Dawn of Andromeda
Grey Wolf Entertainment/Iceberg Interactive
I’m a big sucker for 4X strategy games, particularly ones within the science fiction realm. Ever since I first sat down and played Master of Orion II, I was hooked. For the first time in gaming history, you could actually helm an space faring civilization of your choosing and stake your claim in a multifaceted, wide-open universe. Having transferred over from the board gaming realm into the digital one, I also enjoyed the fact that after playing each gaming session, I didn’t have to clean up a bunch of cardboard or plastic pieces representing the various spaceships, planets, and the like.
I’ve played a number of 4X games since the classic MMO2, but not until 2008’s Sins of a Solar Empire (by Stardock) did anything remotely move my needle. Since then, although there have been a number of Master of Orion clones and wannabes, the 4X science fiction category has been stuck in a deep dearth, with nothing too interesting on the horizon.
Until earlier this year. Stellaris, by Paradox Interactive, made some huge waves when it was released in May. Its combination of pause-able real-time gameplay, beautiful graphics, deep empire customization, and emergent storytelling made it seriously addictive. I mean, when Stellaris first came out it might has well have been made out of cracknip because I tweaked out on it for days on end. Fortunately, after reading some of the many glowing reviews on Stellaris’ Steam review board, I don’t feel as fanboy-ish as I could have.
It was no surprise then, at least to me, that another indie gaming company would come along and develop a similar game. Well, to be fair, Grey Wolf’s new 4x science fiction offering titled Dawn of Andromeda, certainly does a few things that are original. After playing it for a while, I couldn’t but see the influence that Sins of a Solar Empire and Stellaris has on space RTS’s these days. Fortunately, it has enough of its own personality to save it from being a clone.
Let’s start with Dawn of Andromeda’s civilizations. You either have the option of picking a pre-rendered, ready-to-go one such as you do in Sins, or, you can create your very own race, complete with perks just as you do in Stellaris. When you begin a game, you’re greeted with handsome view of your solar system, and can zoom out and see a gorgeous galactic view, accompanied by colored sectors which indicate where each civilization resides, similar to how it looks in Stellaris.
Each civilization also begins with a scout and survey ship (science vessel in Stellaris), which you can set on auto-explore just as in both of the aforementioned games. Exploring the galaxy and locating hospitable planets proceeds at a much brisker, Sins pace. Within ten minutes of my first Dawn of Andromeda game, I had settled three new colonies, however small they were. The colony screens were beautifully done and very original, with weather and atmospheric effects aplenty.
Ship travel is very Sins as well—you travel along space lanes that can be easily bottlenecked. Unfortunately, Dawn of Andromeda doesn’t feature the robust defensive structures and devices that Sins’ excellent Entrenched DLC provided, so you’re stuck with just a basic starbase for holding off enemies, but I’m pretty sure they’ll add something along those lines via future DLCs or updates.
Dawn of Andromeda’s trade system is interesting—if you are generating a surplus of goods on a planet, you may export them. Just make sure that any freighters that are ferrying these goods back and forth between you and a friendly empire aren’t traveling through enemy territory, or they will be quickly attacked. Trade is still something that Stellaris hasn’t really articulated well in their otherwise stellar (couldn’t help it) galactic conquest game. At least Dawn of Andromeda went the Sins route and has actual trade ships that travel between distant colonies, although it doesn’t feature any resource haulers, as of yet at least.
Ship-to-ship and ship-to-planet combat is handled just as it is in Sins, with ships pulling up to each other, stopping, and firing their best weapons at one another. This is one thing that I wish Dawn of Andromeda’s devs would have made more like Stellaris, where when ships engage each other, they continue to fly around and flank each other, all the while attempting to dodge incoming fire. It has a much more dynamic and exciting feel to it. This isn’t a big deal, however, as the highly detailed ship models and excellent ship’s weapons effects are really a sight to see.
Now, as the saying goes, I know that “there’s nothing new under the sun,” but Dawn of Andromeda does manage to stand out and does several things that are quite unique. Its menu system is very streamlined and easy to navigate, unlike Stellaris’ rather cluttered UI. The portraits of each civilization’s leaders, underlings, as well as the game’s various other denizens such as pirates, mercenaries, and other assorted scallywags, are really well rendered. The technology tree is also handy and uncluttered, if a little bare (for now at least). Since the game is still in Early Access, I’m sure that Grey Wolf will be filling in a lot of spaces that aren’t as full-fledged yet. The music isn’t intrusive and is some of the best I’ve ever heard in a space 4X game—it’s really immersive and draws you into the unfolding, space opera proceedings.
It may have seemed that I thought that my experience with Dawn of Andromeda so far has been derivative, and that may be true to a certain extent. But, that’s not necessarily a bad thing. This game definitely has its own vibe going on, and since it’s so early in development, there is sure to be a lot more content to come, which will hopefully further differentiate it from the ever-expanding science fiction 4X genre.
In all, Dawn of Andromeda is a solid space-faring 4X strategy game, and any fans of science fiction games should definitely check it out. Its blend of open-ended gameplay, unique alien races, and stunning graphics will keep me playing it as it develops further. Little niggles aside, Dawn of Andromeda is highly recommended, and will only get better.