Minimum requirements: Windows 2000/XP/Vista; 1.5 GHz Intel Pentium or comparable AMD Processor; 1 GB RAM; 128-mb DirectX 9-compatible video card; 3 GB hard disk space; DirectX 9.0c-compatible sound card; LAN or 56 Kbps Internet connection
Release date: Available now
I really enjoyed the time I spent playing Sword of the Stars: Ultimate Collection, so when I heard that a final expansion was being released, I found myself eagerly anticipating it. I was doubly excited because this expansion pack is reportedly not part of the developer’s original plans for the life-cycle of the game. As developer Kerberos forum contributor Mecron explains, “This is just a thank-you note to all of the fan base…this ship pack was NOT planned for way back when ‘cause, to be honest, we never dreamed things would go this well.” Thus, Sword of the Stars: Argos Naval Yard is the last installment of the series before Kerberos sets off to develop other games and, perhaps, a sequel.
They have certainly given us a lot to chew on in this final expansion. I was worried at first when I read the announcement because no new races were mentioned. One of the staples of this series has always been the introduction of new races with each expansion. My worries have turned out to be for nothing, because Kerberos has taken a different development path, one that instead focuses on rounding out what is already in the game. While there are no new races with unique ways of traveling the stars, there are plenty of new weapons, new ship sections, and new things to build in orbit around your planets.
Veteran players will no doubt be interested in the fact that the ballistics technology tree has gotten substantial love in this expansion. While only a single new technology is available, Accelerator Amplification, this small change substantially modifies how you should utilize this branch of technology and plan your research priorities. It boosts the damage output of all ballistic weapons and introduces a rail cannon that can be used in the new Impactor ship section. It combines an exceptionally long range with the kind of devastating firepower you might expect to see in heavy beam weapons. While I have always thought that the balance in Sword of the Stars was good, it’s nice to see one of the few gaps in performance between different kinds of weapons closed, as I illustrate in my video commentary.
For those who love using drones and like to fight WWII naval battles in space, there are now drone satellites, heavy combat drones and advanced assault shuttles. These improvements to small craft make it more feasible to swarm your enemies with fighters in battles that would make Adm. Nimitz jealous. However, this series has never been just about weapons. There are a number of new inventions that have little combat value, but which nevertheless change the way the game is played. The first of these is the Zuul Devourer. Only built by the Zuul into Dreadnought hulls, the Devourer not only gives the Zuul the ability to build ships in deep space, but also allows them to scavenge building materials from destroyed spacecraft. Also, there are now propaganda ships that can increase the morale of your own planets or lower the morale of enemy worlds, adding another weapon to your psychological warfare arsenal. For Morrigi players who have always wanted to re-create the colony and asteroid belt traps the other races hate to encounter, your wait is over. Now you can research and then seed uninhabited worlds with colony and asteroid belt trickster drones to frustrate the efforts of your enemies to colonize and mine worlds that you think should be yours.
I really enjoyed playing Argos Naval Yard, but the few complaints I have center around the AI and my desire for a few more scenarios and maps. The expansion comes with three new scenes, but they are all just iterations of the same land-grab scenario, in small, medium and large varieties. I also think the AI still fails to grasp the strategic importance of the Grand Menaces. It deals with them on a tactical level, but it never realizes that an overall change of strategy is needed if a System Killer, Peacekeeper Enforcer, Unprecedented Von Neuman Construct or Puppet Master is terrorizing the galaxy. This gives human players an edge to exploit when the AI could simply be retooled to prioritize certain ship designs, technologies, and conquest/exploration patterns once one of these Grand Menaces begins to make its presence felt.
Aside from these minor annoyances, I must commend Kerberos for their excellent final expansion. It demonstrates that you don’t need 100 new things to make an expansion worthwhile; you only need a few new, well balanced and fun additions to make a good one. The price is right, too. At $8.95, no one who enjoys Sword of the Stars should skip Argos Naval Yard.