4x strategy goes galactic in Arkavi Studios’ Lords of the Black Sun. Get ready for starships, colonization, and a surprisingly manageable amount of stuff to do.
I have to start out here by saying that I haven’t played a so-called ‘4x ‘ strategy game in a long, long time. Yes, I’ve played Civ and the less demanding (strategically speaking) Civilization Revolution, but the last real 4x that I’ve gotten into was probably Master of Orion on the PC back in the ’90s.
If you’re not familiar with the term, because I wasn’t and I used to play these games, it’s basically shorthand for explore, expand, exploit, exterminate. The genre provides for a deeper strategy experience that something like a real-time strategy title could provide, and allows for more meaningful thought and more complex play.
Sometimes that shakes down to mean there’s a lot to do. No, no; I mean a lot to do. These games can be daunting in a big way, especially to a gamer who simply doesn’t have a lot of time to learn the rules and get hours and hours deep into a game. In a typical 4x you’ll have to micro-manage an empire in just about every way; militarily, socially, and economically. That’s one of the main reasons that I actually stay away from games like this and it’s one of the reasons that I was sort of dreading this preview as I’m not the most patient of gamers.
Happily though, I was wrong about Lords of the Black Sun (formerly Star Lords; wonder why they changed that…) had to offer. Sure, there’s a lot to do in the game and a fair share of things to keep track of, but all of it’s done in a fun way and is very easy to understand and engage with. Oh, and it all takes very little getting accustomed to as well; that’s a good thing my friends.
Starting off, you’ll find a selection of 8 ‘major races’ to play as. You can pick any of them to start things off and each one has their own starship designs, technology trees, abilities, and leanings. I say major races here since there are also a number of NPC minor races that you’ll run into as you explore the galaxy. Everything from primitive civilizations (like us) to pirate clans, are out there in the Black Sun universe and can be come across at any time.
There are also long-lost remnants of a died out galaxy-spanning empire scattered around. Finding them, either on a planet or floating out there in the void, can net you a big time buff for use in researching new technologies and military options. And you’ll need the help because even though Lords of the Black Sun is more approachable than 4x titles I’ve played in the past, it still tasks players with building up an interstellar empire, uh, epoch by any means necessary.
You can play however you like to that end as well. Forging alliances and dominating trade routes are just as viable ways to conquer as military might. Being allied with ‘rival’ races is particularly important too, as you’ll need the assistance before you know it as you try to outgrow your not-so friendly neighbors. Not all planets that you’ll come across are inhabitable either and still others need thorough research in order to colonize. If you find yourself somewhat trapped in just a few star systems, you’ll be very thankful indeed for a little help from your friends.
And speaking of traveling through the stars, the ship designer is one of the cooler parts of the game and is available right from the jump after you build your first shipyard. Using this tool, you can pick from hull strengths, ship sizes, weapon loadouts, special abilities and more. It’s really neat and good fun and even allows you to name your ship classes, which is great.
Not everything is perfect though as the audio/video package is predictably not the greatest. 4x titles, from my experience anyway, seem to never really have a big focus on looks (or sound) and that’s about the same here in Lords of the Black Sun. I’m not saying the game looks bad at all, since it actually looks pretty nice, but knocking anyone over with its beauty isn’t really going to happen.
I also had a few lockups as I played and lost a decent deal of progress in one crash as I had to restart my system. Not fun, but it only happened once and it wasn’t the end of the world as it’s not like I had to play through a set story over again. Black Sun has a procedurally generated universe, so it’s different every time you play. Still though, stuff like that tends to irritate and if I had made a big move before loosing my progress I probably would have been a little more tweaked than I was.
Even with the detractions though, Lords of the Black Sun is a really fun time and one that you could seriously lose hours of your time with. Even as a non-fan of the genre, I had a great time with it and I’m looking forward to the final product. That alone says volumes.
Lords of the Black Sun is available right now on Steam Early Access and should be available a little later this year in its full retail form.