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There are three different modes of play in Conquest: Campaign, Quick Battle, and Multiplayer. The Campaign mode follows the Terrans as they battle through 15 missions to decide the fate of the universe, and includes several tutorial missions for each species. In Quick Battle, players can play against up to seven computer opponents of varying skill across seven maps. In Multiplayer mode, strategy fans have an opportunity to sharpen their skills against human and computer opponents across a LAN or the Internet, courtesy of Ubi Soft.
Conquest: Frontier Wars takes the gameplay of Starcraft and moves it up several notches. Like the classic RTS title, you control units from a “god’s-eye view,” although Conquest operates in a fully zoomable and rotatable 3D environment rather than an isometric tile-based one. The main display screen shows your viewable area, mirrored in a smaller form on the mini-map. The action takes place entirely in space, with dozens of various spacecraft from three races at your disposal. Outer space is filled with different planets, moons, and “obstacles” ranging from asteroid belts to space nebulas, energy ribbons, and black holes. Players construct fleets from platforms that orbit planets and are built by the acquisition of ore, gas, and crew. Collecting the first two resources with mobile harvesters is vital to maintaining your war effort. Ore can be obtained from within earth-type planets and moons, or mined in asteroid or debris fields. Gas, used for propulsion, comes from swamp planets, gas giants, and nebulae. Finally, crew can be found only on earth and swamp planets, and are required to man all the ships in the game.
Players encounter three races in Conquest, each with their unique appearances and actions. The Terrans are considered the most balanced of the species, relying primarily on ore resources as they build powerful short and long-range ships and high-tech weapons. Next comes the hive-minded Mantis, a species that goes through lots of crew resources and builds numerous carrier-based ships. Finally there are the energy-beings known as the Celareons, an advanced alien species consuming mostly gas resources while building fast, defensive oriented craft. Players have an opportunity to control all three species during the single campaign, which covers dozens of different star systems all linked by a series of wormholes.
Typical scenarios in Conquest involve creating a sizable fleet to destroy the enemy, beginning with only a single headquarters in an untouched star system filled with planets and resources. Players rely on a fabricator (or the other two species’ equivalent) — a large constructor ship capable of building all of the major structures — to expand their foothold in a system. Most functional platforms cannot be erected anywhere in space; every planet has a series of empty “slots” in orbit where platforms can be built. Once all the slots are filled, you have to seek out another planet for future expansion. Defensive structures such as the laser turret, space station, and ion cannon are not restricted to planets, however, and can be built practically anywhere in space.
In addition to building, supply and repair are two critical elements of the gameplay. Supply platforms have a stationary radius area where any ship inside its area can be outfitted. Outfitting is quite necessary, as all craft have limited hull and ammo. Only supply ships and repair facilities can keep battle-craft from being weaponless or destroyed. Luckily, players can build mobile supply vessels to bring the fight to the enemy in distant systems bridged by wormholes, but the supply line back home must be kept open to successfully fuel your expansion. Supply lines are maintained by constructing a jump gate on a wormhole, which keeps the enemy out of your systems. Jump gates can be destroyed on either side of the wormhole, though, so players need adequate protection to keep supplies flowing.
Exploration is another key factor to the gameplay. At the onset, each sector is dark, but new planets, resource areas, and wormholes reveal themselves by strategically sending out scout ships. A fog of war exists in the game, and players will need to form their fleets with this in mind. Having an expendable corvette or scout check out a potentially hazardous ambush point can save your powerful fleet from disaster.
Conquering the explored frontier is not really practical without having a fleet built via special buildings, which go through a hierarchical system of development. Various research facilities must be constructed around a planet before more advanced structures become available. In addition, certain buildings allow players to research advances in weapons, armor, and propulsion at a cost of ore, gas, and crew. Players strapped for resources can recycle buildings, recouping some of their costs while freeing up a slot around a planet. In order to keep play balanced, Conquest incorporates a system of command points to keep fleets in check. Every unit requires a certain number of command points to operate, and players have a set number of points largely determined by the number of Long Range Sensor Towers built around planets. Players cannot expand their fleets until they have enough free command points to do so.
Some of the commands given to ships can be automated. Once assigned an area to exploit, harvesters will continually use up that area until nothing remains to harvest. Additionally, offensive craft can be assigned to automatically patrol an area or escort another ship, attacking enemy craft before returning to its original duties. Most of the automation in the game reveals itself only in the Quick Battle and Multiplayer modes, which allow the use of Admirals and fleets. After constructing a Naval Academy, you can recruit one of the six Admirals featured in the campaign mode, each adding bonuses to any grouped fleet under the Admiral’s command. These AI leaders will perform their duties independently unless specifically ordered, leaving players free to focus on other aspects of the overall battle scenario.
There are many ships in Conquest, all constructed from various platforms and designed to be easily transitional from one race to the next. For the Terrans, there are the lightweight Corvettes and Infiltrators, moving up to Missile Cruisers, Battleships, Fleet Carriers, and Dreadnaughts. There is even a special Troopship that deploys space marines onto a structure, capturing it for your personal use. The Mantis have their own ship arsenals, from the short-range Frigates and Khamirs to the many carrier-based craft that allow for powerful long-range attacks. In addition, they have a Troopship, called a Leech, that can take over enemy platforms. On the Celareons’ side, there are ships like the small Taos and Polaris fighters, and larger craft such as the Atlas and Monolith. Like the other two races, the Celareons also have a Troopship, known as a Legionnaire. Additionally, some ships for each race have special weapons that use up their supplies faster, but pack quite a punch. Fighting can get intense, but status bars above each ship allow you to track every vessel in the fleet, letting you decide when to attack and when to pull back.
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