In the biggest 4X games your scale never shifts — in Civilization you conquer the planet, in Stellaris you conquer the stars. Pax Nova allows you to go from conquering a single planet’s surface to controlling the whole system.
A few years ago there were only a few trailblazers in the 4X strategy space. However, innovation after innovation — as well as a widening industry — has allowed a lot more designers, developers and innovators to enter the space. Pax Nova is a game that, a decade ago, would have been lauded as an unexpected underdog ready to punch alongside the giants; It is a thoroughly modern 4X game which does a few cool new things, but is that enough?
Humanity, and two other species, have been shattered into factions and littered across space. In Pax Nova they’re all looking for a new place to call home, and for a new future for their kind. You take on the role of one of those shattered peoples — which come in a decent variety of pre-fabs (or you can customise), from future-Tibetan Monks and Capitalist Greys through to a rekindled Ptolemaic Egypt and Mystical Monarchs. The pre-defined factions provided are certainly varied, promising lots of varied playstyles.
Once you click past the faction selection though, having read about your exclusive technologies and faction traits, it’s all a bit familiar. Victory conditions don’t differ much from other games, but you can win through acquiring the majority of the faction seals or finishing a story-based questline. The biggest change that you’ll likely notice is that you can set the size of the galaxy and the frequency of colonizable planets — because Pax Nova is positioned between Civilization‘s single-world experience and Stellaris‘ interstellar expansion. It’s galactic in scale.
Regardless of the settings that are picked, you’ll start with one unit hovering over a procedurally generated, habitable planet. You settle your first city and can then start playing through the early game. The early stages, those first turns, don’t feel wholly dissimilar to anything 4X players have experienced before — it’s only when you start getting to exploring the galaxy that things really start to step away from the expected. That starts happening around turn 50-70, still quite early for a standard 4X.
Your journey to that point is, as I said, more than familiar. Although the technology is separated into an ages system which is closer to on-paper Age of Empires than a traditional 4X. While this is a nice change, this area suffers from the same sins as other tech trees – nothing really feels monumental when you achieve it – and only a couple of technologies feel like game-changers. I don’t think anybody expected Pax Nova to rewrite the rule book, but in this department, it definitely didn’t.
There are certainly a few times where it nearly does. The customisation of unit equipment, which is reminiscent of Stellaris and Alpha Centauri, feels quite fresh, although the revised combat system doesn’t quite feel suited to a long game. What I mean by that is that each time units attack each other both parties get to deal damage, and there are multiple damage types. It becomes much more beneficial to build a carpet of units before attacking enemies.
Given that you’re moving between multiple terrestrial planets within the systems, there are points where you discover a new, settled planet, and already have aggressions with the people there. This makes colonisation different than in most existing 4X titles, where you regularly gain technologies and access to new landmasses around the same time. There are ways around this, of course, you can — for example — use teleport gates to traverse space, once you have the right technologies, and this makes land-to-land invasions much easier.
Pax Nova has a lot to offer, but most of it doesn’t feel new. It’s great when you outsmart an opponent for the first time you stumble on a new mechanic or technology, and it feels fantastic when you zoom right in and the shaders fade out things in the foreground… but, these new sensations do wear thin over replays. I would like to take a moment, though, to point out that the Steam Page Community Reviews are completely out of whack and the loading issues and delays that they report were not present when running the game on my dusty old computer. Most of the other issues appeared to be with the developer’s previous projects, but comparisons between projects — especially when one is in early access — shouldn’t really be something left to rot when the game has fully launched.
Pax Nova is available now for PC.