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Space Wars: Interstellar Empires Hands On Preview

Matthew Keith Posted:
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“To boldly go where no one has gone before”. Those words, made famous by Captain Kirk (note that the phrase ‘no one’ was originally ‘no man’ but was changed in Undiscovered country (ST6) after the peace treaty with the Klingons… yes I am a trekker) , have been used over the years to describe many a venture in pop culture. Independent studio Desert Owl Games is hoping to branch out and try its hand at boldly going with it’s latest entry Space Wars: Interstellar Empires. MMOs as a general rule are a huge endeavor, and Desert Owl, with its team of five veteran game developers and business professionals, are hoping to prove dedication, passion and determination can reach the stars (yep I went there).

Described as a free-to-play turn-based tactical strategy MMO, Space Wars introduces the player to universe ripe for exploration, combat and trade all from the comfort of your own starship. I’ve been spent the last few days with Interstellar War and wanted to bring my first impressions to you. SO without further ado here is our first impressions of Space Wars: Interstellar Empires. 

Desert Owl’s space MMO offers a very unique take on the space mmo formula. Diving head first into the game I was greeted with a basic tutorial that walked me through all the elements you would expect including a very well developed combat tutorial. The reality is that Space Wars is a deep MMO experience and on if you’re not paying attention it would could become easy to get overwhelmed with all of the systems at play. Thankfully, as mentioned, Deser Owl does a solid job at introducing you to the systems.

To give you something to compare it with Space Wars feels like an interesting take on the Eve Online formula. It seems to offer many of the same features as Eve (grand scale, complex character development, interstellar exploration and combat) but manages to create a vastly different experience with its turn-based mechanics. In fact it's turn-based combat system really makes Space Wars a very unique take on the genre. 

After running through the tutorial I decided to ignore all road signs and head off the beaten trail hand just go head hunting for enemies. Space Wars is broken up into sectors that you can quickly jump to using an overview map but once in system you can explore the area by simply navigating the terrain. After entering my first sector I was notified that there was in fact an enemy ship in the area. The beauty is that I had no idea where it was. Part of what makes combat great in Space Wars is the element of the unknown.

I spent the first few minutes navigating the sector searching for my enemy. It's not simply an issue of flying into combat but rather a strategic game of cat and mouse. Come up on the wrong side of an enemy and be prepared to be broadsided. Position yourself incorrectly and you leave yourself exposed to enemy fire. There is a whole line of sight system in play so you are free and encouraged to use the terrain (meteors, moons, debris) to your advantage. Combat and exploration are slow and methodical and by extension rewarding for the tactically minded.

To further explain how this works it's worth noting the initiative points system. In the case of exploring and combat each system on your ship requires some of your initiative points in order function efficiently. In the case of the sensor system without initiative points you’ll quickly discover that your field of view is quite limited. Allocating initiative points to your sensors boosts your field of view but in turn reduces the amount of points you have for moment during your turn. These initiative points can be put into everything to movement, shields, sensors and weapons and much of each turn is deciding how best to use your points.

When hunting enemy ships to engage in combat balancing these points becomes key. To many points in one can leave you weak in another. In the case of my first combat situation I found that at every turn I was re-allocating points based on mine and the enemies position. At times the enemy would even move outside my sensor range forcing me to rethink my strategy. If I’m being honest I’m not generally a turn-based combat kind of guy but I find myself really like the implementation of it in Space Wars. 

There are several other great aspects of the game that I am just scratching the surface of. Inventory, upgrades, new ships and trade are all things that Interstellar Empires offers. I spent a brief time reviewing these systems to note that they seem to be quite deep and potentially quite rewarding for the invested player. At this point the game is still in early access and I didn’t see to much by way of micro transactions and such but as it is a free-to-play title I am sure we will see this system implemented at a later date. As to what form it will take, there isn’t much information available at the moment.

So the takeaway at this point is that if you are looking for a tactical space MMO, Space Wars: Interstellar Empires is warping in the right direction. Even in early access, it offers a great amount of depth, character development and impressive tactical combat. With many more things in the works it is shaping up to be a unique MMO experience. When the game becomes available December 6th I would recommend picking it on Steam and giving it a try. 


Matthew Keith

Hailing from the Great White North, Matt's been playing games since the Sega Master System was new. About 20 minutes after picking up his first controller he discovered he had an opinion on the matter. Ever since he has been looking for ways to share it with others! Matt's a pastor, gamer, writer, geek, co-host of @Rollthelevel podcast, husband, father, and loving every minute of it!