After re-familiarizing myself with the controls, I finally got the opportunity to fly and try to do some serious damage in the new Starpoint Gemini: Warlords’ DLC — Cycle of Warfare. While this adds fathoms of additional hours and solar oceans of replayability, my main interest was in the five additional playable factions: the A’shriari, privateers/Pirates, the Iolian Pact, the Korkyra, and the Outerlands. This is, by far, the largest additional content of the three Starpoint Gemini games!
Excited, my first choice was to play as the A’shiari. They are ruthless aliens with a single goal: destroy everyone. You do not have a sector nor home planet, just a Mothership. There is no diplomacy or any kind of human interaction — only their destruction. You are permanently hostile to every other race on the Starchart: no moving of the diplomacy bar here. When you conquer a territory, you do not claim it like you normally would. Instead, the sector becomes uninhabitable to everyone and it is eternally shut down. It’s a ‘scorched-earth’ (as it were) policy which is also quite hard-core! There are no skills or perks which, in itself, is a very different way to play, after all of these solar years relying on them. Artefact Vaults then have to, and do, work differently as well. You gain income from both destroying and boarding ships. Have you ever passed up a derelict? Don’t! They are worth various amounts of money — and you will need a lot of that (some derelicts will net you a pretty good chunk of cash as well).
You start without a fleet but have five million dollars to spend. Do you use it on your ship by buying enhancements? Do you use it to start building a fleet, as you start without a single ship other than your own? The whole “Challenge” certainly takes a bit of getting used to. (The A’shiari story part of Cycle of Warfare is stashed in the Challenge section at game start. It took me a bit to actually find it, initially thinking it would be either in the Story or Conquest part of the setup). Everyone is antagonistic and there is no fog of war.
It was daunting to start with the entire map red, except for the one little section that you and your Mothership occupy. On top of that, knowing that your goal is to turn it all yellow, into your color, might make you pee a little bit. As far as I could tell, shooting containers, hull debris, etc. only gives you experience — without garnering you any inventory items or money. Obviously, you can use this to your benefit, as you need the experience as well, especially if you are close to the level-up line. Remember that enemy ships and derelicts are your big money-makers. There is, finally, something very special about your Mothership — but I will let you discover that on your own.
Your research is very expensive as well. This aspect becomes quite the balancing act between building the fleet and making what you already have stronger. You know you always need more ships, but when do you start to funnel money toward improving your core stats? There are only two research paths as the A’shiari: Chassis and Refit (enhancements). Unlike normal games, though, their costs are very high; a Corvette MkII is a million dollars and the Harbinger I is two hundred thousand, while the Halo II is two million! While it is quite fun being the ultimate Master of Destruction, it also an expensive and strenuous task. Plan accordingly and wipe Gemini.
Also stashed in the Challenge part of the beginning section is the ability to play as a privateer (a.k.a. Pirate). Becoming a pirate also plays quite differently than the normal game. Once again, you are without a traditional headquarters — just something called the Lunaee Research Station (which I found a little strange since you do not get to do any kind of research at all; it is just the name of your faux HQ). There is no headquarters development either, so no upgrades. You also do not have to deal at all with resources or civilian fleets.
Opposite the A’shiari’s lack of a fog of war, there is very little you can see on the pirate map at all. Your goal of being a Pirate in Cycle of Warfare is to “Pacify all stations that operate independently of large territorial factions.” The first problem then becomes actually finding the independents. No, they are not going to be casually hanging out around the borders of one of your sectors either. The big factions, again (mostly) all in red, comprise your perimeter.
The major new difference is in increasing your fleet size. There is no shipbuilding — none, zero, nada! The only way to expand your fleet is through capturing other ships. During the heat of battle, then, to raise your fleet numbers, you will need to choose a ship to both board and acquire. My main concern then became eliminating the other enemies while keeping a patched eye on my ships, which were being attacked by the ship I was trying to claim! Needless to say, it can be a delicate, peg-legged dance. Is it worth gaining a ‘vette to lose a ‘vette? Is it worth gaining a frigate by losing two or three other ships in the process? Being the captain of a pirate fleet is no simple walk down the plank.
This time, you start with a Destroyer and seven million dollars. The obvious choice of where to spend the money then is on your own ship. Since you only have three ‘friends’, you don’t really have to worry about trading (at least at the beginning, anyway). Farther along in the campaign, well, you’re a pirate, so I guess you could get into trading if you so desired. But, though it is possible, avast ye, why? And that’s not forgetting the other detriment to trading — the unswabbable (yes, ‘unswabbable’) elephant on the deck.
On the positive side, it is good that you do gain above-normal amounts of income from boarding ships and raiding. However, since this is a challenge, there is a massive caveat (the unswabbable elephant) to this entire process: as your fleet gets larger, plus if you attack different corporate headquarters, the Gladius Group and the 51st Legion will ambush you progressively more often plus with increasing strength and numbers! While you do have a very high fleet cap (65,000), the bigger you become, the more of a target you develop into. This is a huge number of decisions to make as you are trying to ultimately mute the independents. How much additional danger are you in when you add that gunship? How about when you capture a cruiser?
After the complete joy of being the major threat in two difficult setups, it was time to (hopefully) settle down and play the slightly more familiar Conquest. Not knowing which Cycle of Warfare race to start with, I decided to go in alphabetical order.
First up was the Iolian Pact. They are the *cough* businessmen of the three new Conquest races. In reality, they are ‘power hungry and corrupt corporate overlords’. You start at Level 20, in the northwest corner of the Starchart with four pretty good-sized territories: Soreen (home), Nirith, Talgarno, and Tranquility. Note, for what it’s worth, that the description says you start with a Destroyer. After many restarts, I always started with a Cruiser though.
Regardless, you have $52.5m, a fleet size of 20,863/28,000, and the most Faction Power of the three new races (at 230,324), as well as eight civilian fleets. Cycle of Warfare then gives you 19 Skills and 10 Perks to get your Iolian Pact rolling.
You are going to need that power, as you also start with the most enemies of the three factions, with seven races already hating you. Three of them border your territories, as well. You only have one friendly neighbor, and they are all the way down to the south. To make matters worse, the Anarchists, Mycaenian Security, and Omega Transport’s main stations are stuck way back on the easternmost edges of their respective territories — along with many fleets standing between you and their (hopefully eventual) demise. Finally, remember that these are only the three that you can see!
Since I hate anything red in my territory (except Artefact Vaults, of course) and am not used to having so much power so early, my first order of business was to rid my areas of a few intrusive stations. The first one was a Military Station. It was an especially long, hard-fought battle and I was the underdog as well. Although there was a multitude of casualties on both sides, I was victorious in the end — except that I had some major rebuilding to do afterward.
Next, I went with Korkyra. They are the remnants of “The Legacy” and they are going to make everyone democratic, whether they want to be or not! To them, democracy is the only way to go. With the Korkyra, Cycle of Warfare puts you in the southwest corner with three territories. You are given $10.5m (the least of the three new peoples), at Level 16, starting with a Destroyer. Nicely enough, you are given 15 Skills and 8 Perks to dole out. You have a 14,921/28,000 fleet with a Faction Power of 161,230 – as well as seven civilian fleets.
Fortunately, you also start with fewer enemies (five). The best part is that none of them are on your borders; even though there were a couple of ‘friendly’ Heracorp facilities within my territory, they were not a problem at all at the start. Also impressive to me was the variety of weapons on the ‘stock’/starting ship. While I am sure some people have certain weapon favorites and use them all the time, I generally lean toward a more well-rounded approach, both with weapons and their enhancements.
Only as a personal choice, since I have always been prone to warmongering, I decided to lean a little more towards the Merchant and Diplomacy direction with my skills and perks. Not having any border rivals was the key to this impromptu decision. It is going well and has been a very different approach for me. Still, I ended up reverting to my normal mindset somewhat, because I couldn’t stand having that red Jailer’s off-world prison in my area.
I finally got to the faction that falls a bit more into my comfort zone and playstyle: the Outerlands. The former outlaw group, Stiletto, decided to coordinate lesser bandit groups into a single, ominous collection of criminals. While their goal is, once again, to conquer Gemini, they are also tasked with incorporating the remaining desperados (including the Triad and the Mining Cartel) into their fold.
This time, Cycle of Warfare sticks you (the Outerlands) into the southeast corner with three territories. You are given a Battleship and are set at Level 22. You are given the most money ($72.5m!) of these three new factions, with a 19,879/28,000 fleet. Once again, seven civilian fleets and five enemies to start, but you have the least Faction Power, with 158, 609. The two things in your favor, though, are the most Skills (21) and Perks (11) to spend, while only one enemy territory is adjacent to your own.
My approach was similar to the A’shiari and Pirates’: heavily combat-focused. However, unlike with those two, I had the full range — the entire game’s worth — of research, construction, and territorial decisions to keep track of as well. And for my own personal ship for later, I only had two choices: a $100m Dreadnought or a $110m Carrier. That was an interesting choice, to say the least.
While it is nice to only have the one enemy touching my sectors, it is also the farthest away that it can be — all the way to the south and west. (as well as a Genos Military Station over there, in my territory, which by now you know that I could not have). What this did was add even more to the stretched-out aspect of my already-owned and expansive territory. Unfortunately for me, I prefer a more condensed and centralized territory until I can get a full-to-almost-full fleet cap. In a personal decision, due mainly to playstyle (and more so than with the other two races), I took the opportunity to pursue the Savvy Chief line. Having the largest head-start, as it were, only helped solidify that chase.
Needless to say, my time with Starpoint Gemini: Warlords’ DLC – Cycle of Warfare was (and still is) extremely invigorating. Since I know nothing about coding, I cannot say that Cycle of Warfare is as big as the base game, but it sure feels like it is! Little Green Men Games took an already exciting space combat and empire management game and rewrote the book on what an expansion should be. As a veteran of the series, I will admit that I was already biased toward Warlords anyway. Both Deadly Dozen and Titans Return were already great additions. However, what they did with the lore, the massive amount of extra replayability and the scope of Cycle of Warfare is truly astonishing.