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Star Ruler 2 (PC) artwork

Star Ruler 2 (PC) review

"How the universal order came to be. And why I burnt it to the ground."

I swear to you: I never wanted to go to war.

4X games have this habit of twisting my soul into a little black pit of hatred, you see. In Neptuneís Pride I turned on people I care about with vicious, spiteful glee. In Armada 2526, I would not rest until I have performed perfect genocide on a race of space-faring apes. My friends refused to play me at Sins of a Solar Empire; they said they knew what it would make me. When I took up the genre again not long ago with Horizon, it didnít take long for me to find excuse to wipe out a race of fishmen. Their god-forsaken seas boiled under my onslaught. I was happy wallowing in my hatred, smiling at the ceaseless screams of their slaughter.

I didn't want things to be that way with Star Ruler 2. I could do things differently, I told myself. I didn't have to be the heartless bastard they keep telling me I am. So when a ship of Terrakin (which is pretentious speak for Humans) found themselves stranded in an alien universe millions of lightyears from home, I thought Iíd found a chance to not be that guy anymore. I didn't have to be a pushover to any alien races I might come across, but perhaps, just this once, it didn't have to be an all-out galactic war. I could live at peace with my other-worldly neighbours.

This is the story about how the universe burnt beneath my gaze.

The planet my people settled on was habitable, but offered very little else of use. The very first thing Star Ruler 2 suggests you do is colonise other planets than use their resources to form supply chains that help carefully selected core worlds grow and flourish. So this is a thing I did; my adopted homeworld was already flush with adequate food, but a nearby water planet offered unlimited supplies of, well, water. It was tempting to couple that with my homeworld so that my people wouldn't die of thirst, but a different solution presented itself: the second nearest planet had massive reserves of aluminium.

How is this connected? Well, in order for worlds to grow they need to be linked with resources less rudimentary than just food and water. To play the long game, I was going to have to eventually establish a shipping path supplying my infant homeworld with bendy metal, but itís not possible to mine resources from a non-advanced planet. In order to enjoy all the aluminium I would desire, I would need to ensure the metal-rich world is sufficiently supplied with food and water and cultivate a populace who could pretend to be adventurous pioneers, but were little more than grubby metal miners begrudgingly given the most basic elements to keep them alive while they worked towards my greater glory.

Intergalactic empires in Star Ruler 2 follow this very chaotic rule of syphoning mass resources away from scores of planets in order to nurture several stronger worlds that all ideally work towards bolstering your core planet. Solar systems feeding planets several solar systems away in order to bulk them up to a point where theyíre able to plough gold reserves into your homeworld. Sometimes, you can mine asteroids for valuable substances and bypass that whole colonisation nonsense. Sometimes, if you have more power than love for the planets, you can destroy an entire system and, in the splintered rubbles of worlds that once were, construct a shiny ringworld and insist that people start recognising you as a God.

I could not have been further away from this point when, upon exploring my second cluster in the hopes of finding more food planets to feed my starving empire, I stumbled across a scout ship belonging to the Hoonan, a race of Borg-like computer people who didnít seem to be doing much harm; just trying to expand their network of planets, much like myself. We both received slight economic bonuses for making contact, and then got on with building up our territory.

I hadnít given any thought to war. Why would I have? I was determined that this wouldnít just be another 4X where I ruled over a series of dead, glass planets sat upon my throne of skulls. I carried out my interstellar land-grab with surgical precision; never encroaching on systems too near the Hoonanís borders and ensuring that I only explored using nice, safe scout ships. I had a small naval fleet of attack craft that I had started the game with which was probably becoming dangerously obsolete and kept if far, far away from them. Instead, I used in brief skirmishes with pirates or, if I felt the targets were weak enough, sniped away at the remnants of dead civilizations that guarded points of importance when I discovered them. Sometimes I was able to reopen a handy asteroid mine that could supply water or minerals to a planet of my choice. Sometimes I was able to obtain lost artefacts that could build me a powerful warship with long-forgotten designs, or stumble across items that would grant me research or energy boosts.

And so things went smoothly. At one point the Hoonan put a request into the senate for me and my people to be investigated, and I offered no resistance. There's a time limit that ticks down during such a request and, during this, you can spend your influence on buying cards that you can use to try and sway a vote. As I did not wish to go this route Ė my new space friends should see what a wonderful reformed character I was Ė I instead purchased cards that would allow me to rename a planet. Thus, EmP Prime was born.

An innocent age of exploration and expansion dawned. With each new set of planets discovered and colonised, I had more resources to pump into worlds that could then unlock further resources to pump into EmP Prime. My core world swelled with power and importance as it grew. With such a powerful homeworld and a budding empire of lesser planets supporting it, my influence peaked. I considered this a good thing. I was a force of good in the galaxy, boasting strong economic bonds, a booming, happy populace and a fatality count of exactly zero.

The Hoonanís declaration of war was sudden, completely without merit and brutal. They made use of a slipstream that I had discovered while exploring a debris field in one of my fringe systems, and I found a large enemy fleet had effortlessly manoeuvred into my territory. My own fleet, outdated and battered from their collection of small skirmishes, was in ill repair. I'd not bothered restocking the ships lost because my funds were being poured into colonizing worlds and appeasing the populace. That had to change on the fly; those projects were cancelled in mass and all remaining funds poured into developing planetary defences for my key worlds. My wheezing fleet was sent to a war it had little chance of winning, a trickle of reinforcements being spat out from under-developed workshops I had never used and hoped never to have to.

Losing just one planet Ė one single planet among dozens -- is all it takes to cripple the chaotic corridors of trade that core worlds greedily gobble on. If that level one resource planet loses its water supply, then it no longer has the output to supply that level two resource planet, which, in turn, can no longer feed the homeworld whose production values plummet. Populations ebb and drop; labour dips and projects left slowly ticking away in the background cease to exist in a matter of seconds. And there was exactly nothing I could do about it.

By the time a couple of planets had fallen, my fleet was restocked and reinforced enough to be more than a slight nuisance and I burnt some of my FTL resources to dramatically reduce my travel time. Between some hastily constructed orbital defences and the timely arrival of my fleet, I was able to eventually repel the attack, but only after three planets fell under enemy control and my empire placed in shellshock. A desperate resource reshuffle took place, trying to free up untapped planets to revitalise my empire with. It was a tense time, knowing that at any second, without warning, new enemy fleets could be at my door. But I wouldnít fight back; it wasnít the way things were supposed to go.

I mean, Iím not an idiot; behind the scenes I greased the cogs of war with the funding once put aside in developing offworlds and bolstering civilisation. My first battleship was to be constructed, surrounded by gatherings of gunships and missile boats purchased with every spare penny I could muster. But I hoped never to use it. I put forth peace treaties with the Hoonan through the senate, which were all roundly rejected. I answered by exhausting my FTL stocks and flinging scout ships into their space, charting their borders, mapping out their fleets.

While they chased my scouts from system to system, I reclaimed the planets they had captured and restored my delicate corridors of trade. It took time for my planets to reach the strength they were at pre-invasion, but I was allowed that time after parking my new battleship at the entrance of the slip stream. It felt like a game changer; I had sunk every penny of my funds into that fleet and, now I could see what the Hoonan's invasion force looked like, I was confident I could fend off future attacks. Flush with the security that can only come from knowing you have the bigger stick, I got on with trying to make amends. All was well? Yes, all was well. I started trying to pen peace treaties that I started to feel were bending over backwards to appease my would-be overlords, but they were rejected again and again.

Perhaps the little voice suggesting I crush them for insolence was starting to get a little louder than I was ready to admit. Using the huge stack of research credits I had accumulated, I threw numeric-based science at several advancements to war machines, then paused the game for a good hour while I designed my own flagship. Sturdier armour was slapped on in droves, harder hitting weapons backed up with bulkheads, covering every angle. Without realising it, I was trying very hard to bankrupt my domain which had just got back on its feet by financing a vanity project which, more by luck than judgment, turned out to be a one-craft fleet. Turns out, I would need it.

I was surprised that Iíd won the initial skirmish with a weakened fleet, but I soon found out why. The Hoonan rely on orbital mainframes to power their cybernetic implants and the further away they are from one of these stations, the weaker their fleets become. Their next attack was cunning; they sent two smaller fleets into their entry point of my system then, instead of attacking it directly, splintered off in two different directions. My *ahem* EmPire class dreadnaught was as filled with cringeworthy puns as it was incomplete, so my two fleets that were sitting at the entrance splintered off to stop the invaders plaguing nearby systems. While they were tied up destroying the latest invasion, the Hoonan snuck in and built a space station. Their mainframe perk was in effect.

It started with such a small step, their annihilation. Obviously, their station had to go and it was wiped off the map with little effort. My first fleet had to resupply, so I got to work building a supply orbital nearby while my battleship went into their fringe systems. The idea was to shoot down the stations they had peppered about. Maybe that would break their will a little. It didnít; they still refused the peace treaties I fired off. I nibbled at their empire. I destroyed some defenses. I blew up the remnants of their retreating fleets is they strayed near. I stopped them from expanding into new planets; I drove them back into the corner of the galaxy with nowhere left to run, nowhere left to expand.

I dropped the completed dreadnaught into the heart of their empire and smiled as they squirmed.

I didnít really realise that I had stopped my attempts at peace. I didnít know I had banished the illusion of fighting a one-sided war until I had taken all of their planets in the fringe system my battleship was parked. I didnít know I was crushing everything they had left until the flashing beams of light and constant line of missiles ebbed and my dreadnaught fleet stood untouched and the ships they had sent to quell it had vanished. I didnít connect the dots that I was eating up their worlds one after the other while they were powerless to stop me. Then I was parked outside their homeworld, their resource corridors smashed, their ability to construct protection pulled from underneath them, their mainframes reduced to floating scrap. They sent me their unconditional surrender. Thatís when it home what I had done; they begged for their lives, pledged to be a vessel race subservient to Humanity, not able to do even the simplest thing without my say so.

I could have completed this tale by lauding Star Ruler 2 for allowing me to complete my ideals by allowing conquered races to exist; it was, after all, peace of a sort. But it was too late for the Hoonan. Their homeworld was scrubbed clean, their race was extinguished. It took seconds to finish up a path of total genocide I was once keen not to tread. I restocked my fleet, claimed the worlds as my own and looked to my borders.

Soon, I made contact with the Oko, a race of tree-like people with organic-made ships held together with sinew. They seemed friendlier than the Hoonan and after initial contact, seemed to make an effort to keep to themselves. They left my territory alone, they didnít ask for the senate to launch an investigation into my actions. They burnt all the same.


EmP's avatar
Staff review by Gary Hartley (May 16, 2015)

Gary Hartley arbitrarily arrives, leaves a review for a game no one has heard of, then retreats to his 17th century castle in rural England to feed whatever lives in the moat and complain about you.

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