Lords of the Black Sun
is a brand new I.P. developed by Arkavi Studios, a new indie developer studio. Set in outer space,
Lords of the Black Sun
is a turn based strategy game with a heavy focus on diplomacy and intergalactic politics. The game tries its best to offer a wide degree of customization to each player and randomized elements in order to each and every game feel truly unique.
Lords of the Black Sun
has a deceptive depth that isn't immediately visible at first, as I soon found out. Starting a new game, I was greeted with eight different races/factions to play as. This seemed a bit lacking at first, until I realized that I could set the difficulty of each faction. While most strategy games I've played would make each AI team equally difficult,
Lords of the Black Sun
allows me to set up three factions to be complete pushovers, another three at 'normal' difficulty', and the remaining faction as a big dragon I have to gear up and defeat at the long end of the road on my journey to victory.
In typical strategy games, the story is often shaped and influenced by your choices, rather than any sort of game preset. On your first playthrough, you might be the generous, peace-loving human beings that seek peace with the universe by forming intergalactic alliances and search for technological enlightenment while keeping evil bug-people at bay. In a different game, you could be a cruel dictator that expunges weak civilizations that cannot stand on their own, caring only for technology that allows you to create bigger holes as annoying alliances attempt to oppose your might. Sadly, in its current state, Lords of the Black Sun does not have a dedicated single-player campaign or scenarios. Hopefully these features will be added later because people who are used to similar games will expect to see them.
So how does the game itself actually play? You start off on a single planet with only a scout ship available, surrounded by stars, each with their own solar systems, and a galaxy to explore. Your home planet holds several slots for you to place buildings that will increase production, research, health, and the like. It seems very simple at first. Then you will build a colony ship and settle your first planet. Each planet holds its own series of unique traits that will have some sort of effect. One planet can have a large amount of carnivorous plants that will make it harder for enemy armies to invade. Another may hold ancient fossils which will provide a boost to science researched there, but the presence of high winds will lower living conditions.
Then you notice that the people on your home planet are unhappy because of an exploding crime rate. Building a police station may make them happy, though it won't be enough. What more can you do? You can flip through various panels until you reach one that offers a series of policies, some already active, some not. You can legalize drugs, which will lower the crime rate but also reduce the health of your citizens, or you can allow your police to use deadly force to lower the crime rate at the expense of a happy populace. However, your population doesn't want either of those policies, so you are left with a choice. Do you use one of your limited planet slots to build more police stations, legalize drugs and take a hit to your health, or let your police shoot criminals on sight? Which will you choose, oh lord of the Black Sun?
Decisions such as these allow for a sizable amount of political detail. You can seek out ministers that may disagree with democracy but will bolster production as opposed to less troublesome advisers that are not as effective. When issues like this start rising to a galactic level, you can afford protection from, and possibly even ally with, pirates and pay them to raid your enemies, work through policies, sabotage a threatening foe, and deliver potent speeches to bolster your faction.
The game also allows for the potential to customize your own ships on a consistent, yet not overly detailed, level. The game provides the player with several templates (light, medium, heavy, and capital respectively) each with several slots to place various engines, modules, armor, and weapons selected from a resource pool. Unlike some other games that offer advanced ship customization, it is fairly easy to understand and won't be a problem for new players to learn. It did not take all that long for me to create a capital-sized ship, load it with the biggest guns I had, some shields, an engine and christened it the 'Shame of the Empire' because my big guns were little more than pea-shooters at the time. Still, I needed something to kill those pirates.
Speaking of which, combat in Lords of the Black Sun is unique because very few games in this genre sport something similar. On the main map, ships move at a set distance per turn and can be formed into fleets of various sizes. When these fleets collide combat is taken to a grid-like screen where ships on both sides are placed. During their turns, they can maneuver around the field, line up shots on the backsides of enemies, and attempt to disable, cripple, or outright destroy enemy ships. This is one of the few games in which ship direction matters as slipping behind an enemy will help in combat rather than simply slugging it out. Personally, I found this the most interesting part of the game and improvements would be great for those familiar with the concept and others who are new to it.
Technology is also a fairly unique aspect because there are three unique tech-trees dealing with science, economy, and military progression, each with its own technologies to be researched. While neglecting any one tree is a bad idea in general. You don't want to be caught with a non-existent army when the bug-people come a knocking, or be stuck with what will be effectively laser-pointers to fight them off because you couldn't get your science up to snuff. Managing technology on a scale is certainly a positive.
In its current form, Lords of the Black Sun has several shortcomings that need to be addressed in order to be a “stand-out” strategy game. First, the game feels very 'placid'. You colonize planets, research tech, engage in politics, but it all takes place over such a prolonged period of time and it takes a while to get to the 'interesting' bits. Players may easily grow bored clicking the End Turn button for prolonged periods of time. Even the ability to have planets with unique features is lacking because it is fairly obvious as to what will be built on the planet once colonized. Second, there are too few pre-made ship designs. Designing an improved trading ship with a faster engine and some guns to defend itself is a good thing. Being unable to trade at all until a design for a ship is made is bad, especially since there is no option to retrofit ships once they have been constructed. If you build a nice army in the beginning of the game, once your blaster tech has improved enough, that army is sub-par to scrapping it all and developing a brand new design. That's not to mention that having to create a whole new ship design because you want more shields and less armor is simply tedious.
Lastly, the game simply takes too long to get up and running. Even if you started off with another planet that you can colonize in a system it can take between ten to fifteen turns to build a colonization ship to take it, and that is assuming you started off with one. If not, the process can take even longer. All the while your technology can flounder, taking just as long, if not more so, to earn a single piece of tech until your research is increased enough. It is simply more practical to span out into one of the other trees where it takes a mere six or so turns to improve your blasters even if you are trying to go for economy tech.
On the whole, when playing Lords of the Black Sun, I left feeling as if I had just gotten a brand new, large, bag of sweets only to have my mom take it away and portion it out into several small bags. While the individual portions (politics, building fleets, colonizing worlds) are decent, they seem a bit separated from each other and having them all work together, as well as having the 'depth of the full bag' would make it a far more enjoyable experience on the whole. It is worth keeping an eye on if you're into turn-based space strategy games though. I would love to give it a full and proper review when it is released because I want to see it realized to its fullest potential.