Today I’m going to tell you about Beyond Sol. I’m going to complain about the graphics, the game mechanics, the empire management… basically everything.Then, at the end of the article, I’m going to tell you that I actually recommend you give this game a try, despite my issues. Got it? OK good. Let’s do this thing.
Beyond Sol: Master the Rim is the first title from Praxia Games. I’m going to call it a space action/strategy game. Players will get to build a city, create a fleet of ships, and go out to conquer the galaxy. Beyond Sol is almost like a 4X, but I promise you, it isn’t.
So, here’s the thing… Beyond Sol is kind of missing one of the Xs: eXplore. When the game boots up – after choosing a map size and a starter ship – the whole galaxy is revealed. Areas controlled by competing empires are clearly marked and will even update when your opponents build something new. Resources are also clearly noted – not just where they are, but what you can expect to find there.
A few, very few, features are left to be uncovered. Pirates swarm the stars, but you won’t know where they’re at unless you trip over them. However, if the pirate has a bounty on his head, the map will show his exact location, as well. Resources in asteroid fields are also unknowable until you go hunt them down. Otherwise, this is like Christmas morning, running down the stairs at 5am, to discover all the gifts laying under the tree, completely unwrapped. There’s nothing wrong with that, per se, but it can take some of the fun out of things.
It’s a missed opportunity, honestly. I’d love to be out mining and float past a hidden archive. It would be thrilling to discover some previously unknown civilization while out eXploring. So much of the allure of space is the possibility of what might be out there. Here, it’s already made quite clear and the game feels a lot lesser for that.
Lots to eXploit.
I’m about to pay Beyond Sol a massive compliment here. Ready? There are times, occasionally, when Beyond Sol reminds me, ever so slightly, of Star Control 2. There, I’ve said it. It’s out there. I can’t take it back. One of the best parts of SC2 was the feeling of being in full command of a powerful starship, with an entire universe to explore. Beyond Sol put me back in that happy place.
Players start with a single flagship. There are several to choose from and more can be unlocked as you play, but the standard starter is well and balanced, as is. This single ship can perform various tasks: gather resources, build structures, and shoot stuff. It’s your all-purpose avatar for the duration. Want to mine something? Fly there. Construct a new building in your city? Go there. Defeat some pirates? Buckle up, baby, cause nothing is happening unless you do it yourself.
Like I said, there’s no eXploration, but there are tons of choices to make and absolutely no one and nothing to tell you when/how/what to do. It’s your ship to command and your sandbox to play in. The ship is controlled with the mouse. Click in a direction and it will turn in that direction. Roll the mouse wheel to apply thrust. That’s it.
For further distances, players can click on the map and then jump their ship to lightspeed. The game helpfully tells you how long the trip will take (it takes about 2 minutes from end-to-end on a six-person map size). It’s a good balance. Too quick a journey and the vastness of space is really lost. Too far and you’re standing around, making toast, waiting for your ship to come in.
You can start the game by doing pretty much whatever you want, but, honestly, your first step should be to pick a spot on the map and build a city. Players will only do this once, much like the recently released (and far more acclaimed) Thea: the Awakening. All other eXpansion is done with satellites, mines and military bases, so choose wisely.
With a city in place, players must then go out and get resources. The initial ship is fine, but taking it out to eradicate pirates or other aggressors is a recipe for blowed-up ship with a side of roasted red potatoes. There are six separate resources out there in the great wide galaxy: palladium, titanium, osmium, iridium, thorium and uranium. Space is literally littered with these resources, so it’s really just a matter of how you want to go and get them. Any and all can be found in asteroids, comets, mineral caches and in the remains of broken spaceships.
If you love going to the supermarket, boy is this the game for you! Look at the buildings your city needs, then make a list of what resources are needed for construction, then go out and get them. Only, in this scenario, your car can only hold about five items and you need hundreds. So you’re driving out to the store, getting a few things, bringing them back to the house, putting them in the fridge, then going right back out again for more.
It… is… monotonous.
Eventually, you’ll build mines on nearby planets and planet-like objects that will bring in the necessary materials. You’ll be able to increase the size of your ship and so the back and forth will be less onerous. There’s even a marketplace in the city, so players can also sell what they find and then buy what they actually need. But there’s no way around the fact that the early game is a lot of this mind-numbing back and forth.
Soon, though, players will be able to set up an economy that kind of runs without their constant attention. They can then shift focus to expanding their empire. There are several different buildings that can be built both within and without your space city.
As I mentioned before, players can build standard satellites in unoccupied but attached regions of space to keep an eye on things and also collect a little extra space cash. There are also mining stations for planetoids and military stations that provide some limited defense as well as much larger area of control than a standard satellite. The player is limited to one building per quadrant, so a lot of this is both limiting, yet uncomplicated.
Back at the home city, it’s mostly the stock-standard residential, power, commercial and spacedock buildings. There are also corporate headquarters that, once built, offer access to better technologies to upgrade your ship and your burgeoning fleet. Beyond the corps and their upgrades, there is no research tree or additional technology to uncover. It’s a lot more like an RTS where constructing a building provides access to benefits. This is another reason I have trouble classifying Beyond Sol as a 4x game.
While players will only directly control the one ship, they can buy and build other smaller vessels who will follow them around. Like a lot of space games, fleet size is limited by command level, so getting a big, bad ass space posse together takes a ton of resources and even more time. There is a good number of options for support ships – more than you’ll ever need in one session. Each corp offers five different ship types (for a total of 15) and each type can be upgraded multiple times. Unfortunately, these ships often have only slight differences that can be hard to parse. Is an 80 hull worth so much less than a 90 one? Does having a ship designed for medium distance attacks benefit me better than one set for close range? I’m still trying to figure it out, honestly.
So what do you do with that fleet? Blow stuff up!
eXterminate all humans. Just not me.
The thing you’ll be doing most in Beyond Sol, especially as the game progresses, is fight. So, you’d have to think that the developers created an excellent, exciting model to exceed our expectations (with exes). Sadly that is… not the case.
Players can bring whole fleets with huge numbers of ships to battle, but they can only control one – the selfsame flagship they’ve been dragging all over the galaxy. This is probably for the best, multitasking across multiple ships would be more of a pain than a pleasure. However this also means you’re limited to that one ship and that big, hulking vessel isn’t exactly fun to fly in battle. Even the fastest option is quite slow.
Weapons are controlled with hot keys, a la Diablo/World of Warcraft, basically every Blizzard game ever. There are missiles and guns and lasers plus some more creative stuff like an energy blast that freezes your opponent – all on cooldowns. Basically combat involves watching your ship slowly rotate around toward a target that is somewhere offscreen and waiting for your weapons to kick in again. That is not fun.
There are some strategic choices. Players can try using weapons to destroy shields then switch it up for hull-rippers, but, in truth, there’s not much to do but watch it all happen. It seems like there should be some better options here. Shields or other techs that let me protect my fellow fighters, for example, would be nice. The ability to make my ship a lean and mean fighter or a hulking, damage-soaking tank would work, too. The screens make it seem like you have those choices, but it’s all just slight differences – the overall experience is far too much the same.
I’ll invoke the hallowed Star Control 2 again. In that game, bringing out my flagship was fun and satisfying. That ship felt like a threat to my opponents – it was powerful and deadly. Those one-on-one battles were a real treat. Beyond Sol feels more like work and my main ship is far too squishy to really enjoy unleashing on my enemies.
It doesn’t help that the NPCs are so nondescript. Pirates are pirates – so there’s that. The enemy empires you’ll take on have all kinds of cool names that make you think you might be engaging someone interesting. You’re not. New Toronto will not be more or less friendly than Portico. Starkhaus doesn’t deploy ships any different than El-Haddin. It’s another missed opportunity, in my opinion. Everyone just feels like “generic enemy A” than a unique adversary to be undone. The game suffers for this lack of personality. Even just giving each group slightly different ships or combat philosophies would help a ton. Variety is the spice of life, right? Unfortunately Beyond Sol is just the same bowl of flavorless gruel over and over again.
So why can’t I stop playing this game?
There’s something delightfully old school about Beyond Sol. A lot of times, that’s not a positive: the graphics are downright ugly (Super ugly. U-G-L-Y even). The game’s systems often feel underdeveloped or incomplete (though, thankfully, bug free). As I describe each feature, I get more and more disheartened.
And yet, I’m still playing.
In the end, Beyond Sol fulfills the promise of space adventure we so rarely get these days. It drops players into the middle of a bustling universe and declares, without reservation, “OK, have at it.” And so you do. The stars unfold before you. At some point between mining a comet as it speeds by, fighting pirates in the middle of an asteroid field, and adding a military base to claim a bountiful region of space, you will look up and realize that four hours have gone by.
And in that moment, you’ll realize (I promise you, you will) that another four will easily pass before you’re willing to let go of the game.
Also, it’s important to note that Praxis Games is constantly adding new content to Beyond Sol. About once a week, like clockwork, new features are added. Sometimes, it’s cosmetic like the ability to zoom in on the main map. Other times, like the recent addition of pirate dreadnaughts, players will get a greater change to the game experience. The developers are clearly devoted to this project. If games are going to launch “in progress” rather than as finished, polished experiences, this is the way to do it.
There’s lots of things wrong with Beyond Sol. And somehow, despite itself, all those negatives add up to something that is just right. It’s $20 on Steam and I highly recommend you give it a test flight
TL;DR: As if by magic, Beyond Sol overcomes its nonexistent exploration, annoying exploitation, and boring combat to be a unique game of space exploration and dominance with a lot of smart, fun ideas. Players looking to take over the galaxy in a game that’s not just another MoO-like will be happy to see BS.
You might like this game if:
- You love the idea of a large, living universe to explore
- You miss the way games used to be – creative, expansive and raw
- You hate hand holding (also long walks on the beach)
- You want to spend hours, lost in an imaginary galaxy of your own creation
You might NOT like this game if:
- You need pretty graphics to enjoy a game
- Being dropped into the deep end of the pool only gives you horrible childhood flashbacks
- You need some sort of story to pull you through a game
- Slow combat will gradually kill you
Joshua has played for 18+ hours on a custom-built Maingear X-Cube with an AMD Phenom II X4 processor, 8 GB DDR3 RAM and a Radeon HD 5800.
NOTE: A special thank you to forum member Mr. Kill for bringing this game to our attention. His initial write up (along with enthusiastic agreement from MizzouRah and I’m Spartacus) got our attention and got us this game. Thanks Mr. Kill!