The Distant Worlds franchise has proven to be an unusual exception for me. When it comes to games these days, I am rarely an "early adopter." Rather, I wait for other, more adventurous gamers to gamble their time and money before I stick my toe into the water. But with Distant Worlds it was different for me from the get-go. I was intrigued from the first moment I saw the low-fi 2010 announcement pitch from a then unknown New Zealand development team by the name of Code Force. There was just something about it that suggested ambitious innovation from the get-go. As I was reviewing games at the time, I requested a review code for the original DW game to check it out - really, more out of curiosity than an actual eagerness to play the game. Long short: I quickly became hooked, as you can read here:http://www.gamesquad.com/review/distant-worlds
Right off the bat it got a solid 8.0 from me!
Well, Code Force wasn't done yet! They proceeded to take the community feedback and wishlist items and incorporate a lot of it into subsequent expansions. As you can see by my subsequent reviews, they did not disappoint:http://www.gamesquad.com/review/reviewed-distant-worlds-return-shakturihttp://www.gamesquad.com/review/reviewed-distant-worlds-legends
With the release of Legends the game had already earned a "9.0" from me. Impressive!
Of course, since then Code Force has released two more expansions, so the game has only improved (especially in light of the Universe compendium that FINALLY brought the game to Steam!). If I was to review this title today, it probably would top out around 9.5 or better!
Now, why do I say that? What is it that makes Distant Worlds so special? Simply, it is this:
Unlike most other space-based 4X strategy games, Distant Worlds isn't some sort of chess-like static experience where nothing happens unless a player makes it happen. Instead, DW is more like Sim City or Europa Universalis, or even Crusader Kings 2, where the player immediately understands that he is but one small cog in a very large, very active galaxy where all sorts of things are happening that are outside of his control. Part of this is due to DW's real time environment (again, like EU or CK2) where there is constant activity on the map from the various other factions that share the galaxy with the player. But the biggest contributor to all this activity is the game's "Private Sector." Unlike every(?) other 4X game out there, DW deliberately limits the player's action to the "State" sector of his empire, which includes the military, diplomacy, tax rates, and so on. As with the real world, the private sector - the citizenry, merchants, miners, traders - are outside direct control of the state. While the player can influence their actions with policies, their day to day activities are completely autonomous. This is where DW brilliantly succeeds as it is the private sector that brings so much life to the galaxy. In fact, this is why I often compare DW to Sim City because it can be so much fun to watch "the little people" go about their lives in a very dangerous galaxy as you do your best to protect and shepard them. For example, I recall one game some time ago where a passenger ship was attacked by a space monster (or was it pirates?) while on route to a tourist destination. The ship was badly damaged and left adrift. As the supreme ruler, I had to send out a repair ship to save them, which was really cool. Of course, I had to detail some military vessels to protect them while the repair ship did its work. THAT is the type of unique, micro focus that DW offers that so many space games just completely overlook.
I also find DW to be like Crusader Kings 2 because, with the arrival of the Legends expansion, DW now has its own cast of characters - diplomats, scientists, spies, and more - who are randomly generated and acquire unique personality stats. As with CK2, this really adds a sense of personality to your empire (and yes, far in excess of the under-cooked characters in Endless Space). And while these characters don't engage in the sort of interpersonal skulduggery that is common to CK2, they can be assassinated and killed by events. Just yesterday I had a talented energy researcher assassinated when his research base was destroyed by a sabotage-induced explosion!
Do you see how I mean DW is less like your typical chess-like 4X strategy game, and more like a science fiction Sim City / CK2/ EU4 hybrid? There is just nothing like this game on the market at the moment, something that fully justifies its somewhat pricey cost (trust me: it is worth every penny!).
In short, if you like turn-based, by-the-numbers, 4X strategy game where you have total god-like control over everything, this might not be for you. But if you are the type of gamer who loves real time grand strategy games that works with you to tell your own story in a sandbox environment - again, like a Crusader Kings 2 or a Europa Universalis 4 - this is DEFINITELY what you have been looking for. You don't so much play DW as you experience it. And, as with Crusader Kings, when the game is done, boy will you have some tales to tell!