus out of the question. Secondly – call me a fanboy and you’ll be completely right. And thirdly I was pretty surprised to find out that things that I love most about this game – randomised tech tree, 3D map – are a nightmare to some. So you might love it or hate it, I can give no guarantees. Don’t come back crying you weren’t warned! This goes for severe cases of “just one more turn” syndrome, too.

Special thanks to FullAuto and Zombie for taking the time to help me write this review.

 

Add Comment Comments

Space Voyager\
12 Nov 2009 - 7:18am
Space Voyager

Thorondor, on 11th November 2009, 7:14pm, said:

p.s.: I too prefer boxed copies, so I think I'll steel my resolve a while longer to hear your review and recommendation for SotS II before taking the plunge... :)
;)  :) :)  

So much for the persuasive powers of the review! :) Thank you for all the compliments.
Thorondor\
11 Nov 2009 - 6:14pm
Thorondor
Your keenness and adeptness at SotS transpires from the review, SV, and, in turn, by reading it one (even the uninitiated I might add) can really begin to appreciate just how potentially deep and intricate a lattice Kerberos has managed to weave with this series - namely with all its latest additions.

Also, thankee sai, for the warning at the end, for I suspect that if I allowed it I would fall prey to all this prospective gaming goodness, turn and again.

My compliments to the reviewer are well warranted on yet another much worthy entrance to SC's growing coverage.

::

p.s.: I too prefer boxed copies, so I think I'll steel my resolve a while longer to hear your review and recommendation for SotS II before taking the plunge... ;)
FullAuto\
11 Nov 2009 - 3:38pm
FullAuto
Nah, bout time this was up.
Space Voyager\
11 Nov 2009 - 12:19pm
Space Voyager
I've posted it at Kerberos forums, I'm not sure whom you or Slaughter usually contact on our friendly sites.
Pete\
11 Nov 2009 - 7:52am
Pete
I did debate holding off a while longer, but then I disn't want Space Voyager to send the boys from Kerberos round to beat me up :) ;)

Oh, and feel free to spread the news far and wide - I've not done any of the usual spreading the word yet.
Space Voyager\
11 Nov 2009 - 7:00am
Space Voyager
Pete was just waiting to cover it, he he he! Sorry.
FullAuto\
10 Nov 2009 - 11:25pm
FullAuto
No-one wanted to see my news anyway...

;)

 

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Game Card

Sword of the Stars Box
Developer: Kerberos Productions
Publisher: Destineer
Released:29/08/2006

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Sword of the Stars Series

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