Back in mid March I wrote up my initial impressions of Star Dynasties, an Early access Grand Strategy game from Iceberg Interactive. I had hoped that this game would pan out to be right up my alley: a deep, immersive strategy game with a sci-fi flavor. As there are numerous examples in the GS genre to draw from, my expectations were high. Unfortunately, the game as it was in mid March was lacking in a whole lot of basics. Despite the sarcastic downer-tone of my initial impression post, I was looking forward to the developmental progress of the game, so I decided to stop by last night and check out how the project was faring now that we’re at the beginning of May.

Popuppalooza

One of the things that really dusted my doilies was the insane number of popup screens that the game threw at me. Unlike other GS games where there’s no concept of “a turn”, Star Dynasties requires you to take actions, and then let the AI do its thing during a different phase. Fair enough. However, during this time the game insisted on throwing up info-plaques that dragged the viewport around to different parts of the map. Early on in the game most of these popups were telling me pointless things like “Duke So-And-So was now married to an Unknown Person”, or that an alliance was formed or broken. Because the game doesn’t reveal every single AI player to me a lot of this info served no immediate purpose (maybe later down the line, I suppose, but…). And since there was no way to turn this off or alter the popup behavior, the prevalence of popups was a major annoyance.

Things have taken a positive turn, however. Now, on a new game, the first time those dreaded popups are set to appear the game throws up a new panel. This allows me to select either “don’t show so many in-situ popups” and save everything until the end-of-turn summary screen (which I do like), or to keep the status quo. It also allows for the “pinning” of popups so the viewport does shift around the map. Now, my popups are far less frequent, and they are centered in the viewport no matter where I am on the map. This is a massive improvement. However, the per-action popups are still there: when I arrange a marriage or assign training to a family member, I still get a popup I have to clear. As this is informing me that I just took an action that I just took, I feel that it’s unnecessary to put such notifications front-and-center. Maybe in the lower corner of the screen would be better?

Action Sequence

My other big gripe about Star Dynasties was that I wasn’t able to do a whole lot during my turns. The reason behind this is a lack of resources which, I am sad to say, has not been addressed in the intervening weeks.

The game runs on Action Points. I get X number of AP per turn, and that X is based on situational factors inherent in my kingdom. I find this unusual for a grand strategy game, but I will not knock it; it’s a decision that Iceberg made, and all things being equal it works well enough to push that whole “everything is scarce” feeling the lore demands. In order to do anything during my turn, AP points are needed, so it always comes down to the hard decisions between two or more actions each round, governed in part by the available AP.

I say “in part” because the other part is usually human capital. Almost every possible action available each round requires the assignment of a person. This is not unusual for a GS game, and is actually expected because it provides that realistic feeling that I’m assigning people to tasks through which they will excel in My Name. The problem is, there are never enough people to work with. Once a person is assigned a task, that task usually takes several rounds to come to fruition. Once the handful of people I have to work with are assigned, subsequent round leave me with all the AP I need, but none of the people. I am loathe to recall someone who is mere months away from completing their task just so I can feel like I did something this round, but I am still smacking that “End Turn” button way too often without having done anything substantial.

I feel that the problem here is that my people pool is limited strictly to family members. Lore-wise, this makes sense as we want to keep our dynasty rolling and don’t want to sully the bloodline with lowborns, but a lack of a court from which to draw fodder, or from which to elevate commoners to a titled status, completely omits one of the core features that made feudalism work. Yes, we want to keep the ruling class and the common class apart, but even the ruling class has to admit that sometimes, there are gems amidst the coal that deserve to shine. Also, I need someone to start a plot against an annoying neighbor and all my trusted family members are busy with other assignments.

Where Are We?

Overall, the game is moving in the right direction. Cleaning up the popup situation was a massive improvement for me because I feel I didn’t need to know everything that happened in every corner of the galaxy, especially since most of it dealt with land holders I hadn’t discovered yet. The per-action popups are still obnoxious, but since the way has been cleared otherwise, I can live with this.

The AP-to-actor-to-usefulness ratio, however, is still the game’s biggest issue. Action points work; I can’t really fault them there but because so many actions require the assignment of a person, and the number of people I have available is so low, AP goes unspent and actions go untaken. I feel that this is a massive problem because once the AP has been spent and people have been assigned to long-running tasks, there’s not a lot to do. I am not sure if it’s me or if it’s the game that’s missing the concept of a feudal court from which to draw, but in either case having such a pool of potential resources could clear this shortcoming in one fell swoop.

I feel that here, at the start of May, there’s already more to Star Dynasties than there was at launch — Early Access notwithstanding. Kudos to Iceberg for fighting the good fight, because as I said in the other post, there’s a gem waiting to be formed here.

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