Developed by SoftWarWare and published by Slitherine, Polaris Sector was released on the 22nd of March. Polaris Sector is a 4X space based Grand Strategy game, with galaxies that can include up to 900 different planets. It’s also an incredibly deep, detailed and enjoyable experience, although there are a few little niggles here and there.
This is a game with an absolute ton of positive parts to it, with a unique research system, brilliantly detailed descriptions of the races, a great ship building option, and a veritable smorgasbord of other really, really good ideas. Unfortunately, it’s also a game that fails to do a good enough job with the exploration side of the game, amongst a couple of others.
When you start a new game, you have a ton of options with which you can personalise the map. Want it to be a map filled with tons of different species, or just one other? That’s fine. Want to change the victory conditions? That’s fine too. Polaris Sector gives you a lot of room to adapt the game to you, rather than the other way around. Then there’s the different races. They each have some background information about them, and it’s really detailed and really helps to differentiate them. Some of them are war like, some are peaceful. Some, like the sapient house cat race, the Sharatar, are unpredictable. It really helps to draw you into the experience, and at least for me, I found myself immediately quite impressed at this.
Once you pick the race you’ll play as, there are modifiers for you to alter your races bonus. This seemed a bit of an odd choice, as having each race having specific pros and cons would almost definitely have worked best, although the ability to slightly tailor your people to fit how you want to play isn’t necessarily a bad thing. It’s a little bland and seemed like a slight cop-out but it’s hardly the end of the world.
Galaxy exploration is another part of the game that, while not being unenjoyable or bad, far from it, gets a little dull. It works pretty much how you’d expect, moving a ship to another star and that’s how you discover more of the map, as well as more detailed information on the planets in that system. This is the bit that I struggled with. Every planetary system seems to have it’s description drawn at random from a list of about 6 things. There’s only so many times you can see the same planet, with almost the exact same description, but at the other side of the galaxy to where you saw it 5 minutes before, without getting a bit frustrated.
However, there is so much about this game that’s great. The ship building is a fantastic idea, and it’s been well executed. Depending on the type of ship, it’ll have a different number of decks. So for instance, a fighter is a one deck ship. However, most capital ships have at least 2 or 3 decks. These ships will then have a certain number of slots for you to put engines, different weapons, armor or shields into, meaning that you can personally hand make your ideal ship. It takes a bit of learning to get the balance right for these ships, but the pay off can potentially be a game changer, enabling you to make ships tailored to almost any situation.
The game itself also manages to look pretty good. It might not be the prettiest game you’ll ever play, but it’s got a very… consistent idea of what ships look like, and has obviously taken a lot of ideas from other space faring games and tv.
One feature of this game that makes it truly unique, and is probably my favourite part of it, is the battles. You can choose to auto resolve them, in which case the computer will fight the battle for you. You’ll almost always know exactly how the battle is likely to go, but it’s a good choice to have. Or, you can choose to fight the battle yourself, meaning that you take direct tactical control of the various units. In this, the gameplay becomes similar to Star Wars Empire At War, which is pretty high praise, I think.
There are different options, so you can put a part of your fleet under AI control, you can call your fighters out of the hangars on your ships (if they have any) or call them back. These might not be anything particularly amazing, but the fact that a 4X grand strategy game has found a way to include these types of battles, and make them run smoothly is testament to how good a job SoftWarWare have done with this game.
It’s fair to say that this game does have a few issues, but these are only as big as you allow them to be. The mechanical modifiers for your species are a bit irritating, and if you get them wrong they can have serious effects on you. The samey nature of the planets can be a bit dull at times, but in a galaxy where there are up to 900 different stars, it’s unrealistic to expect each one to be individual. There’s a hell of a lot in this game that’s good, and in some cases is really good, and that’s the stuff that really stays with you after you shut the game down. This is a great example of genuinely good ideas being put into practice in a way that’s well done, if not perfect. A lot could have gone badly wrong with this game, and, for my money, it’s a damn impressive game and well worth a play.
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