Review: Battlevoid: Sector Siege21 Nov 2017 1
Review: Battlevoid: Sector Siege
Released 20 Nov 2017
The Battlevoid (originally "Battlestation") series is a relatively (for mobile) long-running strategy series that has been consistently well-received. First Contact, the first main entry in the series, was more of a tower defense game. Harbinger, the most recent entry, divided the real-time strategy sections with a rogueish design, including procedurally generated pathways and events and permadeath, with the player upgrading their fleet through scavenged items. The latest iteration is Sector Siege, which attempts to expand the gameplay to something more like a Total War game, with a turn-based strategy metagame overlaying the real-time battles. Unfortunately, it doesn't manage to add anything interesting to the series this time around.
Sector Siege jettisons the compelling part of Harbinger -- the rogueish elements -- and keeps the dull part -- the combat. Ships move glacially, which wouldn't be a dealbreaker if there were interesting decisions to be made while waiting, but too often you're just waiting for your fleet to drag itself over to the next capture point. They attack each other automatically, and though you have the option to focus fire of certain weapon types on particular ships, there's not a lot of difference between different weapons. Some aliens arbitrarily eschew hull-damage weapons or rely more heavily on fighters, but this will only become a relevant detail on the higher difficulty levels. Otherwise, just build the most efficient damage-dealers you can (these are actually more likely the cheaper ships) and keep them together so they can overwhelm the enemy fleet. Rinse, capture the point, and repeat.
Campaigns start the same way every time, with your forces surrounded by four inexplicably, intractably antagonistic alien races. They all hate humans and also each other for reasons that were hand-waved in a text box at the beginning of the game. Suffice it to say, you are fighting for the future of humanity. However, you can only choose between two possible sectors to attack or defend, so the whole metagame feels rather arbitrary. Don't expect diplomacy, base-building, or other elements you would expect from a Total War-alike.
The missions are likewise very repetitive. You start with a battlestation and no ships, and have to gradually expand to capture points scattered throughout the sector. Or, you have to defend your own battlestation for a set number of waves of enemies. Because we are in space, there's no real terrain beyond the bases you capture for resource points. Any sector you siege will be basically an empty void for battle.
The player has a lot of control over the construction of their fleet, but this means that almost all the units are literally interchangeable. By giving the player control over every element of the ship, the game makes the different units totally generic. You can use any hull for any purpose, and therefore the best strategy is just to make a bunch of the most powerful and versatile designs you can efficiently manufacture and let them handle everything. This problem is compounded by the fact that the ships are visually nearly indistinguishable from other ships of the same species--differing only in size and number of metallic blobs that form their too-similar shapes. The alien ships, too, are functionally too similar to each other. There are a few variations, and the alien ships are definitely stronger than the human ones, but they also use the same basic structure and fittings, with the exception of a couple weapons only certain species can use.
You have to do all your research from the beginning every time, which doesn't make sense (what, do they just delete the design files after any given battle?) but it's an RTS trope, so we'll let it slide. The research lets you bump up the stats of your ships, which makes them stronger and faster, but doesn't appreciably change your strategy. Like in ship building, the lower-level techs have the most impact per Science Point spent, so there's not a great reason to try to specialize--just do the same thing every time.
Battles are 'spiced up' with random events that can be frustratingly unfair. What are you supposed to do when a giant black hole opens up under your battlestation, sucking your whole fleet to oblivion? Why do ships from other antagonists suddenly teleport in to a random spot on the battlefield and attack both sides?
The one really bright spot is the new marine mechanic, which lets you capture alien ships and not only use them, but build them yourself. It takes some skill and effort to execute. You need to plan ahead to have marines ready to launch, maneuver your ship close enough to safely board, and avoid doing too much damage to a ship you want to capture. Again, though, you don't get to build the ship in the next mission, unless you find another one, due to your scientists' chronic amnesia.
The problem that plagues then entire game is a lack of variation, especially in the abilities of the units and the missions they take on. The whole game can be conquered with one favorite strategy, and the battles feel like just throwing gradually increasing numbers at each other and seeing which one is higher. In the end, Battlevoid: Sector Siege is just too boring for anyone but hardcore fans of the franchise.