Capturing the feel of being an intrepid space explorer is a significant challenge. Players need to feel a sense of wonder while they search through the vast reaches of space, while at the same time being driven by a sense of purpose. Exploration for its own sake is occasionally enjoyable, but if you’re simply blowing past large swathes of space voids it can seem pretty dull. Luckily for Starpoint Gemini Warlords, the latest entry in the Starpoint Gemini series fresh out of Steam Early Access, exploring a huge universe feels engaging and exciting, even if it takes a significant time investment to get there.
Set up as a hybrid between the 4X, RPG and space sim genres, Warlords puts players in the command deck of their own space vessel as part of the Solari Concord, a ragtag group of humans who fled the Solar System and are now trying to create a home in the Gemini Star System. I’m sure there’s a decent chunk of sci-fi lore hidden in the Gemini universe, but I absolutely could not remember a single significant detail of the campaign story. The less-than-riveting narrative simply serves as a vague reason to fill out the empty spaces in your starmap.
The campaign does serve as a rudimentary tutorial for the main controls and core concepts of the game, which definitely need some explanation if you are not familiar with the series. The steering and combat controls take some getting used to; I found myself relying heavily on auto-targeting with the guns early on while I tried awkwardly maneuvering around enemy ships on my tail.
Navigating the myriad of skill, perk and ship customization options will also be an intimidating hurdle for players in the early hours of the game. You will frequently find youtrself consulting the in-game Geminipedia for explanations on how all of the systems mesh together. While I’m glad there was a one-stop shop explaining all of the game’s systems in-depth, but I felt it should have been integrated a bit more fluidly into the gameplay. I don’t consider myself an expert in 4X games, but the learning curve has felt less steep and more enjoyable in other 4X games like Civilization V simply because I still got to play while learning.
That being said, the freedom of choice in Warlords truly shines once you’ve mastered the basics. You can become a scourge of the system, wiping out enemy factions with a fleet of merciless ships, or seek to create a profitable utopia by uniting sworn enemies through diplomatic means. The sandbox feel is very reminiscent to Skyrim, where I was more motivated to ignore the main campaign entirely in favor of messing around in one of the game’s more open free play starter modes.
Exploring the Gemini System imposes an impressive sense of scale; the Warlords map feels both massive and packed with tasks to tackle. Some of the randomized elements and side jobs start to feel pretty repetitive after a number of hours, but I didn’t mind it too much since pretty much anything you do feeds into your ship’s progression by earning credits, resources or experience for better skills and perks.
The most satisfying experience in the game comes after building up a decent fleet and HQ. Dozens of enemy ships will swarm around you while your AI buddies attempt to pick them off, resulting in a beautiful haze of lasers and explosions. Large scale battles feel truly frenetic and weighted. If you’re willing to invest a decent chunk of time into learning core mechanics, Starpoint Gemini Warlords offers an entertaining romp through the stars with a nice depth of RPG elements and strategic combat.
This review is based on a retail copy of the game provided by the publisher.
A struggle from takeoff turns into a satisfying finish
Gameplay - 9/10
Plot - 6.5/10
Design - 8.5/10
Starpoint Gemini Warlords is an ambitious hybrid of a RPG/4X/space sim that doesn't shy away from a learning curve, but provides an engaging experience overall with plenty of room for multiple playthroughs.