Ancient Frontier: Steel Shadows launched 11 December 2014 on Steam. It was developed and published by Fair Weather Studios. It is a role-playing, tactical strategy turn-based game.
AIR Entertainment obtained a digital copy of the game for review purposes.
Here is a teaser trailer:
Have you ever wanted to live a pirate’s life? Have you also wanted to live in space, fighting for survival in a galaxy run by an overpowering Federation? Well, Ancient Frontier: Steel Shadows lets you do both. You star as convict Rogan Harker who has recently been freed. As Rogan, you travel to the Frontier, where you make new friends and start a new life.
However, it isn’t all juice and bubbles. The Federation has a firm hold on the Frontier, which appears to be made up of several systems or galaxies. What starts off as a few quests to raid resources to keep the fleet flying through space soon becomes an alliance of outlaws who are tired of the Federation. Almost like the Rebels in the Star Wars franchise.
As you start off with your first groupies, you have a small fleet to take on the first small missions. To aid you taking on the main missions are a bounty of side missions, literally called Bounties. There are also other side missions that tests the performance of your fleet that rewards you after completing a set amount of tasks. There are way more Bounties and side missions than the main quest at first to help you gain experience and monies to buy more fleet and upgrade equipment.
The tutorial is in a form of a non-playable video. When I say non-playable, I mean that you simply watch the video and do not partake in any activities. The lady might tell you to click here and click there, but that is just for reference. You don’t actually click anywhere. What is helpful is that you can click on the segments of the video, like “Mission” or “Fleet”, and it will play that segment of the video over for you.
However, when you start the game, you will need to have remembered what they had taught you. Thankfully, before you head into missions, you can click anywhere and play around with the dashboard to familiarize yourself with how things work. At first this may be daunting, but after a while you get used to where everything is.
The Story itself is compelling and interesting enough to keep one interested in what happens next. Most, if not all, of the story is carried out in dialogue between you and your crew. And I must say that this was one of the few times I actually paid attention to what was discussed instead of just clicking through.
The gameplay is where I feel the game really shines. There is so much to this game than I originally thought, but as I delved further into the depths of space, I really just how much this game has to offer.
The game is a tactical turn-based strategic role-playing game. As you progress through missions and acquire new resources, you not only unlock new fleet, but each ship class has its own set of upgrades. And it doesn’t end there. Crew and equipment have their own skill trees, which means you need to upgrade them wisely. This leads to intensive resource management, especially when deciding whether to spend your well-earned credits on new ships or upgrades.
When it comes to playing the missions, you command a set of ships that you choose to take with you in the battle. If you lose your hero ship, then its over for you. So it is key to set your other ships on offense while your hero only uses ranged attacks. In each mission, you will hunt down enemy ships or collect resources, or carry out the objectives of the main mission.
Upgrading your ships means they last longer in battles and their attacks become more powerful. The trick is learning the strengths and weakness of your ships, and those of the enemy. Some massive ships can shoot huge nuke-type missiles from very far, and damage 3 – 4 tiles on impact, which means damaging ships you might have clustered together. Others can only attack up close. Sometimes you will need to decided between a tight formation, or spreading your fleet wide.
And that’s where the strategy comes in. There are many times where I have survived by just winging it, so to speak. Other times, where I have died one too many times, I’ve had to knuckle down and decide how I was going to pass the mission.
You also have the opportunity to hire crew before taking on missions. So as you can see, each mission is a strategic layout of which crew to hire, which equipment to buy, and which ships to add to your fleet, while weighing the options of upgrading. This type of strategic battle-plan gaming makes Steel Shadows a wonderful pleasure to play.
SOUND AND GRAPHICS
The fleet design department has done a fantastic job of detailing every ship that has gone into the game. The colours are vibrant, and what I really loved about the mission area is that you can zoom in real close to see your ships in action.
The dashboard is very user friendly. For a first time player, some of the tabs may seem overwhelming at first, but after five minutes of clicking through some of them, they are easy to get used to. The details of the ships, classes, weapons and equipment pop up in a window on the right, which is very helpful in understanding how the systems work.
I was also very impressed by the space map and that there are so many areas to explore. The crew images are also very detailed and it is clear that the developer was not going to settle for poor quality, pop-up cards like so many indie developers are doing these days.
The immersion that one feels as one plays the missions if fantastic. The space backgrounds were well designed, but the 3D effects were pulled off beautifully. It really felt like I was part of the action.
When I first played the tutorial, I hopped up for joy. The dialogue had voice-acting!! You don’t often find this in indie games these days, as developers usually rely on text to tell the story. However, as I proceeded through missions, I noticed that the voice-acting disappeared and I was left to read through the story dialogues.
During the missions, however, I was pleased to see that the more I zoomed into my ships, the better I could hear those engines and weapons at play. Sometimes I would just pause and enjoy the humming of those thrusters. The battles also have some intense sounds, making you feel like the ships are truly shooting at you.
Ancient Frontier: Steel Shadows delivers a remarkable strategic experience in the realms of space. It takes RPG and delivers it in a turn-based tactical encounter that will thrill strategic players. It isn’t often that we get great space travelling games that are this good today, and I am pleased that I was able to be try it out.
Steel Shadows really delivers and deserves a proper 9/10.
Disclaimer: AIR Entertainment obtained a digital copy for reviewing purposes. This review is the author’s own opinion and not influenced by the developer in any way, as per our reviewing Code of Ethics.
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