Lost Empire: Immortals Review
By Michael Richter |
Bigger isn't always better, a lesson that we've painfully learned from pre-World War I ocean liners and hydrogen-filled zeppelins. You might as well throw turn-based strategy games on the list with Lost Empire: Immortals, a sprawling title similar to Master of Orion that blows away most games when it comes to scale. Unfortunately, that works to its detriment, as it comes off as more than a bit soulless, and it's such a huge game that it feels a bit like you're managing a spreadsheet than an interstellar empire at times.
The setting of this space opera involves a race of immortal beings who once ruled the galaxy until, eventually, they realized they could off one another. Now only two are left, and looking to rebuild their Empire they each look to recruit up-and-coming mortal spacefaring races to their cause. You can play as one of these races—humans included—as you begin with a single world and send out scout ships and colony vessels to spread across the stars. And there are plenty of stars, believe me.
You know this is an ambitious game when the smallest map contains a few hundred star systems. Let's not get into the largest maps, which contain literally thousands upon thousands of star systems to be colonized. In comparison, the classic Master of Orion maxed out at dozens of stars. The danger with having such a massive game is that it can easily get out of hand, and Lost Empire does. The pity is that the designers at Pollux Gamelabs had their hearts in the right places. It's easy to tell that the game's creators have a reverence for Master of Orion II, considered by many to still be one of the greatest strategy games ever made. And Lost Empire has everything a good space strategy should have, from the ability to create custom races with different bonuses and abilities to a massive research tree that unlocks new technologies that can be used to custom design new classes of starships.
Yet even the smallest game feels daunting, as you'll easily colonize dozens of worlds only to discover that you only control a small portion of the galaxy. The amount of management multiplies as you can classify each world in different ways. A fertile planet is best used for agriculture to feed your empire; resource-rich planets should be turned to mining worlds to supply resources; habitable worlds can be turned into population-heavy urban centers for higher taxes and higher chances of churning out leaders. Other worlds can be turned into manufacturing centers (basically shipyards), trading hubs, fuel outposts, and more. Many of these worlds come with strange and bizarre names, but you're free to give a planet a new name that appropriately describes what it specializes in. So let's say you want to rename a population center "Gotham." However, after creating your umpteenth food production world or mining colony, you might start running out of creative names. I certainly did, and so I just started giving my worlds names like "Food5" or "Mining."
The tech tree is also massive, not just in size but in depth as well. It's not enough to research something like terraforming, but there are higher and higher levels of terraforming that offer incremental improvements. For instance, fusion might give your ships a speed boost, whereas each consecutive level might boost speed by a fraction of a percent. Meanwhile you often have to research a handful of techs a dozen times in order to unlock new technologies that you can begin researching over and over again. As such, it takes a long time to make discernable progress on the technological front.
Combat itself is noninteractive, as the game isn't turn-based in the "you go, I go" sort of vein, but rather it's turn-based with simultaneous resolution. So when the game is between turns, all factions plan out their moves. Those moves then unfold when the turn button is hit. That means that if two fleets should happen to collide during a turn resolution, they'll battle it out automatically, and you can watch the result in a 3D battle mode that lets you move the camera around and speed up or pause time, but you're simply a spectator for the most part. Your main input to battles comes well before when you're designing the ships in your fleets.
The visuals are rather plain, but that works to the game's favor when you zoom the galactic map out and realize that the thousands of tiny white dots on your screen are colonizable star systems. However, it's also hard to get excited about the game when the ship designs are so lackluster. Space operas are about cool-looking ships, something that's missing in this game, as many vessels look like basic geometric shapes, like cones. Sound effects and music are also at a minimum for the most part.
The game does have some interesting ideas in it. The campaign comes in two flavors. There's the standard sandbox strategy game where you try and just conquer the galaxy, but there's also a story mode that lets you pursue missions if you choose to do so. At the end of the day, though, you'll realize that you've spent hours and hours watching your empire slowly grow, and that despite all your work you've still got an incredibly long way to go.