For nearly two decades, the 4X space strategy genre has been dominated by a single title alone: Master of Orion 2. MoO2 has become an automatic, genre-defining standard by which to measure modern 4X titles. Nostalgia about the game’s quality may well influence this (to what degree is a matter of personal opinion), but it simply cannot be denied that it is widely held as the 4X space strategy game.
Developed by Toronto-based L30 Interactive, Horizon set itself it up from its early inception to be a contender for the title of spiritual successor to Simtex’s classic 1996 release. All the elements appeared to be there: a simplified interface, unique alien races with rich stories, and detailed tactical combat. What could go wrong?
As it turned out, a lot.
While successfully pulling off some crucial game elements in fascinating ways, Horizon simultaneously misses other ones. Although there have been several patches to the game since its February 2014 release, it is unfortunate that none have come close to making the game a title worthy of anything more than recognition as a mediocre entry into the 4X genre.
Travel between star systems is simple & straightforward by means of star lanes. Exploration is not restricted by technology level or fuel capacity, but only by the necessity of an existing connection between two systems and the number of turns it takes to get there. For those who enjoy a faster pace in 4X games (if there is such a thing as fast-paced in turn-based strategy), this game mechanic fits the bill.
Random events (of which several more have recently been added) are a fun addition to the game, and players can opt to play with or without them. Playing with them can certainly add a fresh feel to the game with such challenges as empire-wide plagues (forcing players to research a cure), or benefits like research and population booms.
The storyline and quest system for Horizon is very well fleshed out, as is the lore and background story for the various alien races. This makes for a much more engaging single player experience than might otherwise be present, so kudos goes to the developers on that one.
eXpand: Colonization: In what appears to be an effort to simplify the concept of colony management, Horizon throws a curveball at 4X fans. It just doesn’t include it. There is no build queue, nor careful planning of your next building option. Instead, colonies simply have specialties, determined by expenditure in a generic building focus (i.e. farming, research, trade, etc).
A positive factor (again for those who prefer a quicker game) is that ships can be built concurrently in one location. Provided you have the money or resources, you can build a scout, colony ship or battleship all at the same time, opting to buy out your purchase or wait the required number of turns.
Thankfully, the negatives are somewhat balanced by a relatively competent governor system (i.e. colony automation) added in the game’s latest patch. This system is helpful, especially late-game with many colonies, but still might be disappointing for players who enjoy a lot of hands-on colony management.
In the end, visiting the planetary management screen is an uninvolved and uninspired process.
Research: Simplicity rules the day again with Horizon’s research system. At first, it appears there may be a divergent path your civilization can take in its technological development, but it becomes apparent that Laser Cannon 1, Laser Cannon 2, Laser Cannon 3 and so forth are not all that different after all. Each level simply involves a bonus to the ability.
Likewise the technology utilized by the different races in the game (despite the depth of their storyline) is, for all intents and purposes, identical in every facet other than name. Thus, despite all the hard work in advancing technology, players end up with pretty much the same ships they started with and a lack of any real specialized plan in research.
eXploit: Resources in the game are limited, so mining is not a focus other than looking for planets with an abundance of mineral deposits, which leaves one of the primary areas of this X: diplomacy.
eXterminate: For many fans of the genre, the inclusion of tactical turn-based combat in Horizon was no doubt a draw. The fundamentals for a detailed, engaging tactical combat system are certainly present in the game. Ship weapon choice plays an evident role in battle, as does the inclusion of auxiliary or support modules crafted in the ship’s design stage.
Ships fire and take damage dependent on the positioning of the ship in relation to the attacker, and the location of weapons on board the ship. This makes for a much more strategic approach to combat than seen in other 4X titles, and certainly leads to more than the simple process of units appearing on a map and the player clicking “Go!”
Unfortunately, the clunky and sometimes nearly unusable interface makes tactical combat a terrible experience from the get-go. Ships are difficult to control or move effectively, and sometimes need to traverse a huge swath of the map just to get to the main battle taking place. Couple that with a slow movement process overall, and tactical combat becomes one of the most belabored, boring aspects of the entire game.
eXperience: Overall, Horizon is neither here nor there when it comes to 4X gameplay. Players will likely love some aspects of the game, and loathe others, but won’t walk away with a sense of hating the game. The audio and visual presentation, while reminiscent of MoO2, are subpar for the modern age and contribute detrimentally to the player experience as a whole. With a major overhaul to these features, Horizon might find itself as a much more appealing title.
Recently patched, Horizon has definitely taken a positive step forward in recent weeks. Significant changes have been made, including the introduction of command points that determine fleet size, and the inclusion of the aforementioned governor system. UI, playability and AI issues were balanced, corrected and improved upon, also, indicating the developers are still invested in fleshing out the title to its fullest potential.
Overall, players looking for a light, fast and easy to play 4X experience would likely get some enjoyment out of this title for a short title, but it simply doesn’t have the underlying structure in its mechanics to support sustained enjoyment or interest.
While it’s not a game I find myself returning to time and again, Horizon provides enough entertainment in the short run to scratch the 4X itch for a busy gamer like myself. There are certainly better titles available at a similar price (regular price on Steam is $29.99), such as The Last Federation, but Horizon might be worth snagging when on sale for genre aficionados.
TL;DR: While Horizon does some things well, notably exploration and diplomacy, it still fails to find its own footing and despite it being heavily inspired by the great Master of Orion, it falls short of inspiring us to play much more. Perhaps with more time and an eXpansion, this game might find its own audience.
You might like this game if:
- Fast-paced gameplay with relatively short turn times is your style.
- You like your 4X titles to have taken a lot of cues from Master of Orion 2.
- Enjoy interesting expansion mechanics and prefer expansion to be a bit slower.
You might NOT like this game if:
- You prefer in-depth colony or system management options.
- You enjoy modern graphics in your games.
- A comprehensive, well-developed and varied research tree is extremely important to you.
- You’re looking for a ‘modern Master of Orion 2’.
- Horizon borrows from that great game liberally, but does not match it in any way.
Davey played 32 hours of Horizon on an AMD A10-6700 3.7 GHz processor with 16GB DDR3 RAM and AMD HD8670D graphics on Windows 8.1 64-bit