Beyond Sol is a sprawling Real-Time Strategy title from Praxia, lead by a couple of ex-Bioware developers who had a hand in the Mass Effect franchise. Based in the outer rim of our galaxy, it makes no apologies for those influences, instead building on them into an engaging and fun deep-space experience.
On beginning a new campaign, the game serves up vertically scrolling text telling you that ageing has been cured, leading to the colonisation of the wider reaches of space. So far, so generic sci-fi. This narrative distraction quickly makes way for the real drama – your diplomatic relationships with other colonies. Similar to the Civilisation, or Total War franchises, your management of these relationships is critical to your space-based survival.
I must admit that it’s been a while since I played an RTS game, and in my first foray into the deep black I was brutally crushed by the joint forces of Nova Russia and New Tehran. I could have defended against one of them, but together they obliterated me.
A new solar system generated, and my sapling empire established and I was ready to venture forth again. Taking care to maintain positive relations with neighbours by helping them fight off pirates, or the occasional gift, I soon grew to be the third largest colony on the map. It’s at this point that the trade treaties and alliances come into their own. The two largest colonies were allies, and one of them (my direct neighbour) hated me. To pre-empt their inevitable attack, I joined their war with Warzen on the side of the under-dog, immediately befriending them.
Not only did this end up in friendship with Warzen, but also with many other colonies in the system, as I learned that to become the biggest a certain amount of bullying is required. Turning these new friends into trade partners and allies was the economic, and military coup that catapulted me to top of the pecking order, and damn did that feel good.
That’s the thing about After Sol. It is difficult enough in normal mode to feel really rewarding when you do it right, against the odds. As I attributed personalities to the AI colonies, I realised I was getting sucked in. I can’t wait to play multiplayer to test wits against human opponents/allies, as I can only imagine this will heighten the sense of diplomatic vulnerability.
The controls are intuitive enough, with a mash of RTS-style base management, and a bit of MMO-esque combat. You only control one ship, using right clicks for direction and mouse-wheel/spacebar for thrust. There are then a series of hotkeys for attacks (of a maximum of four) that all have cooldowns. You don’t control your fleet, who all have attack styles that suit their loadout. This means you cannot control formation or micro-manage battles so you need to think hard about the make-up of your fleet. Although there is a small sacrifice made in not controlling all your ships, you feel no less of a space-commander. Warping into a battle at pace and seeing your fleet strafe a set of pirates just doesn’t get old.
In the name of balance, I must admit that the game’s sound design doesn’t hold up against the epic backdrop, and I quickly found myself muting it. There are also a few small glitches (updates are being released over time) such as when you call a truce, your ships may continue to attack a base. None of these are big enough to detract from the overall experience though.
Beyond Sol has enough depth in terms of upgrades for your ship and fleet to allow for experimentation, as well as three different ways to win (Military, Diplomatic and Economic). The game is a colourfully presented dollop of space fun, and is well worth the asking price of £15 on steam at time of review. I clocked in around 15 hours to get to a position to get my first win– but in so doing, my second colony is now strong enough to take on the bullies who destroyed its’ big brother. Some plasma shaped justice is on the way I think…
Midlife Gamer Rating: 8/10 Format: PC Release Date: Out Now
Disclosure: Midlife Gamer were provided a copy of Beyond Sol by the publisher for review purposes. The title was reviewed over the course of six days. For more information on what our scores mean, plus details of our reviews policy, click here.