Starpoint Gemini Warlords is the third game in the space-faring series and introduces a 4X element on top of its usual RPG, do whatever you want style of gameplay. This time around we play as the general of the Solari Concord, a small faction running from its native land in search of a new home. We will customize our general down to his/her gender, background, combat class and your starting ship. There are two modes to choose from, free roam and campaign. In an interesting twist if we pick Campaign we actually start out playing as Warmaster Higgs and are taught the basics of navigation, combat as well as a few other things before being given the very important task of creating the character you’ll be using for the rest of the game.
I’d recommend giving the controls a quick look over to learn things such as your ability to press the space bar to lock the camera to your mouse movements to give you far better control or pressing the Tab key to change your point of view. With the amount of keys the game uses it can be a little overwhelming though it is a worthwhile endeavor. Warlords does its best to ease the player into it, such as in the Campaign where you start off as a dishonored grunt that does not have any control of the Concord, allowing us time to get the grips of how to control our own ship before being tasked with controlling an empire. If you ever feel confused there is a neat “Geminipedia” in the start menu with built-in videos on how to do things as well as tons of lore about factions, planets, and history.
To get this out of the way first, I must say that the Campaign in its entirety feels like a glorified tutorial that offers a scrap of content then forces the player to reach a certain level or some other task to achieve before the cycle repeats again. It will guide your hand all the way until you reach the point of building this game’s version of the Death Star while offering very little in terms of memorable moments and lacks an interesting plot to follow. This also leads to you playing the game in a certain way, taking away much of your freedom for no worthy payoff. You will learn little about the world, factions or anything else of importance in it. All that information is told through the Geminipedia so if you don’t read that you will have little context for anything.
Long story short, the campaign offers nothing that the Free Roam doesn’t other than an easier introduction for new players but you will loose much of Warlord’s charm in exchange for having your hand held throughout the entire experience. I know it is odd to see a review bashing the campaign right off the bat, but it is best to know what you are getting yourself into before choosing your mode to play and investing too much time in it in hopes that it gets better. In my opinion, your best bet is to choose the Humble Beginnings scenario as the other four free roam modes start you off on a higher level and with a few differing things preset for you. Make your own enemies, wealth and earning your own ships is definitely the way to go the first time around.
Once you are in the game, it is up to you what to do. Fly around the galaxy buying wares and reselling them elsewhere for profits, upgrade your troops in such a way as to make boarding and capturing ships easier and live the life of the leader of a pirate faction or just do randomly generated missions from either allies or outposts. You always start off in the same location, surrounded by pirates factions that you can either conquer or make peace with at the expense of upsetting lawful nations. There are a ton of factions, each having their own enemies and allies. Even certain pirates/outlaws hate each other, making it near impossible to get on everyone’s good side. Your interactions with other factions are not particularly deep however. You can either declare war, ask for peace or accept a preset trade deal and not much else.
This galaxy is an enormous place to explore and is not a 2D landscape meaning you can fly up, down or whichever direction you choose, often times not even realizing you are upside down until you recenter yourself with the P key. There is nothing stopping you from immediately firing up your thrusters and exploring everything at your leisure. Just be aware that you are the face of the Solari Concord so going around shooting down random ships and provoking factions will drag them into your shenanigans. Everything you do will go towards one of your four forms of currency. Them being Credits for purchasing things, Salvage to construct ships, Gas to fuel your research and Resources which are needed for nearly everything.
Your territories will produce them automatically assuming you build the appropriate structures to gather them in the first place or send your civilians on tasks from the map. You can also go around blasting asteroids for their resources, scavenging from a wreckage, scanning anomalies and other ways to help your empire gather what they need. Some of those require certain usable items like scavenger drones or missiles designed specifically for asteroids that can be bought at a landing site be it a planet or space station. While out and about you may find one of the many artifacts scattered around the map that will give you an extra skill or perk point. Skills are specifically for your class’ four combat abilities while perks range from diplomacy, hacking and collecting more taxes from your lands to name a few.
These are usually earned by leveling up after enough experience points via combat, exploring or completing missions. By far the fasted way to level up is to complete missions from the job board of wherever it is you land. They are never too far away, do not take much time and offer a nice chunk of credits to boot. Accepting them does not freeze time however, the world cares not about your mission as everyone continues doing their own thing, such as attacking your territories. From my testing, it seems that no one attacks your starting areas so if you do not have other sectors under your control you do not have to worry about this part of the game if you just choose to fly off and do your own thing.
At any time you can go into the options menu to choose the difficultly for both the 4X and combat parts of the game if you find them either too difficult or easy. Going at it alone will require you to pack quite a punch to face whatever you encounter, and the only way to get new weapons is cold, hard cash. There are three main forms of guns, being plasma, beam or good ol’ lead. These are separated into either light weapons for your typical projectiles and heavy weapons for things like missiles. Heavy weapons have limited ammo so make sure to restock them whenever you get the chance lest you find yourself running dry in the middle of a fight. Buying equipment such as repair droids or shield boosters is also vital to your survival. Being a capable fighter will cost a pretty penny, but there comes a time when you should leave behind your old ship outright and upgrade to a bigger, badder hunk of metal.
That can be done by either purchasing a new one or sending the troops in your ship to board the enemy in an attempt to knick their ride and make it yours. Sending them to board another ship will activate a pseudo minigame inside of your map icon at the bottom left where you must tell them in each room they enter to either advance, retreat or pillage the place. It can be extremely useful to send your men in there to deactivate their shields, weapons or simply steal their cargo but if your goal is taking the entire ship, it is best to make a dash for the command center with no distractions. You must keep an eye on your troop’s fighting points and estimate how much you can afford to waste. All the while the enemy will be blasting your own ship, and you typically shouldn’t fire back at them with your own soldiers inside it so it becomes pretty intense if they are packing decent weaponry. If you are successful you can either sell it, tear it apart for its materials, keep it, make it serve in your army or research it so you can build more of that model.
Combat itself is pretty interesting, allowing you to either take control of the weapons yourself or handing that task over to your troops while you focus on navigating, using equipment and coming up with a strategy to come out victorious. With the ability to fly in any direction it can be easy to lose sight of a foe unless you lock on to them and press the K key, so the camera follows them at all times. Using the Tab key to change your view to first person and the Spacebar to bind your mouse to the camera makes it far easier to go after an enemy yourself instead of using the default setup. That setup is designed for those that want to play it more like an RPG than an Action game and have a better view of the battlefield while they use their mouse to click on abilities/items instead of controlling the camera. Both styles of play are perfectly viable and a ton of fun.
The single most important thing of fighting is your positioning. Trying to fire your missiles to the left while you only equipped them to your right wing is impossible as an example. It is important to remember where you placed your weapons and what they are best against to be as efficient as possible. Each of them has something they are best suited for such as plasma against shields or regular missiles against their bare hull. You can make some pretty neat combinations, and each ship has certain locations where you can mount stuff, making each craft you get into play and feel differently from one another aside from their speed and size. Your front, sides, and back are not only vital for your offense but your defense as well. Each side of your ship has their own shield so if your right side is near zero, position yourself to take their projectiles from any other area to avoid damage to your hull.
A fight against equally matched foes is a slow and tactical process while fighting smaller crafts can be done far more carelessly. As you progress further into the game and keep getting better ships one after another you will soon find yourself in vessels so large that your starting ship is barely even visible next to it. Once at this stage you can safely approach many smaller ships without much fear of them ever breaking through your massive shields though by that point you will have equally powerful warships to worry about. The combat in this title is a ton of fun, and it continues to be after nearly 50 hours of playtime. You don’t even have to engage in combat yourself if you don’t want to as you are the general/leader of the Solari Concord. Just build a fleet of ships and send them to fight in your place or to conquer an area on their own while you sit back to simply manage your empire.
Another option is to tell a fleet to follow you around and serve as your guards as you fly around the galaxy. Regardless of how outclassed you would be alone, having an army at your back more than evens the odds. As cool as it is to conquer the galaxy alongside your troops, the AI really needs some tweaking. They are impressive in all but two regards. One is their insistence to always break formation and go off fighting at the first sign of an enemy, leaving you completely alone if you keep flying on. The other is far more than an annoyance. Your fleet will not attack the turrets surrounding a base, essentially leaving you to capture it all by yourself while they sit around doing nothing and getting destroyed. It is not an issue if you send them by themselves and they will capture it on their own as long as you are not there which still really sucks.
Your army has a limit to the amount you can have, indicated by the number of Command Points you have. The better the ship, the more they cost to contain and the only way to build more after you reach the limit is to upgrade your HQ’s hangar or to conquer military stations found throughout the map. It causes you to play it smart and makes having your entire military force following you around a really bad idea since you’ll leave your lands undefended. You can split your ships into as many different fleets as you want and station them around the map to give them tasks to carry out or simply guard. It can be a bit difficult seeing the tiny ship icon on your map though you get used to it. What is unforgivably bad is the alert you are given when an area is under attack. You receive a single message which you could very easily miss due to combat, tons of other messages popping up involving resources or any other various factors. Good luck randomly spotting the tiny icon on the enormous map area. It always feels extremely cheap losing lands due to this and not finding out until much later on that you’ve even lost it.
The Solari Concord always have your back regardless of what you drag them into, and in turn, you too must remain loyal to them. You can go around on your own and ignore them, but you can not join or play as any other factions. Aside from the generic nameless ships you can build, you can also have a couple of Warmasters to serve under you. These people have their own portraits, skills, and level up the same way that you do. Sending them out on missions are important to help them gather experience and receive a better ship for them to fight in. If they fall in battle, you must rebuild their ship in order to send them to the frontlines again. Enemies can have Warmasters as well, and a fleet headed by one is a force to be reckoned with and one you most likely can’t handle on your own.
Conquering planets can only be accomplished once you build a massively expensive, difficult to build, planet glassing spacecraft. Calling one of these beasts in is not as simple as it may seem, however. You must first clear out an area for it to warp to and proceed to defend it as it charges while the inhabitants of that planet throw everything they got at you in order to avoid a massive genocide of their people residing there. It’s a very evil thing to do but insanely awesome and will get you the most intense battles in the game. I was expecting a massive overpowered ship that will allow me to easily conquer all while building it, though was pleasantly surprised that it didn’t turn out to be a game ending thing. It will take quite some time before you have the resources to build it so conquering the areas around a planet will result in frequent attacks to the surrounding territories.
I could honestly talk about Starpoint Gemini Warlords all day, and there are many more things to it I haven’t mentioned. While it does have its problems, it is one of the most addictive games I’ve played in many years and just writing this makes me want to go back to replay it. There are so many things to do and a ton of ways to play the game that it would take a very long time to get tired of this title. In my near 50 hours of playing it, I have only conquered less than a fourth of the map and have a ton of places left to explore in this large galaxy. It also has random encounters that pop up around the map to keep things from getting stale. With problems such as your fleet refusing to attack the turrets of a base while you are there, lack of a heads up when your lands are being invaded and the poor excuse of a campaign that is more like a bare-bones tutorial through the entire game than anything, it does knock it down a bit. Even so, Warlords is a game I’d recommend to anyone with enough spare time on their hands to afford getting helplessly addicted to.
[Review copy was provided]