Explore the wonders of space, but watch out for the wormholes.
Space and the 4X strategy genre go together like peanut butter and chocolate. StarDrive 2 attempts to capitalize on the combination and comes away marginally successful. It hits all the necessary notes in unspectacular fashion, though the ship-building aspect stands out as one of the more noteworthy features. The game fails to deviate from a familiar path and thus loses its impact, but players who know what to expect will likely find something to enjoy in StarDrive 2.
StarDrive 2 presents players with nine different races to choose from, all with their own advantages and disadvantages. Some specialize in intelligence and spy work while others focus on ship combat and aggressive negotiations. If you're anything like me, it results in 10+ minutes of staring at the race selection screen as your mind jumps from one selection to the next. The variety in both appearance and functionality encourages repeated campaigns. The first time I selected a more peaceful plant race, while the second time I selected the hulking bear race and expanded my fleet in anticipation of combat. Both campaigns ended in war… but at least I tried two different approaches.
The structure of the game also highlights its variety when each campaign begins. The first order of business is to expand the initial colony and build structures. Along the way players research numerous technologies and apply those developments to the construction phase. Eventually other races come into play, and diplomacy becomes a key aspect of StarDrive 2. As with other games of the genre, players can negotiate to establish treaties, trade agreements, or simply declare war.
There's a decent amount of depth behind these systems, and the tutorials do a good job of easing players into the game at a steady pace. But it all evokes a “been there, done that” feeling that drags down the overall experience a bit. Building colonies, exploring space, and negotiating with other races all prove functional, but other games of the genre include the same functionality. When StarDrive 2 sets its own course it stands out more.
One such example is ship construction. StarDrive 2 allows players to build unique ships and customize them in a number of ways. Simply plug parts into the ship on a grid-based canvas and send them out to wreak havoc. All ships must meet the minimum requirements, but the construction process touts a surprising amount of freedom. Do you want all lasers on one side and all missiles on the other? No problem! Players can ignore the feature and simply build existing ships, but I had a lot more fun creating my own fleet of originals. The shipyard in which all the construction takes place is visually mundane, but seeing ships out there on the battlefield compensates for the lack of visual flare.
Unfortunately, the combat lacks excitement and thus I used the auto feature in most situations. In ship combat, players can position units in various spots for a tactical advantage, but when the actual battle begins, the ships prove unwieldy. It often boils down to pointing the fleet in a direction and hoping for the best. Ground combat, on the other hand, plays like a poor man's X-COM. Units typically have a couple of attacks/abilities that take up action points. Players and enemies trade turns attacking each other until one team is defeated. It sounds boring because it is, and the worst part is that ground combat is mandatory when exploring anomalies on the map.
Combat is only a small portion of the overall experience, but the other aspects of the game don't particularly shine. It's as if StarDrive 2 is content in its adequacy. Ship-building is the only way in which StarDrive 2 truly separates itself from the crowd, and the rest of the game is serviceable at best. It results in some enjoyable moments in a strategy game that fails to make a significant impression.