Written by  :  D Michael (232)
Written on  :  Mar 07, 2006
Rating  :  3.86 Stars3.86 Stars3.86 Stars3.86 Stars3.86 Stars

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Summary

Excellent strategy game!

The Good

Emperor of the Fading Suns (here on out referred to as EOFS) for Windows is a turn based space strategy game inspired by the EOFS pen and paper universe. When I got my copy I knew nothing of the EOFS following, and examining the back of the box inclined me to take a shot at this title (I love turn based games). I expected a game that would be par for the course in this genre but instead found myself amazed at how exciting this game is to play.

The objective of the game is to become emperor, and this is accomplished by being elected to the position. Each house has a vote to cast and elections happen once every ten turns or so. Holding items called 'scepters' allows for one vote, and each house starts with 5. Scepters can be destroyed or captured, giving a house more or less than their fair share of votes.

The game starts by selecting from one of five 'houses' (nations basically) and assigning various options and difficulty levels before the game begins. Each nation has their own home planet, and each of these have specific types of environments. Therefore, playing house Hawkwood may start off a bit differently than playing house Li-Halan. You may select from a historical map (I assume the arrangement of planets here is based on the books) or you can have a randomly generated computer map.

First and foremost, the game is about resource and infrastructure building. The level of complexity for resource management is high, yet at the same time easily manageable. There are thirteen, count 'em, THIRTEEN different resources ranging from things like food and energy to biochemicals, wetware, singularities (used for jump drives on space craft) and others. Most of the resources build upon each other. For example you need chemicals to make biochemicals, which are in turn used to make another resource, and so forth. Clicking on any of your resources reveals how many units you are producing per turn, and how many you are consuming per turn. This simple and accessible interface allows the player to monitor supply and demand of these resources, thereby making adjustments to either consumption or production straight forward. Resource management seems daunting at first, but an hour or two of game time is all that is needed to become comfortable.

One thing that makes this game great is diplomacy. It's not enough to be a good military strategist, you must pick and choose your diplomatic relations. The League and the Church are other more neutral entities that can alter the path of the game. You don't want to be at war with everyone at the same time so good diplomacy skills are a must in the beginning. Diplomacy screens basically consist of "Give me..." and you can select what you want be it money, planet maps, alliances, etc. then you can propose your offer. There is a little box that says "And" which can be changed to "Or". So for example, I can say "Give me... planet map of Delphi AND I'll give you votes at the next election" On the other hand, changing the box to 'Or' changes the offer altogether. Now I can say something like "Give me Electron Microscope Technology OR I'll declare war on you". While the computer controlled opponents don't respond appropriately to most offers, in a multiplayer game this is a valuable tool.

The weapons involved is what makes this game really shine in my opinion. The type of setting combines futuristic space technology with conventional weapons of modern time. For example, I may develop the ability to create space fighters and bombers, space cargo haulers, etc. but at the same time on the ground I have tanks, anti-tank guns, fighter jets, infantry, submarines, artillery, the list goes on... each having their own movement, armor, and attack capabilities. This makes for an interesting mix of space combat and modern conventional combat strategy. You even have the option of developing biological weapons, super soldiers through combat drugs and genetic manipulation, it's up to you.

Researching technologies is quite simple but has huge impact on long term strategy. I could put a lot of time into being superior in space, or maybe I want light tanks that move fast for a quick response, or perhaps I want to be able to produce many cheap units that are strong in numbers. Added to this is that the Church outlaws certain technological research, and continues to do so throughout the game. So if I want the Xyll Warbeast as a military unit, I might have to research Symbiot Psychology which is banned by the church. If a player begins researching a banned technology, the Church will attack, usually beginning by bombarding you from space and then by sending inquisitors on the ground in an attempt to destroy your labs. This adds a whole knew dynamic in technology research strategies.

Combat is determined automatically by the computer, considering things like attack and defense bonuses, the types of units fighting each other, etc. It doesn't take hand-eye skill to win at combat, rather you must make good decisions about what to engage and how to engage it.

Resources can be moved, bought, and sold. Instead of having only a number on the screen telling you how much of a resource you have, you will actually possess somewhere in your empire a crate containing those resources. This means that they can be captured and traded. If you're being attacked, it also requires you to place your resources in a well defended place so they are not taken. Good stuff.

There really are many things going on in the game, so many angles, so many fires to put out, and so much planning that has to be done in terms of defense, resource harvesting and management, and logistics. The designers were able to create one of the most simple interfaces for a game of this scope. You are not overwhelmed with five million screens or sub menus. Information that is needed is easily attained with simple clicks on the appropriate section. If I want to see statistics for your 'House' you can click on 'House'. If I want to see how many Monopols I produce and consume, I click on 'Monopols'. Wondering which units you haven't moved yet? Just click on the green arrows to cycle through your units. EOFS is a testament that advanced and in depth game play doesn't require convoluted and confusing interfaces. Very well done.

The Bad

Every rose has its thorn, and the thorns of EOFS are very sharp and cut deep.

There are two major, and two minor drawbacks to EOFS.

The small potatoes are that the multiplay is done by either hotseat or PBEM (play by email). PBEM is horribly slow, and I've heard of games that lasted well over a year. There is a strong cult following for this game so finding PBEM players if you know where to look is not difficult, but the pace of the game is as slow as gaming gets. Hot seat isn't bad, but how often do you have a chance for that?

'Houses' don't differ in the weapons and technology they are capable of, what determines the big differences between players are not special units but the research paths they have chosen.

Now for the real problems; the game is chock full of bugs. Even with the latest patches (which by the way the official ones are very old because the company had abandoned this title long ago) there are a plethora of things that can go wrong. Lockups are frequent, mouse pointers disappear, and yes unfortunately at times saved games get corrupted for no apparent reason. This is frustrating to deal with, but the game is so much fun to play most people take this in stride.

The next serious problem with this game is the AI. The AI is absolutely terrible. For a novice player it will be a minor challenge, but anyone that knows how to play the game at even moderate levels can dominate the AI. The AI won't respond appropriately to diplomacy (i.e. rejects offers where you have overpaid them tremendously or accepts offers that rip them off) and is furthermore really good at building powerful empires that lack real defenses. For the serious player human opponents is the only way to go, and well that's slow slow slow...

There is no current official support for EOFS, but due to the large cult following players have added patches and expansions which have improved the game greatly. Doing a search for the title in google typically reveals forums and other sites dedicated to the continued advancement of this game.

The Bottom Line

EOFS is one of the best turn based strategies to date. Rich in story, atmosphere, and gameplay elements, you'd be hard pressed to find any turn based strategy as exciting as this one. If you have any strategy inklings you need to check this one out.

Note to new players; developed in 1996, EOFS will not run under winXP or win2000 unless modifications are made to the registry. You can find instruction on this online by searching or you can just download the game from http://www.the-underdogs.org/game.php?id=367 it's free and playable on modern machines.

Have fun!