Coming from the interesting Risk-like turn-based tactical game Tactera, indie developer E McNeil has set out a nice niche for himself as he uses Tron style graphics in a VR environment to make light tactical games that don’t drag on for hours on end.
Astraeus is the latest in his catalogue and this is about mining planets for resources and making sure you beat your competition to the goal. That goal may be to collect a certain amount of Finitum, the resource your mining, or it could be to defeat all your opponents on the map.
You start with a few asteroids to play with and four types of unit to dedicate an asteroid to a certain function. Do they mine for resources? Do they become a power unit to power connected asteroids? Do you make a factory to send offensive ships to conquer neighbouring asteroids or make a cannon for projection? These are the tools you’ll work with and each has their own benefit and power drain on your network as a result. Balance is absolutely key, along with speed. The downside to this simplicity is the lack of upgrades. The production mass of your unit is down to the size of the asteroid. The bigger it is the more yield it gives but the game’s lack of upgrades thereafter means you’ve seen it all straight away.
The genius part from a VR standpoint is the galaxy is built around your head so you literally have the enemy behind your back. The asteroids are connected like spider webs with faint white lines. This allows you to see if you make a power unit where the power will go to, or if you make a factory its where you can then send the ships to. The AI, or online your opponents, will be doing the same thing though and inevitably the map sizes are large enough you can get started alone, but you’ll quickly start rubbing against each other. Something has to give.
Battles in Astraeus are interesting because they are about sending the ships where you want to go around the web and what works at the start of a mission will not work later on so keeping your mind on the network of webs across your playing area is key to success. Often I found strength in numbers by converging all the networks together and pushing forward, but as the ships are passing through, all it takes is an enemy to capture one of your asteroids in that chain and your whole offence falls down. The AI can be programmed to be aggressive (attack not mine), greedy (mine more than attack) or balanced but they all provide a challenge – mainly because you’ll be constantly changing what your priorities are. For such a simple game, there’s a ton of ways to play it.
Outside skirmish and online modes, a story campaign features a voiced robot who is clearly inspired by Portal 2’s Wheatley. This one is also funny as he laments over your deceased predecessor waving him around saying “he doesn’t speak to me anymore!”. I’ve enjoyed my time with the chap and welcome more of that character in the future.
A copy of the game was provided by the developer for review.
I really like Astraeus. Whilst I feel like I've not quite mastered the mechanics of battle fully, there is enough to keep me entertained whilst I learn the nuances under a simple shell. Revolutionary it may not be, but addictive and interesting it certainly is.
Quickfire RTS means matches are usually over in under 20 minutes.
Story mode's dark humour made me chuckle.
Competent AI competition and online modes work well.
No upgrades beyond the planet size themselves.
Sometimes you lose track of where you are sending your ships as visually it can be a bit confusing.
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