Dawn of Andromeda (DoA) is a difficult game to talk about. I genuinely don’t know if I like it or not. Sure, there’s a lot about DoA that is unique, and most of it is rather streamlined, but I don’t know if the rest of it really holds up very well.
Since I’ve never discussed the base game, I’ll do that here, but I’m also using this opportunity to speak about its new expansion, Subterfuge.
Let’s discuss it and I’ll lay out my organized thoughts, which will hopefully lead to a consensus on where my feelings lean.
What I Like:
- The Strategic Map’s Structure: DoA is a game that clearly takes inspiration from one of the best 4X/RTS hybrids of all time, Sins of a Solar Empire. Each of its planetary systems have a variety of habitable/uninhabitable planets, resources, anomalies, black holes, etc. and each of those are connected by a random number of star lanes. Those star lanes are configurable, so you can actually have very few choke points, or quite a few.
I’ve always thought that a true 4X game that modeled itself after Sins of a Solar Empire would be a lot of fun, as the galaxy maps in Sins work very well and create a lot of tension with some really fun and intense battles. So it’s no surprise to me that I mostly enjoyed the way DoA is setup and its galaxy map style choice.
- Colony Management: I am one of those weirdos that really enjoyed Master of Orion 1 (MoO 1) over Master of Orion 2 (Moo 2). I hate being bogged down by colony build queues every few turns (or even EVERY turn) and the strategic, yet rather hands-off, approach that MoO 1 had to colony management was much more enjoyable to me. Sure, sliders aren’t super sexy, but I’d rather adjust those every few turns than manage what’s being built on every colony.
That being said, colony management in DoA is right up my alley. Instead of sliders, you allocate funds to infrastructure development by putting up to 5 points in one of 5 categories, as seen below. As they level up, their ability to generate their respective resource is increased and the colony gets stronger. There’s clearly a bit of strategy involved as you determine where those funds are allocated first and, as the investment levels are capped, which ones get money and which ones don’t.
It’s a fun, low-management-required system that I like and hope to see again.
- The RPG Elements: Sure, RPG elements appear to be all the rage in just about every genre nowadays, 4X included, but DoA is unique in its execution. While the governors and council members aren’t particularly interesting or fun, it’s the random characters and items that do add some interesting elements.
During each game, you’ll stumble upon random merchants that are transporting goods and will often have a unique artifact or two on their ships. You can subsequently purchase these and then research them. After their secrets are uncovered, they’ll likely be worth a lot of money or offer bonuses to a variety of production types. Sometimes they offer some other cool stuff, too, that I won’t spoil.
You’ll also stumble upon pirates with bounties on their head and if you destroy them, you’ll be awarded that bounty. Each of these pirates have names and an established reputation in the galaxy. So, between the characters – namely the merchants and the pirates – and the cool “loot” that you can find, the RPG elements in DoA add a bit of flair to the game and are enjoyable.
Hopefully they are expanded upon in whatever comes next.
- The Attempt at Faction Asymmetry: While it’s not anywhere close to Endless Legend or Endless Space 2 in this regard, their is an attempt here at making the races different enough to make gameplay somewhat different. I’m not talking about the lame and rather inconsequential bonuses and weakness that EVERY OTHER 4X does, as they’re present here, too. Rather, I’m just happy that a few of the races are able to colonize weird planets or gas giants and that they clearly have different focuses in DoA.
I’m spoiled by the aforementioned Endless games in this regard, but DoA attempts to make them different enough and succeeds, mostly. Even their play style as AI players appears to be tweaked in order to focus on their strengths. I can appreciate that.
What I Don’t Like:
- The UI: Sure, its simplicity and focus on icons appears to be an attempt to mirror the masters of 4X UI, Amplitude Studios, but it’s a mess in nearly every regard. For example, the traits given to every potential member of your council and governors are all icons that only remotely look like their respective bonuses or maluses. I have no idea why they chose to use icons over just regular text, as they make the initial selection of your council painful and much more difficult than it should be.
Far too frequently, I have to mouse-over UI elements, like those symbols, to figure out what they mean. Not only that, but the UI in general is too difficult to navigate. Upon finding a new item, you’d hope that you could just hit a button in the notification that would take you to the item screen, but you can’t. You have to manually navigate to the vast majority of notification items and that’s not fun.
Not to mention, that UI just isn’t particularly pleasant to look at and is rather too simple. We’re 4X fans. If you can’t balance simplicity with information, then give us more information.
- The Economy: It’s shallow and decidedly not fun or interesting. There are only a handful of resources and once you have ONE of them, your entire empire reaps the benefit of it. None of the resources really appear to change your economic output in any meaningful way, either. Again, I get the desire to keep things streamlined or simple, but this is too simple and feels stripped and empty.
- The Combat: In the absence of much depth elsewhere, it would have been really cool to see a more tactically-minded combat mechanic. However, you’re not going to find it here. Sure, there are some active abilities that you can use during combat (and after the proper research), but it doesn’t matter, as the combat is a boring slog and it very rarely feels as if those abilities truly change the tide of battle (though to be fair, they will occasionally do just that, just not often enough).
Not only that, but you have to select the ships individually to use those skills and, again, they’re not particularly interesting or game changing, so it’s usually just…not worth it. Stick with Sins of a Solar Empire if you’re after good combat.
It’s a bit bigger than this, but not much. And it’s not any more exciting.
- The Research Tree: A portion of the fun in 4X games is the element of progressing through an exciting research tree, unlocking cool weapons, buildings, or other topic that changes gameplay or the shape of the galaxy. None of that is present in DoA. The tree is bland and relatively small and frequently only offers small bonuses to existing resources or capabilities. That’s not fun and I never feel compelled to keep playing in order to obtain that “cool new tech” like I do in so many other 4X games.
- The Bugs. My God, the Bugs: I understand that this dev team is small, so I can give them a bit of a pass, but this game will crash, bug out, glitch, and practically explode during nearly every session with it. Frequently, I see a lot of graphical glitches. More often than not, if I play long enough, it will crash to desktop. If you read the Steam reviewsfor DoA, you can tell that I’m clearly not the only one having issues. Which brings me to my next point:
Dawn of Andromeda also recently received an out-of-the-blue expansion pack, titled Subterfuge. As you can probably deduce from a name like that, its focus is on espionage. It also adds content, two new races, and new planetary projects. Lastly, it introduces a fuel range mechanic THAT SHOULD BE IN THE BASE GAME. I’ll talk more about that in a minute.
I consider it bad form to have been putting off bug fixes and general stability patches for development of an expansion pack, but I can overlook that mostly. The content is decent (who actually likes standard-fare espionage in 4X? I need to know, as I’ve never really enjoyed it, with a few exceptions, i.e. Endless Legend and Master of Orion 2016) and the price is appropriate ($6.99).
The problem with Subterfuge is that it barely addresses DoA’s weaknesses and doesn’t solidify its strengths. I’ve mentioned these all above, so there’s no need in reviewing them, but the point stands: Subterfuge doesn’t do anything that makes DoA any more enjoyable. Sure, the planet projects are a bit more exciting for colony development, but that’s about it.
Let me address the fuel range addition here, too.
First, an aside: the mechanic I’m talking about is simply the addition of a finite range for ship travel, based on their ability to refuel and their engine type, which you can better through research. In the base game, scouts – or any other ship for that matter – could travel the entire galaxy without any need for additional research or components from the very first minute of the game. It didn’t feel right and many people said as much (hence the reason that they changed it).
Anyway, back to my point. It’s not okay for a base-game-improving mechanic like that to be locked behind a $6.99 pay wall. Many people have asked for this gameplay change and it feels very much like something that should have been made available to owners of the base game. It doesn’t necessarily make the game leagues better or anything, but it is something that makes the base game better. Maybe I’m overreacting, but I really feel uncomfortable with the move here.
Anyway, Subterfuge doesn’t do enough to really save DoA and that’s a shame. Had the devs taken a moment to consider what makes their game unique and what was being criticized, then the expansion could have propelled a mediocre game to good or even great ratings. Instead, they added some content that no one really asked for and made a change to core gameplay – that’s certainly for the better – and kept it behind a $6.99 expansion purchase.
Well, I think I’ve come to a conclusion on how I feel, after all.
In all honesty, I’m probably never going to play DoA again. There are so many better 4X games out there right now that I can’t possibly imagine waiting to see where this game goes. Grey Wolf Entertainment is clearly not listening anyway.
It’s a great lesson on how not to move forward after a ho-hum launch, though. There’s that.