Greetings eXplorminate Community!
We hope you are enjoying our week-long anniversary festivities. This is the second article in a series of three commemorating our first year together. Now that we have looked back at the year that was, it’s time to look forward to the year to come.
No doubt 2014-2015 will go down as a banner year for strategy games and 4X games in particular. However, it is quite possible that 2015-2016 will eclipse it! Below are previews of all the games that are currently in Early Access, development, or in the planning phase. Let us just say, there is a lot we are looking forward to in the next twelve months. It’s hard to imagine a time when more games in our genre were about to be unleashed on the market. Will this coming year prove to be the best one yet in our burgeoning 4X renaissance? Or will the hype train derail in a orgy of bugs, vaporware, broken promises, and lost vision? Read below and decide for yourself.
Master of Orion Reboot – Nate “Nasarog”
In 1993, life changed for the average computer gamer. The revolutionary Civilization had been out for a couple of years trying to kickstart the strategy genre. But was it fantastical? No. Then Microprose, a company known for its strategy games, came out with Master of Orion. The gaming community rejoiced, and a new genre was created: 4X.
In a randomly generated galaxy far far away populated by 10 alien races competing for dominance, players leveraged technological research to advance their civilization. They used diplomacy of the verbal and physical kind to advance their agendas. They built massive fleets and fought against their enemies in a turn-based style on a tactical map. Heaven!!! Then came two sequels. One was really good, the other a disaster whose name must not be spoken out loud in polite company.
Wargaming, a company known for its strategic gaming acumen, bought the license and is about to present us with the reboot. So far, we have seen a decent amount of ship art as well as two animated alien species. I, for one, am having a difficult time containing my enthusiasm, though I am a bit concerned with the lack of information about the in-game combat. I’m still going to get this title though.
Endless Space 2 – Nate “Nasarog”
In 2012, Endless Space brought me back from the abyss of 4X gaming, and I proceeded to spend many happy hours with this flawed title. In 2016, Amplitude Studios looks to improve on their first game with everything they’ve learned since its release. ES, title that was a graphical juggernaut, returns with real innovative gameplay. It features a proper diplomatic and espionage system from day one. Minor races will play a significant part in your empires. A galactic event system, as well as an updated tech tree and a revamped combat. The late-game system management is getting a boost too. I am very much looking forward to this title once it finally releases. Expect an Early Access period in the coming months.
Predestination – Micah “Marlowe”
Predestination is a space 4X game that offers a unique planetary exploration and development model. Resources can be discovered, cities built, and artifacts found buried in the hex-based ground of each individual colony. The game is currently in Early Access and is certainly still in an alpha state of development, but the systems that are in place work well. Predestination promises to be heavy on micromanagement in the early game, but offer shortcuts to help players manage their empires as the number of colonies grows. Players who love getting the dirt of a new world under their fingernails should check out this game.
Offworld Trading Company – Dallin “Kearon”
Offworld Trading Company was released as an Early Access game earlier this year. Since then it has undergone many iterations and additions and is currently in Beta 5. The final verdict remains to be seen as the game is not yet complete but as of publication, reviews from early access owners are “mostly positive”. Offworld Trading Company promises to offer an entirely new take on the RTS formula where players wage economic war rather than one of military might.
At the Gates – Rob “DevildogFF”
Jon Shafer’s first indie effort, At the Gates was successfully Kickstarted way back in early 2013. Today, Jon nears the end of its initial development cycle and what’s there is really shaping up to be something special. I have been playing it in its alpha/beta state and have nothing but good things to say about it. From its unique professions system to its revolutionary UI, we expect At the Gates to leave quite a mark on the genre. We’re not sure if it will make its 2015 release window, but regardless, At the Gates will be well worth the wait for those of you looking for a unique and innovative take on the 4X genre. Expect more coverage as Jon starts to open up a bit more on its development.
Java MOO – Troy “TC”
Java MOO is essentially a remastering of the original Master of Orion. Programmer Ray Fowler is taking the 1993 MicroProse classic and modernizing it using the Java programming language. Many fondly remember the great-grandfather of Space 4X, and many more never had the chance to play it. If Fowler can complete his project, the game should available as freeware. It is as yet undetermined if Wargaming (the current owners of the Master of Orion intellectual property) will interfere with Fowler’s work. It is our sincerest hope that they allow him to proceed with his project for the benefit of the genre and the community.
Stellaris – Ben “RL”
On August 6th, 2015, Paradox Games announced Stellaris, a space strategy game in the vein of Crusader Kings and Europa Universalis. And there was much rejoicing. Some elements, like casus belli and war goals, will be familiar to those acquainted with the studio’s other games, while others, like the research system, sound quite unusual and original. Other highly touted features include procedurally generated aliens, a dynamic Federation system, and “fallen empires” possessing powerful (but irreplaceable) Lostech. Can Clausewitz into space? We’ll have to wait and see…
Xenia’s Ark – Ben “RL”
Xenia’s Ark sets out to do something truly ambitious: meld a space empire sim (spanning only “several” solar systems) with a fully-fledged planet management game. The tighter, smaller scale will emphasize some elements that are often poorly fleshed-out in space 4X, such as minor races and citizen management (with a social class system that sounds somewhat like At the Gates’ clans). Developer Malicious Games is clearly intent on doing something unique. Only time will tell if their lofty ambitions will be realized.
Lord of Rigel – Nate “Nasarog”
2016 appears to be the year of Master of Orion. Rhombus Studios will give us their take on a proper MoO II clone. Updated graphics, simple – yet elegant – design, a great musical score, a solid colony management system, and an epic space combat simulator are all on the menu. Oh yeah, let us not forget the colorful aliens that will charm and scare us into doing their bidding. Think of it as MoO crossed with Star Trek, Star Wars and Babylon 5. I can hardly wait…
GallaCollider – Oliver “Mezmorki”
GalaColider, from developer NeoCrux, is a curious thing. Fundamentally this is a digital card game in the vein of Hearthstone, albeit with a science fiction empire-building theme. Matches take place across a small 3D starmap where you play cards from your hand using various resources to construct spaceships, bases, and planetary improvements as you try to outmaneuver and out build your opponent. There is deck-building, strategic-level gameplay, and all manner of multiplayer support. This is a very intriguing concept worth keeping an eye on. They just started a round of crowdfunding, so more details should emerge over the coming weeks.
Galaxia: Remember Tomorrow – Oliver “Mezmorki”
Galaxia: Remember Tomorrow (G:RT) is a 4X space empire game developed by SoftWarWare that appears to be taking a rather comprehensive and carefully thought-out approach to iterating on the classic MoO/MoO II take. The game boasts a wide range of features and includes a rather impressive-looking tactical combat system, just to add a little icing to the cake. I’ve been impressed with the design concepts, and I’m hoping they make the translation into a great final product. An older open alpha version is available freely for download if you want to take a look at the game – but keep in mind this looks and plays much different from the beta version under development.
Thea: The Awakening – Micah “Marlowe”
Thea: The Awakening is a unique project that looks to combine elements of 4X games, God-game sims, village management, procedural narratives, and collectible card games. As bizarre as this mish-mash of elements may sound, the description of the game on its official website and the screenshots available to the public make the game look like the best possible marriage of the strategic mode of Age of Wonders 3 and the emergent storytelling of King of Dragon Pass. The game has already received the Greenlight from Steam and is currently in closed beta, so get ready to lead mankind out of the shadows in a unique fantasy realm inspired by traditional Slavic mythology. Thea is quickly becoming one of the more anticipated indie games of the coming 12 months, so you can count on us to give it the kind of coverage it deserves as the game develops.
Dominous Galaxia – Ben “RL”
Dominous Galaxia has its roots as a fusion of Brent Patterson’s pixel-art 4X Beyond Beyaan (now free on Desura) and Jeff Graw’s early-stages Master of Orion I clone. Details are scarce so far, but the developers seem to be recreating MoO I’s broad empire management approach, but with a number of tweaks to make for a more streamlined, user-friendly experience. StarChart Interactive promises big-picture empire management, reduced micromanagement and tedium, and stack-based tactical starship combat. With the deluge of MoO II pretenders, it’s nice to see a new IP catering to the fans of the original.
Total War: Warhammer – Nate “Nasarog”
Do you like war? No? Get out! This is not for you then. Creative Assembly and Games Workshop finally got together and this is their love child: a Warhammer Fantasy Battle setting for a Total War title. Take that all in… still not there? Read that epic sentence again. Okay good, now you got it. All the major factions of the WFB universe will eventually be here, albeit not all at once; Creative Assembly will release two full-blown eXpansions with four factions each, bring the total up to twelve factions and tripling the size of the map. I’m ready, are you?
Civilization: Beyond Earth Rising Tide – Nate “Nasarog”
Oh, Civilization: Beyond Earth, how we’ve longed for thee. How we counted down the days, and then we finally met. UGH! Civ:BE – Rising Tide is a mea culpa on the part of 2K and Firaxis. This full-blown expansion will attempt to right the many wrongs perpetrated upon our innocent souls. Okay, enough drama. Civ:BERT brings forth four new factions, new aquatic cities, and the corresponding mechanics along with a revamped diplomatic game. The expansion also promises some new biomes and bizarre aliens to contend with. Firaxis has also promised additional re-touching of the tech web, many balance passes, and overall improvements . Will this be the Civ V: Gods and Kings of Civ:BERT? I am hopeful that is it.
Endless Legend: Shadows – Nate “Nasarog”
Endless Legend has only been out for a year, and it’s had several free DLC and one paid eXpansion/DLC so far. This newest (paid) DLC, Shadows, introduces the espionage mechanic as well as a new faction called the Forgotten. This faction specializes in espionage and infiltration. The multiplayer arena will be forever changed as a result. The constant tweaking to the AI is welcome because it is starting to present a challenge again. There are several surprises in store with this new eXpansion that I do not want to ruin, but trust me, they really improve the all-around experience in this amazing game. Expect a ReeXamination once Shadows goes live.
Stars Beyond Reach – Rob “DevildogFF”
Arcen Games has always done an admirable job of making games that are original and innovative. They haven’t always hit the mark, but Stars Beyond Reach undoubtedly will. Its unique mixture of equal parts 4X and SimCity-like game mechanics is fresh, well implemented, and most importantly: fun. By the time you read this, it should only be a few more weeks worth of a wait before you, too, get your 4X-loving hands on it! Stay tuned for more information as we get closer to launch. We will certainly be reviewing this game.
Stars in Shadow – Nate “Nasarog”
Another indie title that will contend with all the Master of Orion II clones and spiritual successors appearing soon. Stars in Shadow is a very stylized and artful game. SiS will follow closer to the originals it’s based on than several of the other MoO clones out there. The game features a turn-based combat system, simplified space exploration, unusual aliens to eXterminate, and stunning art. Overall a fun and engrossing experience. Keep your eyes open for this one.
Pocket Space Empire – Troy “TC”
Pocket Space Empire is taking a slightly different tack on the omnipresent space 4X genre: it’s trying to make the game more about macroscopic empire management rather than minute tactical and strategic decisions. PSE just finished up a round of crowdfunding and is being developed by Silver Lemur games. There will likely be Early Access at some point. ETA is some time in 2016.
Might and Magic Heroes VII – Troy “TC”
The seventh incarnation of the venerable Heroes of Might and Magic series will be launched later this year (September 15, reportedly). The game will feature six factions: Academy, Dungeon, Haven, Necropolis, Stronghold, and Sylvan. HoMM7 — as this game is better known — will keep the turn-based gameplay for which the series is so famous. The game is in beta now, and Limbic Entertainment and Ubisoft are working feverishly to get it finished by the deadline. No doubt many in our community will be looking forward to this game when it launches.
Battlefleet Gothic: Armada – Nate “Nasarog”
Not much is known about this upcoming title just yet. We do know it’s based on the Warhammer 40,000 Universe’s Battlefleet Gothic table-top game. Basically, a space RTS take takes place in the gothic sector of space. Giant fleets of the Emperor’s Imperial Navy and Space Marines fighting the enemies of the Imperium of Man. In the grimdark future, there is only war… Where do I sign up?!
Galaxial – Oliver “Mezmorki”
Galaxial is a real-time 4X space game, somewhat in the vein of Stardock’s classic Sins of a Solar Empire (from what I can glean), but it will be a bit more abstract and larger in scale. The artwork in particular is quite interesting, and a total departure from the typical 4X fare. I’ve been watching Galaxial’s progress for some time and am particularly interested in how the developer’s inspirations (specifically Total Annihilation) might translate into a grand combat-centric 4X game.
Deep Space Settlement – Nate “Nasarog”
If you want to colonize space, you’ll first need to build strategic outposts and mining stations to support your efforts.. In Deep Space Settlement, players will build up their infrastructure and growing their empire, but the real “meat and potatoes” here is the RTS-styled space combat with absolutely stunning ships and 3D environment. I wish Escape Velocity Studios luck, because I want this title on my harddrive already.
Heirs of Orion – Micah “Marlowe”
Heirs of Orion is a turn-based strategy game with real-time battles using a voxel engine. Despite the name, what little information exists about this game does not give the impression of yet another Master of Orion clone. Instead, the one-man development team is aiming for a true space epic covering everything from vast star empires all the way down to the officers commanding huge space armadas. Having received the Greenlight from Steam in February of this year, Heirs of Orion is pushing on with development and aiming for a 2015 release.
Imperia 5X – Oliver “Mezmorki”
Imperia 5X is one that I’ve been watching with keen interest as it is one of the more original and forward-moving 4X space titles I’ve seen. Principally, the game has you managing your empire with a heavy focus on internal politics and how you, as an actual ruler, conduct your business and manage your relationships so that you don’t get ousted from the throne. An alpha version is available for free, but the game is being completely rebuilt in Unity. The visual style is also pretty awesome. I’m looking forward to this one bigtime.
Oriental Empires – Nate “Nasarog”
China has a long and complicated history full of drama and war. A few western-developed games have tried to tackle this dragon. But now, we have some brave souls that will actually do it. A Civ-like empire manager mixed with Total War combat model without the tedious combat. A historically based, semi-accurate representation of prominent Chinese factions in a giant sandbox backed by Iceberg Interactive? Call me intrigued.
Sovereignty: Crown of Kings – Oliver “Mezmorki”
Sovereignty: Crown of Kings is currently in Steam’s Early Access and under development by The Lordz Games Studio and Gothic Labs, and will be published by Slitherine. I’ve had a chance to play with Sovereignty a little, and I’m intrigued by what I see. Fundamentally, it is more of a Grand Strategy game, akin to Europa Universalis, but set in a fantasy (alternate reality) world imbued with a dose of magic and turn-based tactical combat. Overall, the gameplay is far simpler and more streamlined than EU, but it appears to have a good amount of depth to it nonetheless. I’m all for depth and less complexity, so I’ll be watching Sovereignty’s Early Access progress closely.
Starlife – Ben “RL”
Starlife represents PurpleOrange Games’ dreams of delivering a high-level empire management game, inspired by Master of Orion II, with an emphasis on economy, random events, and engaging AI. Unfortunately, that’s about all we know at the moment. After a flurry of activity in late 2014, little has been heard from PurpleOrange since. The websites for Starlife and its board game counterpart StarField are both offline, the forums are inactive, and the forecast Kickstarter campaign reboot has failed to materialize. There’s been no word of the developers abandoning the project, but the outlook is not good.
That Which Sleeps – Oliver ‘Mezmorki”
I don’t know much about That Which Sleeps other than this: the concept sounds cool as hell. The concept, you ask? Rather than being some mortal ruler doing the standard 4X thing, you assume the role of an Ancient One (yes, Cthulhu reference) trying to grow in power and control the realm. It’s an intriguing concept that has players assuming more indirect control of their (and other) nations and requires them to balance their use of power against the risk of being detected prematurely. It has me interested, as there is definitely a shortage of Cthulhu-themed 4X games!
M.O.R.E. – Nate “Nasarog”
Military, Organization, Research, Economy…. M.O.R.E.! A TBS approach to a space 4X. Huge galaxy, lots of aliens, many random events, and much much M.O.R.E. Except for one thing, this game has been in development for a long time now. I am hoping they finally release this one in 2016. (Editor’s note: Crystal ball says possible alpha release by Christmas ‘15.)
It’s clear we’re going to have a very busy upcoming year, here at eXplorminate. We’d like to thank you for reading this article and celebrating our first anniversary with us. There’s still more to come this week! Also, if you may be interested in writing for us, the door is always open to new staff members. Friend one of us on Steam, and we’ll let you know what we require for new writers. We’re always happy to hear from interested community members.