Have you ever wondered what would happen if the Star Trek universe became a complete bedlam of warring alien races? Ever wanted to pit Romulans against the Federation, or loose the Klingon war machine on the shrewd Ferengi? Well, Bethesda Softworks latest Star Trek title gives you the chance to see the outcome of these myriad situations. However, the question is; will it flop like most Star Trek games, or does Conquest have the staying power to make the Fleet Academy proud? Read on to find out.
Star Trek Conquest puts players in the position of master strategist for their chosen faction from the Star Trek mythos. Each race has their own unique strengths and weaknesses, as well as their own set of ships. Each race also has a certain number of "special weapons," chosen from a pool that generally corresponds to your race’s demeanor. Players are given the task of leading their chosen race in a run for conquest of the galaxy.
The basic mode of play is campaign mode. In this game type, the player chooses their race as normal, and then sets the rules for their game, choosing difficulty, number of opponents, what factions to battle, and what admiral to start with. Upon finalizing these rules, play commences on the galactic map.
The majority of strategic gameplay takes place on the galactic map. The map consists of a number of nodes, representing planets and galaxies, which are connected together by routes of space travel. Each faction starts out in control of their homeworld node, and commences their bid at galactic conquest from this seat of power. In addition to their homeworld node, each faction also starts with their admiral of choice, accompanied by a cruiser class ship. The goal from here on out is to "annex" neighboring systems, putting them under your factions control through force. This must be accomplished while simultaneously defending your home system and the systems that you have already subjugated.
Each node a player controls fulfills a number of different purposes. First, each controlled node adds to a players annual income each turn. The amount added depends on a few variables: the star level of the system (from 1 to 4), and whether or not the system houses a mining colony. The higher the star level of the system, the more credits is added to your bank each turn. The addition of a mining colony adds a hefty amount as well, making even low star systems into financial benefits.
In addition to adding finances, nodes also allow you to repair your ships, and even construct new fleets once the proper facilities have been constructed. Each node starts with an outpost, which denotes ownership, and will repair ships, albeit at a very slow speed. These outposts can be upgraded to starbase status, which repair ships at a higher rate of speed, allow the construction of new ships and fleets, and will fire at enemies during encounters in their sector. Advanced starbases can also be constructed. These stations have the quickest rate of repair, as well as the highest hit points of any structure, and much better combat capabilities. Nodes with stations can construct ships to add to a fleet within the node, or can be used to commission a new fleet using a new admiral. Each faction can support 3 fleets simultaneously.
Nodes serve another very strategic purpose. Due to the fact that each faction can only support 3 fleets, nodes that connect to many other nodes or that result in defensive bottlenecks often become highly sought-after strategic powerhouses. Certain nodes become must-haves for both defensive and offensive reasons simply by allowing you to limit your opponent’s movement.
Each node allows the construction of 2 different stations, as well as some auxiliary defenses. The initial slot always has at least an outpost in it, which is often replaced with a starbase or advanced starbase. The second building slot of a node can support either a mining colony for added finances each turn, or a research station. Research stations serve two purposes. At the beginning of each turn, two different bars in your overview menu are filled a certain amount in relation to the number of research stations you currently control. One of these gauges indicates how much longer you must wait before you can construct one of your factions special weapons. The other bar indicates how far you are from a technological breakthrough. Once a breakthrough occurs, you have the option of upgrading some facet of your faction.
Tech breakthroughs allow you to upgrade numerous different areas of your fleet. You may choose to upgrade the efficiency of your research stations or mining colonies, causing their output to be heightened permanently after the upgrade. You may also choose to upgrade your admiral draft, allowing them to be purchased with pre-set fleets. Finally, you may choose upgrades that affect every ship in your faction. These options include raw speed, handling ability, and turning ability. Each ship upgrade has a palpable effect on battles.
Special weapons add more strategic depth to the game. Depending on the number of research facilities you have, you could see a special weapon once a turn, or have to wait several turns for each one. Only one special weapon can be possessed at a time. Special weapons range from greatly in what they do. The Genesis device, for instance, deals massive damage to all enemy ship and structures in one node. The healing device, on the other hand, heals all your ships and structures in a node of your choosing. The Sub-space Disruptor breaks all connections to a node for one turn, while the wormhole generator allows two nodes anywhere on the map to be linked for one turn. The addition of these special weapons can greatly change the tide of battle if deployed correctly.
We’ve discussed the basic infrastructure of factional empires. Now its time to discuss core gameplay. Play is broken up into turns on the galactic map. At the beginning of each factions turn, it collects all its income from controlled systems and mining outposts. All research facilities are also tallied for special weapons and breakthrough purposes. If a breakthrough is reached during a given turn, the player is given the choice of what upgrade they would like. These events occur automatically every turn. Afterwards, the player is free to conduct their turn as they see fit. Each fleet a player controls can be moved at least two nodes a turn (a fleet commanded by an admiral with the movement ability may move even further). The player can enter any system he controls to build facilities or ships, or construct turrets for the defense of the system. Special weapons can also be deployed.
When fleets move into neutral or enemy controlled nodes, combat results. Neutral nodes often have random alien ships within them. Thus, if you are battling the Romulans and Klingons in a given game, annexing a new system may bring you into ship-to-ship combat with the Borg, or another faction. If the node is controlled by another faction, you will encounter any ships they have in the system, as well as any facilities they have built.
Battles can happen in a few different ways. Most players will enjoy arcade battles. During these battles, the player takes direct control of one ship, and may issue formation commands to all ships in a fleet. The player controls the movement of the ship with the left analog stick, and targeting with the right. Fleets may assume a defensive or offensive stance, depending on the circumstance. The given stance grants a bonus to either defense or offense, while granting a penalty to its counterpart. Phasers and Photon torpedoes are at the players disposal. Ships have shields in sectors around them that may be depleted in certain areas. An area with no shields left grants a window of opportunity to damage the hull directly.
Direct damage to the hull eventually destroys the ship. The battle is ended when all enemy units in the sector are destroyed, all your units are destroyed, or when one side retreats. Arcade battles are played out in real time. Sim battles, on the other hand, allow the player to "skip" the action sequence, allowing the action to play out. During a sim battle, players can still change their fleet formation and call for a retreat, but cannot directly control any ships. Finally, players may choose the instant battle option to have a battle resolve automatically with no player input. This is, by far, the least wise option, and will often result in a loss unless the player has many more ships or is heavily armed.
Battles also occur when an enemy fleet moves into a node you control. Players may take control of a fleet they have in the sector to repel the attack. If no fleet is present, but a spacestation has been built, players may instead take control of the stations defenses to fight the invading armada.
Admirals also play a key part in the game. Each faction has 3 different admirals, based on one of three archetypes. Movement admirals can eventually traverse the galactic map much more quickly than their counterparts, allowing a fleet that is out of position to reach the frontlines in the nick of time. Attack admirals convey an attack bonus to all ships in their fleet. Defense admirals grant a similar bonus to defense. Admirals gain experience and promotions as they fight each battle, which in turn heightens the bonuses they give. An admiral is reset to the lowest rank, with zero experience, if their fleet is completely destroyed.
Campaign mode ends when a player controls all of the board, or wipes out all enemies. A full game of campaign mode can often span many hours. Players do have the option of saving their game progress between turns, allowing one campaign to be played over several sessions, days, or weeks. For those who are more interested in the action-oriented space battles, there is also a skirmish mode. This places players directly into a node battle under the circumstances they choose, and allows them to jump directly into the action.
While the strategic gameplay and action of Star Trek: Conquest is somewhat engaging, the game is far from flawless. The learning curve is somewhat steep, with no tutorials available in game. Reading the manual is a must. The action may be too slow for traditional action gamers. Space combat is somewhat difficult as well, and failing to use formations will most often result in a jarring loss. The targeting for ships also somewhat wonky, and you may find that many of your shots fly wide. There are also some graphical issues, where ships will often appear to fly through each other or occupy the same space, particularly in large fleets. Overall, however, this is one of the better Star Trek games out there.
In closing Star Trek: Conquest is a unique experience. Combining turn-based strategy and empire building with real-time battles is an interesting concept, and is fairly well done. While some of the controls need work, they are not unplayable. This game does not, however, do anything to reach gamers outside its somewhat fragmented niche market. Star Trek fans will most likely enjoy it, and those who like strategy games akin to Civilization or Risk may enjoy it. Outside this relatively small bubble, however, there is not much available to entice new gamers to enter.