Lords of the Black Sun (PC) Review

By Eric Ace 11.12.2014 1

Review for Lords of the Black Sun on PC

Lords of the Black Sun is a recent release by Arkavi Studios that follows heavily in the 4X space strategy style of gameplay. Build, research, move ships, take over planets - all the basics are there for a potentially good game, but are the basics enough? Despite taking on a very popular niche, the alpha of this game was plagued by massive bugs and largely negative reviews. Now that it is officially out, has much changed?

Lords of the Black Sun is clear in what it strives to be: a Master of Orion 2 clone, which has been the unmatched apex of the turn-based space strategy genre, and in this regard the game deviates little from that. However, Arkavi Studios' title suffers from the same problem as the publisher Iceberg Interactive's other similar space strategy game Endless Space does, and that is in the race for the bottom of simplifying the gameplay to perhaps make it more accessible. It ends up stripping away depth and choice.

Lords of the Black Sun on the whole is not completely bad, but there are far too many unforgiveable faults to give it a good score or to recommend it in any large way. The entire feeling of the game radiates an alpha or early beta stage; the user interface is pathetic, graphics range from good to shoddy depending on the area, there is little to do, simple things are missing, and it is unbelievably buggy.

To touch on this last point, a game released officially with this many bugs is incredibly unprofessional. Many comments and reviews pointed this out in the alpha and beta tests, and it's still a very ever-present danger. The game can freeze at any point in time, if the player clicks too fast the game can freeze, saves become randomly corrupt, and, strangely, some of these bugs are so damaging that restarting the game is not enough to recover what bug or error triggered and the game loads up a save into its 'bugged' state.

Screenshot for Lords of the Black Sun on PC

There are a few things that are good, and credit has to be given where it is due. The stories for some of the aliens are actually pretty cool, and the human's story actually is somewhat compelling. Unfortunately, the story is given at the beginning, and is never heard from again. Second, the game has a somewhat novel way of calculating how much production is done, which decreases micromanagement by a lot. Essentially what happens is each planet builds a factory or research building, and unlike nearly every other space strategy game, that planet does not get the bonus, but instead it contributes to an 'empire-wide industry' level that determines how fast every planet produces. The idea is pretty cool and novel, and makes some sense that a highly advanced race wouldn't have some planet that is living in squalor because it can't make anything. However, this idea is ruined by a somewhat mysterious calculation that occurs that essentially divides the industry by total planets, leading to the very, very perverse outcome that the more planets the player gets, the less production is actually produced. It is as strange as it sounds.

Those are the good points, but there are a lot more problems. From the beginning, the user interface will haunt the player the entire game. It is small and unintuitive, and important menus are hidden two to three layers deep in random buttons. The game has an 'auto' behaviour that each ship does, and 90% of the time it works fine, such as trade ships attempting to trade, but the problem manifests in that it is literally impossible to do anything beyond this behaviour, such as trying to send a trade ship back to a home planet when enemies are inbound - an error will simply pop up saying, "Cannot trade with self" - and no clicks, shortcuts, or anything will ever send that ship back to the player's world. About the only good mark on user interface is as a player scrolls out of the solar system to larger the galaxy, planets fade away to recognisable icons, as well as ships - in this regard it is easy to tell where ships are, though the lack of colour on planets to show ownership makes it necessary to check system by system to see if there are enemy colonies.

Screenshot for Lords of the Black Sun on PC

All of this could perhaps be forgiven if the game was good, but it is simply very shallow, and feels more like a college coding project than a paid video game release. There just isn't much to do in this game, and despite its size, it may seem counter-intuitive, but that is the reality. Nothing ever really changes from the beginning of the game to the end - each colony is making the same four core buildings, each ship is shooting the exact same weapon only with slightly more damage, each battle goes exactly the same. Choices are given, but they are so few, and typically so meaningless as to not matter. Ultimately, the game comes down to pure numbers, not the best tech, not the best strategy - simply, can the player out produce the other? Get five instead of four, get three instead of two - and in every case the numbers win.

The problem is, nothing ever changes. Despite there being something like 100 tech options, which sounds far, far grander than it really is, there is no 'new' tech or battle option, or new strategy to use; it is simply beam-1, beam-2, beam-3, which scale in such pathetic amounts - five beginning ships could easily beat down two to three 'late game' ships. To put some numbers to such blasphemy in a space strategy game, a starter ship might have about 17 HP, and its lasers do 3-9 damage, a fully decked out late game ship might have 22 HP and do 6-20 damage. There is nothing fun about playing a game for hours and the ships are not noticeably different or more powerful than when the game started.

Essentially, Lords of the Black Sun comes down to an easily repeatable pattern: take planet, build four core buildings, never build on planet again, mass produce ships, win if number > enemies. There is no space to explore or excitement waiting to be found - it is simply ordering fleets to smash into fleets and enjoy the bad battle system. Players are forced to manual control each battle, because while there is an 'auto' feature, it is so random as to be disastrous. Using some unknown calculus, very typically a single ship will blow down 10/20 ships in the 'auto' resolves, where it would stand at 0% even with perfect control normally. This is massively annoying, as the computer will send ships one at a time, and a huge fleet is forced to manually shoot because hitting 'auto' will potentially kill over half of the ships. Meanwhile, manual battle, while painfully shallow, is entirely easy to take four ships fighting four, and come out with all of them still alive.

Screenshot for Lords of the Black Sun on PC

Battles, like much of this game, lack depth. Ships line up facing each other, and take turns moving and shooting - pretty standard, and seems hard to mess up. To understand why they are so bad, it is necessary to know that ships have HP, shields and weapons. In terms of weapons, they can have three types: lasers, missiles or plasma. The reality is they are all nearly the same, with lasers being the best. What occurs in battle is a ship gets to shoot one of its weapons, meaning if it made the mistake of having both missiles and lasers, it gets to only use one. Missiles do shoot further, but they do less damage, and everything misses unless the ships are point blank, making the choice useless. All it becomes in every single fight is a slugging match; whose side has more ships, plain and simple, because tech matters so little. Among the strange decisions is shields typically are about 6 HP strong, and regardless of how much damage an attack does, the shield stops it, meaning a small ship can fully endure a large battleship's barrage, and the shields simply go down. It makes no sense why a huge attack is completely stopped, so all it does is force a small ship to shoot first before the bigger ship fires.

Lastly is the final nail in the coffin. In the attempt to make things easier, it leads to a bad outcome of conquering. There is simply one 'army ship,' which is basically a troop transport. A planet has zero defence unless it has a army ship above it, and this ship seems really bugged as to whether or not it gets pulled into combat over the planet as it occurred both ways. Now, with a single army ship, the galaxy can be conquered, literally. The mass fleet pulls up, blows everything away, and the single ship conquers the planet, instantly switching the planet completely to the player's control, and within two to three turns it can be turning out battleships for the player. It is a disastrous recipe for steamrolling on either side, as instead of a small loss of a planet that is killed, now a fully developed planet is against the empire it was allied with since its creation.

Screenshot for Lords of the Black Sun on PC

Cubed3 Rating

3/10
Rated 3 out of 10

Bad

Lords of the Black Sun is the latest attempt to make a good sequel to Master of Orion, but the game falls on so many levels. The few redeeming features are lost in a painful user interface, battles that are not fun, no choice, no progress, and game-killing bugs. At this point, if the game was an alpha test and the multitude of problems were expected, or the game could go in a different direction, it might have been one to watch, but a broken alpha-like quality on release is nearly unacceptable. Everything that makes this genre fun, such as exciting new research, super-powered ships, trying various combat strategies, or taking over the galaxy, and so on, either doesn't exist, or is just so plain not fun, a player is left to wonder why they are playing or why they wasted money.

Developer

Arkavi Studios

Publisher

Iceberg

Genre

Strategy

Players

1

C3 Score

Rated $score out of 10  3/10

Reader Score

Rated $score out of 10  0 (0 Votes)

European release date Out now   North America release date Out now   Japan release date None   Australian release date Out now   

Comments

Pitty.
If people want an alternative with a lot more exploration/adventure elements I recommend SpaceRangers2.

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