Star Ruler Review
6.4our score

Ever since I first played Master of Orion, I’ve been a huge fan of the 4x sci-fi genre. When Star Ruler first appeared on Steam it immediately piqued my interest. So many games have tried to fill the empty gap in this genre over the years. Every now and then a decent game arrives but very few games have made the impact that the golden oldies did. So does Star Ruler have the potential to become one of the legends of the genre? Let’s find out…

What is Star Ruler?

Star Ruler Universe

Zoomed out on a (very) small galaxy.

Star Ruler follows the same basic concept as most games in this genre. The player starts with one planet, usually referred to as the ‘Home World’. This planet is pretty well built up and your civilization has just entered the space age. Unfortunately, several other planets are in exactly the same state – thus starting a race for global domination. The start of these games is usually pretty similar: You build scout ships to explore the systems around you, and colony ships to colonise worlds of strategic interest.

Star Rules plays entirely in real-time and the sense of scale is absolutely enormous. The only real limit on the size of the universe and the number of ships is your hardware. Personally, I was very impressed with the universe itself. The stars are very pretty and the planets have visible atmospheres and land masses. Observant players will also notice comets zooming around the star systems, and moons orbiting planets. You can zoom in and out absolutely seamlessly from a ship, to a system view, to a portion of a galaxy, to the universe, etc. When I say the scale is enormous, I do mean it!

The game can be played single player, against AI opponents (which give you a pretty hard time!) as well as against other players in multi-player. The engine has been developed in-house by Blind Mind Studios, and it’s really quite an impressive piece of work. It’s best seen to really appreciate the effort that has gone into this aspect of the game. So let’s look into the various elements that make a good 4x sci-fi game, and see how Star Rules handles each.

Research

Star Ruler Research

The research screen – note the links

Star Ruler handles research a little differently from most 4x games, and I found it quite a refreshing approach. There are various research areas, each unlocking different ship subsystems and planetary structures or improving upon older ones. Some research areas are locked however, and can only be researched once the correct ‘link’ as been established from an existing research area. Players can choose to research links rather than the area of technology, but the result is random – although this can be changed in the game settings.

There are quite a few different research areas, each focusing on different aspects of your empire. You can queue research by CTRL-clicking on a tech or node and the currently researching technology is always at the top-left of your screen, as well as the ETA to completion so this is all fairly easy to manage.

I was pleasantly surprised that the fact Star Ruler is real-time has not at all taken away from the depth in the research tree. It’s at least as comprehensive as some classic turn-based titles, and there’s some pretty impressive end-game technology. (Yes, you can blow up planets and stars!)

Ship Design

Star Ruler Ship Design

Ship Design – My design of a carrier.

This is another aspect of the game which I found both impressive and interesting. Usually, real-time titles just give you already configured ship classes and types, without too much customisation. Not so in Star Ruler, which has one of the most in-depth ship design modules I have ever seen in a game. Think Space Empires IV – and then add an additional layer of depth by taking directional damage into account. The position where you place various subsystems in your ship blueprint has a direct impact on its combat performance.

Let’s use a simple example: You design an manned vessel, which includes a hull, engines, a bridge, life support, crew quarters, fuel cells, laser weapons and solar panels to generate power. If you place your solar panel at the front and your ship receives a frontal hit, it’s likely that your solar panels will be destroyed. This would mean you no longer have power to power your laser weapons. Now suppose you put your bridge in front instead and that gets hit. Your ship is now unable to operate its engines or weapons. And so on. All subsystems have various degrees of interdependency making ship design and placement of armor, shields, bulkheads and other methods of absorbing damage a very tactical affair.

Star Ruler Scale

The same carrier in action, notice the scale.

Another aspect of ship design in Star Ruler where the game really does things differently is the ‘scale’ factor. This number represents the size of the vessel – and you can choose pretty much any scale you would like. For example, a fighter is typically scale 0.35 and a dreadnought 6.00. But I’ve already been flying with carriers of size 64.0 – and there’s actually no real limit at all. If you want to build a ship the size of a planet, with the capability to blow up other planets – you can. The only thing holding you back is the amount of resources and thus time such a project would take! Even nicer is the fact that this scale is also represented in the game, if you place a scale 1.0 ship next to a scale 128.0 ship, you will definitely notice the difference!

Star Ruler Diplomacy

The diplomacy screen needs some work

Diplomacy

I have to be honest here – the diplomacy side of Star Ruler is a little rough around the edges. The developer has promised to improve this in future patches, with some pretty interesting ideas so this is guaranteed to improve with time.

Currently, you are able to make peace, declare war, trade resources and trade research but the interface is a little unfriendly, and there is no real emotion or interaction with the other empires as such. It’s functional, but that’s about it.

Resources

Star Ruler Combat 1

The carrier's fighters in action

There are several resources in Star Ruler. Metal is a finite resource present in every planet in the form of ore, though you can’t *really* run out. Your efficiency merely drops to 20% when the planet has no ore left, crashing your economy if you don’t find alternative sources. You can also mine ore from asteroids, using mining ships equipped with cargo bays and mining lasers. Metal is used both as a resource during construction and as the basis for other resources so it’s pretty important.

Further, there are Electronics, Advanced Parts, Food, Goods and Luxuries. Electronics and Advanced Parts are used in the construction of pretty much anything. Food is used to determine population growth and you should ensure your empire always has it in abundance. Finally, Goods and Luxuries are used to keep your population happy. They are empire-wide resources so you luckily don’t have to manage individual planet happiness, as this would be close to impossible at this scale.

Combat

Star Ruler Combat 2

These dreadnoughts are tough as nails

Sooner or later, you will enter combat. Ultimately, that is what games like Star Ruler are all about. You build up your empire, you research technologies and then you smite your opponents by crushing them under your huge galactic boot.

So what is combat like in Star Ruler? Luckily, combat looks pretty awesome. Seeing huge fleets swarm at each other in full 3d, unleashing their lasers and cannons can be pretty impressive. Lasers firing everywhere, ships exploding left and right – everything looks and feels quite epic. Just the sight of your fleet, built up after a vast effort of your intergalactic empire, approaching its intended target is awesome.

Personally I like trying to take on large numbers of enemy vessels with just a few massive ships – that’s when you really feel the power of the ship design. Every decision you took during that design phase really comes to full effect at the moment the ship starts receiving enemy fire.

Woah, this sounds cool!

I agree – but there are a few things you must be aware of. Star Ruler should currently be considered as an unfinished game. Blind Mind Studios had to release the game early in order to survive the financial burden an Indie developer carries with an ambitious project like Star Ruler. They have apologised for this and are incredibly open to potential customers about this fact, so it’s not something they’ve tried to hide in any way.

I’ve had several long conversations with their QA Director, and they basically intend to keep developing the game until it has reached the state the originally intended, and hopefully a little beyond that. Feedback from players is taken incredibly seriously and they have asked that we don’t shy away from being honest and pointing out the game’s flaws. So here goes:

Unpolished

Star Ruler Bug

Houston, we've got a problem!

One of the biggest things the game currently suffers from is that it can become very difficult to manage your empire later in the game. If you’ve chosen to play a fairly large galaxy with a large number of stars, it will become harder and harder to know what’s going on in all corners of your empire. Functionality such as a ‘colony overview’ or ‘list of systems’ has not yet been implemented – but is being worked on.

Similarly, I found that it’s very difficult to get emotionally attached to your empire. Currently, you cannot name your Empire, choose its colour or its banner. There is no such thing as ‘races’, nor a graphical representation of what your population look like. You can also not rename planets or star systems. This means you are playing with a randomly generated empire name, in a randomly generated star system name. This can be a little challenging later in the game, as renaming systems is often a good way of keeping track of things. This emotional attachment is very visible when engaging in diplomacy, as there is no way to really remember opponents other than by colour and placement on the map. Since the map is full 3d and the camera can be moved anywhere, this further adds to the difficulty of keeping a good overview.

Star Ruler Pretty

Planets are very detailed

The ship design section has similar issues. Due to its immense depth, it’s even more important to keep things intuitive, with all information at your finger tips. In single player you can easily pause the game, but in multi-player this luxury does not exist. Blind Mind Studios have already informed us that further enhancements to the ship design area are planned so that is good news for people who bought the game.

The game also suffers from a few bugs, interface issues and small glitches with textures, but nothing too catastrophic at this point for the vast majority of players. Overall, its very important to bear in mind that you are essentially playing a game in its beta, with huge changes planned in the coming months.

Verdict

Star Ruler Planetary Shields

Planetary Shields give a visual effect in-game

So taking all the above into account, is Star Ruler worth buying? The game costs $25 (roughly £16) – though various offers exist on the distribution platforms. The game is fun to play in its current state but some small issues might frustrate you from time to time. However, not many developers are as dedicated as Blind Mind Studios are to their game. I’ve had a very long conversation with them, and they are absolutely dedicated to making the game what it SHOULD have been at launch.

The only way Indie developers like Blind Mind Studios will survive is if fans of the genre support their efforts and if we bear in mind what this game can become with a bit more polish, I would definitely say it is worth forking out the money. If the changes that we’ve discussed with them become reality, then Star Ruler has the potential to become one of the best 4x sci-fi games ever made.

In its current state, the game is at least as fun as Sins of a Solar Empire, with a lot more depth in ship design. Gamers who are interested in the genre but less confident of forking out their hard earned cash on the game need not worry. We’ll do another review in the future, when the promised changes have been implemented. We think that the game will end up surprising more than just a few people at that point!

the author

Managing Editor of ManaPool, Peter lives in York, UK and is a great fan and master of turn-based strategy games. If he isn't playing one of those, you'll probably find him in a role-playing game instead. He's definitely not afraid to provide a straight up opinion on any game and has a strong like for indie developers. We all start small, after all.

  • http://starruler.blind-mind.com Firgof

    Thanks for the review, Manapool. :)

  • http://www.shadow1980.co.uk Evil Tactician

    Our pleasure Firgof. We eagerly await the upcoming changes to Star Ruler and hope the game will reach its full potential in the coming months!

  • http://www.manapool.co.uk Alratan

    He’s really not kidding when he says ‘we’!

  • http://www.shadow1980.co.uk Evil Tactician

    Live Patch Notes for version 1.0.1.8.

    Changes: Final
    [Fixed] Fixed an issue that broke most sub system modifiers and planet conditions.
    [Fixed] In the Stellar-pedia, the Shipyard world’s description was for the Construction world. Also added the Shipyard world’s correct description.
    [Fixed] Float input fields in the new game menu were not working properly.
    [Fixed] Players could not rejoin empires after a multiplayer game was loaded from a previous save.
    [Fixed] Clients playing as empires in multiplayer now get the first planet pinned and zoomed to.
    [Fixed] Hosts were getting pop ups when the master server temporarily didn’t respond.
    [Fixed] Missing localizations for the object info window’s cargo panel.
    [Fixed] When opening the planet window for the first time without a planet selected, automatically select your first planet instead of showing an empty window.
    [Fixed] Tweaked cargo transfer logic to possibly fix negative cargo storage.
    [Fixed] Fixed long-standing issue where multiple objects shared an ID in loaded games. Fixes various issues with loaded games, primarily in multiplayer.
    [Changed] Updated Russian translation.
    [Changed] Control-clicking in the right click build menu (not build on best) now also pops up the specify amount window.
    [Changed] Clicking on a treaty waiting icon in the empire window’s empire list now pops up the treaty window.
    [Added] Added flags to Effect Events to allow special damage types.
    [Added] Maps now have their own .xml files to specify map-specific settings.
    [Added] Added various new map shapes: Sphere, Cylinder, Cross, Dumbbell and Clusters.
    [Added] Added a new weapon: Phased Energy Beam. Deals low damage, but passes completely through armor (not shields).
    [Added] Added float vector.dotProduct(const vector& other) const for scripts.

  • http://www.shadow1980.co.uk Evil Tactician

    Live Patch Notes for version 1.0.2.0.

    Changes: Final
    [Fixed] Fixed crashes on saving/loading dock and retrofit orders.
    [Fixed] Map-specified tags in the new game menu were not being displayed in the scroll box.
    [Fixed] Fleet names are now saved and loaded.
    [Fixed] The Phased Energy Beam was too cheap, and did far too little damage.
    [Fixed] Combat effects were broken in the legacy 1014 mod.
    [Fixed] Fleets could add other fleets as members, causing various issues.
    [Fixed] The camera position is now saved and restored on load.
    [Fixed] Servers/clients could lose connections if they took too long during the loading stage.
    [Fixed] Planet ticks (which handled the economy) were not using a managed tick rate, causing slower production than intended.
    [Fixed] Planets will be correctly lost when population reaches 0.
    [Fixed] Stealth Hulls were applying their effects after armor.
    [Fixed] Homeworlds now hijack the orbits of existing planets if possible, fixing planets orbiting through each other in non-tiny galaxies.
    [Fixed] Minor script exception in multi-rack mounts.
    [Fixed] Autosave was triggering every 15 seconds instead of 15 minutes.
    [Fixed] AIs were not checking systems generated after their home system for expansion, leading to randomly stalled AIs.
    [Fixed] Targeting sensors that were smaller than the connected weapon could actually reduce range.
    [Changed] The windows in the top bar can now be toggled with F1-F6.
    [Changed] The movement solution has been further optimized.
    [Changed] Improved system locking to make the game perform more consistently, and faster overall.
    [Changed] Updated French, Polish and German translations.
    [Changed] New designs default to not orbiting targets now.
    [Changed] Saving a design with the same name as an existing one now marks the new design as an updated version of the old one instead of displaying an error.
    [Changed] Updated the tutorial.
    [Added] Maps can now define options for an advanced window in their xml files, they can control the size and columns of their advanced window.
    [Added] Option to turn off galaxy gas display.
    [Added] The Options and new game windows can now be localized.
    [Added] Ships without engines (i.e. stations) now orbit the planets that created them.
    [Added] Added basic interface to choose empire settings when a game starts.
    [Added] Added range rings – hold alt to show the range of the selected and/or hovered object.
    [Added] Arrrr! Pirates will now periodically raid systems with lots of resources but no defenses.
    [Added] The names of the default, AI and pirate ships can now be localized.
    [Added] Autosaves and quicksaves are now rotated, you can specify how many saves to keep. The ones with the higher numbers will be older.
    [Added] The planet window’s queue tab now displays the total cost of the current queue.
    [Added] Added proper ship set support.
    [Added] “Defend Position” stance, ships will engage targets but return to their original position afterwards.
    [Added] “Update All” button in blueprints list that immediately updates all designs to the latest tech level.
    [Added] Remnants now roam uncolonized systems and attack all ships within them. Their amount and frequency depends on the difficulty.
    [Added] A basic victory condition (destroy every planet owned by another player).

  • http://www.manapool.co.uk Alratan

    Extensive.

  • http://www.shadow1980.co.uk Evil Tactician

    Live Patch Notes for version 1.0.2.2.

    Changes: Final
    [Fixed] Saves with manually obsoleted blueprints were not loading correctly, leading to empty ship lists and crashes.
    [Fixed] Civil acts were not affecting labor rate.
    [Fixed] Use tool orders were ignoring the hull’s orbit targets setting.
    [Fixed] Floating point errors were accumulating into the ships damage stat, leading to repair tools continuously firing.
    [Fixed] Victory message is no longer displayed when you start a game with no AIs.
    [Fixed] Explosion effects would sometimes randomly appear in the system when you started a game.
    [Fixed] When selecting a color for your empire the window would sometimes get stuck dragging.
    [Changed] Beam weapons now also have a random component in their firing delay.
    [Changed] Pirate raids now become less frequent at lower difficulties.
    [Changed] Updated Russian translation.
    [Balance] Reduced improvement rate of stealth hulls. Capped their effectiveness at 95%.
    [Balance] Cargo bays and Ammo storage now scales to a higher storage.
    [Balance] Fuel Cells now scale in the same way as cargo bays.
    [Added] Subsystems in the damage report window now display their current level.
    [Added] Entry in the right-click menu to select all ships in a system with the same blueprint as the one you clicked on.
    [Added] Stations can now be retrofitted at the planet they are orbiting. It will cost 20% more than usual (up to 60% of the cost of building a new one) to represent the cost of moving it down and launching it back up again.
    [Added] Added localized versions of various graphical buttons for French and German.

  • http://www.shadow1980.co.uk Evil Tactician

    Live Patch Notes for version 1.0.2.4.

    Changes: Final
    [Fixed] Crash when selecting a shipset.
    [Fixed] Remnants no longer run out of fuel.
    [Fixed] Changed order for movement updates to prevent a one-frame delay in motion prediction.
    [Fixed] Clients in multiplayer were shown the victory message before joining an empire.
    [Fixed] Governors no longer build structures that are not unlocked yet.
    [Fixed] Layout scales are now rounded to 3 decimal places to prevent floating point errors from showing up.
    [Fixed] Pirates with money troubles weren’t buying pillagers because marauders were cheaper.
    [Fixed] Joining a multiplayer game after going back to the main menu from another game would not load the map correctly.
    [Fixed] The fighter hull had a 5% flat dodge chance instead of it being based on relative velocity.
    [Fixed] Changing the max number of selectable AIs in main_menu.xml did not work. The default still goes up to 10, but it’s moddable up to 200 AIs.*
    [Fixed] Fixed various issues with updating hulls (SubSystem modifiers not working when a hull is updated). Designs in previous saves should be able to benefit from being updated, depending on the type of modifier used.
    [Fixed] Fixed fleet icon not showing after load and not disappearing when docked.
    [Fixed] Ship owner was being set after effect activation, leading to certain effects (notably Research) crashing on ships.
    [Fixed] Structures with non-natural levels (farms) could not be renovated manually.
    [Fixed] Zoom to cursor checkbox was saving incorrectly.
    [Fixed] Planet orbits were sometimes stopping after loading a save.
    [Fixed] Undocking sometimes hurled ships across the vast expanses of space at insane speeds.
    [Fixed] Damage order based on sub system position wasn’t taking the size of the sub system into account. Now, a large sub system can protect little sub systems ‘inside’ it.
    [Fixed] The music now instantly stops playing upon exiting, rather than when the game finishes cleaning itself up.
    [Fixed] Treaties would randomly crash in multiplayer.
    [Fixed] Objects thought they had far higher acceleration than they really did (due to not taking mass into account). Should significantly improve movement patterns, especially when it comes to planets.
    [Fixed] Our custom GUI elements were not being properly deleted, causing a memory leak in the GUI.
    [Fixed] Goto object orders weren’t being saved/loaded.
    [Fixed] Order lists were being loaded in reverse.
    [Fixed] The dim2di for the blueprint window’s tab buttons was using 2 px less than it should have, resulting in part of the button being cut off in the window.
    [Fixed] Sending chat messages with the # character in them no longer causes weirdness.
    [Changed] Various game data files (PlanetTypes.xml, build_queues.xml, …) can now be overwritten by mods.
    [Changed] Script data loading now falls back to the default files (mods no longer have to copy the Script Data directory).
    [Changed] Empire names and colors are now moddable the same way system names are.
    [Changed] Changed the standard maps to use a single copy of object descriptors, rather than making a new one for each object. Significantly speeds up map generation for common map sizes.
    [Changed] Removed unnecessary window generation and resource loading during script testing.
    [Changed] The tutorial can now be localized.
    [Changed] An auto-colonize order can now be removed by right-clicking on the planet and unticking it.
    [Changed] The AI now periodically retrofits its obsolete ships.
    [Changed] Slightly sped up locking in general, and reduced overhead related to creating those locks.
    [Changed] AIs obsolete their old designs and retrofit their old designs to larger versions. (Cruisers go up to scale 24 over time).
    [Changed] Planet orbits were much slower than intended. Planets now orbit at faster speeds, and their speed is based on the size of the star.
    [Changed] Changed various memory allocations over to a pooled system. Slight gains when setting the game up, but far more dramatic gains when exiting.
    [Changed] Objects now register themselves instantly during map creation, significantly improving map generation speeds.
    [Changed] Empty strings no longer allocate themselves on the heap.
    [Changed] Star Ruler’s icon has been replaced with a higher resolution version.
    [Changed] Mods can now add their own Locales that are loaded after and can override the base game’s.
    [Changed] Weapon effect graphics are now allocated in a pool, significantly improving performance when watching combat.
    [Changed] Updated French, Russian and German translations.
    [Changed] While updating the blueprint window to the planet window’s style, reduced the image size, saving a slight bit of memory.
    [Changed] Objects are destroyed on-demand when the game exits, speeding up game exit times.
    [Changed] Planetary rings now have ambient lighting.
    [Changed] Planetary rings are now more common.
    [Added] An optional toggle in the system window to display stored resources for planets in the list.
    [Added] Ships can now be scuttled at planets for resources. They provide 50% of their cost to the planet.
    [Added] Added support for ttf fonts and locale-specific fonts.
    [Added] Added basic per-system minimaps.
    [Added] Add Require:Tag to restrict subsystems to blueprints that have that tag.
    [Added] Script bindings for Irrlicht’s quaternion.
    [Added] Relative military strength bars for pinned systems/stars and systems in the system window’s system list.
    [Added] “Zoom to object” buttons in planet window, pinned list and the system window’s planet list.
    [Added] The clusters map now has separate options for flattening the overall map and the clusters themselves.

    * Disclaimer: Beware of duplicate empire colors and severe lag when adding more AIs.

  • Brad

    This thing’s really coming along nicely. There’s a lot more empire customization now (I think it’s 1.0.3.0 now). I highly recommend it. It’s perfectly playable now, and constantly getting better. It’s like an investment into something you know can blossom into another master of orion, if it gets enough support.

  • Pingback: 2010 Indie of the Year Awards()

  • supernova

    really nice review but can u update it based on the new patch 1.0.7.4.
    would u call it now as complete?
    what is the diffrence to “sins of a solar empire”? (as example: bigger gameplay – less grafics…)
    is it like in x-series: building stations, geting trade ships…?
    can i have a endless game or is it like enemy is destroyed -> game over?

    mope u can help me a bit.

    thx

  • Pingback: Star Ruler Version 1.1.0.0 Released()