Stars in Shadow came as a true refreshment in the year 2017 that doesn’t show much promise for 4X games after spending four months in early access phase on Steam. It seems that the developers did a very good job when it comes to listening to the fans, having provided us with a very pleasant gaming experience.
I have very much enjoyed the game from the beginning; it is colorful and doesn’t take itself too serious (space Yetis, four-eyed cobras and space dinosaurs, not to mention space pimp dinosaurs!) but delivers a very satisfying gameplay. There are some rough edges that need be smoothed out, but the overall experience is quite positive.
Stars in Shadow is the first review of a 4X game in 2017 and I fear that there will not be many of those this year, for whatever reason. The game is developed by a Canadian development studio Ashdar games and published by Iceberg Interactive.
It is only natural to compare this game with Master of Orion 2, and the game does a pretty good job to live up to the MoO2 standards while at the same time maintaining sufficient identity and uniqueness. The races are fun, with interesting variations on known twists, with an interesting twist for good ol’ humans; these guys do not actually have a home anymore but wander the space in search for a new home planet. They are also supposedly not the nice diplomats they tend to be in all similar titles
The first problem I was faced with was the UI. Generally, there was too much text, too much clutter overall, and it took me some time to figure things out. I would say that this part could use some more loving. Admittedly, once you get the hang of it, the things get better, but SiS is not going to get the “best 4x UI” award any time soon.
After my initial expansion I encountered my first couple of alien races. Unlike in many other similar games, these proved to be very friendly, not only in their appearance, but also in their offerings. Unlike any other game before, they offered me trade deals, treated me as a friend and essentially entered all the deals I could possibly be interested in. Even more fascinating because I had no bonuses to my xeno-relationships and was considered by some to be the scourge of galaxy.
However, that did not take long, and my first best friends forever, the species of Little Sea Ponies, at some point suddenly declared war on me. Ok, I know what you are thinking, the AI was behaving friendly until the point came where our friendship was no longer beneficial to them, the human player would ahve done the same. I agree, but upon declaring war on me, the Little Sea Ponies never attacked me, and they had a lot of opportunities. Basically they remained waiting there until I built a fleet large enough to ROFLstomp them into oblivion. Very disappointing.
On the other hand, once they declared the war, the rest of (moderately medium sized) galaxy jumped on the bandwagon and did the same. However, the most disappointing thing was the fact that none of those races actually came gunning for me, even though they had massive advantage, even when it came to single species fleet power. But they all left me alone, so I had plenty of time to build up and eventually crush them all.
The tactical combat is probably the best part of the game, even though it never got really challenging (due to AI’s lack of aggressiveness). I haven’t seen a game that reminded me more of Master of Orion 2. Even the recent Master of Orion from Wargaming.net had a peculiar 3D, pseudo turn-based combat that didn’t really strike anyone as a key feature of that game. Stars in Shadow instead has a turn-based combat that would do honor to the legend and is definitely the best part of the game.
Overall, I have enjoyed Stars in Shadow a lot and I am hoping that these issues would be ironed out in the following patches. But even as it stands, this is a 4X strategy games that I would like to recommend to all the fans of the genre.
Stars in Shadow is a very solid, pleasing 4X game that provides a very intriguing playground and satisfactory tactical combat. However, the somewhat clunky and overfilled UI, insufficiently aggressive and diplomatically “challenged” (not challenging) AI diminish somewhat what would otherwise be a 5 star score. Still, well worth playing on harder settings.