Lost in space.
Developed as a spin-off to 2014’s Starpoint Gemini 2, Starpoint Gemini Warlords was recently released following just under a year in Early Access. The game sells itself as a space simulator that combines both strategy and role-playing elements. These are all things that, as a player, I enjoy in games. Privateer 2: The Darkening, released way back in 1996, is genuinely one of my favourite PC games of all time. Elite Dangerous is getting more addictive the more I play it. So Starpoint Gemini Warlords contains a number of things that, in theory, can work well in one combination or another if executed in the right fashion. Unfortunately, I’m unconvinced that Starpoint Gemini Warlords is, in its current state, able to pull it off.
Starpoint Gemini Warlords certainly entrusts the player with a significant number of things to manage. These include the more ‘RPG-type’ activities such as levelling up, engaging in various dialogue branches, doing freelance jobs and choosing particular skills to develop. Then there’s the more ‘strategy-type’ tasks such as constructing ships, commanding fleets, trading, mining and salvaging materials.
Players can ultimately progress to conquering territory, upgrading their ship of choice from a meagre gunship to a carrier, and developing a stronghold that can produce advanced ships, weapons and structures.
The game spends very little time introducing the player to the Starpoint Gemini universe. The story that accompanies the initial campaign essentially serves to facilitate Starpoint Gemini Warlords’ multi-faceted approach to the gameplay: the player starts off with a single ship and, in true RPG-style, must upgrade along the way by completing missions, jobs and side quests whilst partaking in the exploration of the game’s wider universe. The 4X side of things becomes more important as the player progresses onto aspects such as fleet management, building up space stations and acquiring territory. Ultimately the game’s more free-form modes give the player greater creative control in these areas.
Although a pretty basic concept, the idea should be appealing to fans of science fiction and role-playing games in general. However, the campaign kicks off with a certain assumption that players either intrinsically know what’s going on, or don’t need to know. Either way, I wasn’t sold on this approach, and the tutorial was of little help in getting to grips with things. Players should also be warned: the voice-acting is absolutely atrocious, the writing is not much better, and the initial story missions felt very thin in terms of depth, attention to detail and objectives. The free-roam modes offer far more freedom in terms of player autonomy.
Where do I point this?
Combat is also confusing, in large part due to ill-conceived control mechanisms. While Search and Destroy missions can be fun, combat within the game is consistently undermined by a camera which is often exceptionally frustrating. Similarly, the actual mechanics of maneuvering, aiming and utilising the in-flight UI is far from seamless; albeit again, the camera plays a large part in this.
This problem is compounded by some rather poor performance issues including subpar graphics, freezes, bugs and some strange physics. These factors, sadly, really did hamper my overall experience with the game.
Stay in your lane.
Starpoint Gemini Warlords has certainly taken an ambitious gamble in its attempt to crossover a number of genres in terms of gameplay and mechanics. However, it is also ultimately what holds this game back. It reminds me of a football cliché: the one says if you have two quarterbacks on your team, you don’t really have any. Much in the same way, Starpoint Gemini Warlords really suffers from an identity crisis: in the opinion of this reviewer, developer Little Green Men Games needs to commit a little more in one direction rather than trying to do everything.
The aforementioned performance issues really compound this. Some of the content and mechanics issues could be forgiven, or at least, would have been easier for the player to process, had the game run smoothly. However, there is nothing more frustrating than trying to get to grips with a myriad of gameplay and strategy mechanics when the core UI is obtuse, the camera angle is awkward, the controls are unwieldly, the graphics are poor and there are numerous bugs.
Back to the drawing board.
Starpoint Gemini Warlords still feels a little incomplete. While I would not go so far as to describe it as anything approaching a disaster, there are a lot of problems here that need addressing. The good news is, theoretically, many of the performance issues can be fixed – and I think this would really improve the overall experience. The bad news is, the game’s core foundation – its blend of simulator/RPG/strategy – doesn’t really work as well as it could, at the moment. It’s a structural problem – one born from an over-ambitious attempt to do too many things at once. It has a lot of promise, but the delivery is lacking.
There is an enjoyable game in here, but it currently lives down the road. For now, however, Starpoint Gemini Warlords is a product that doesn’t do any one thing well enough to justify its price point and the accompanying time investment it requires of players.
Review copy of game provided by publisher.