It’s hard to find the right word to describe the launch of Sword of the Stars 2. Troubled? Early? Turnippy? Kerberos CEO Martin Cirulis says the game will advance from “a turnip to a jewel”, which does unfortunately involve calling it a “turnip” in its current state. Both Kerberos and Paradox have released statements apologising for the state of the game, with the developers going into more detail about their hopes for the future. The original built up a strong fanbase in large part because Kerberos improved it over time, but with the sequel initial reports of an accidentally released beta and then an update with serious problems of its own have caused, let us say, a furore.
The comments I’ve read elsewhere split between frustration that there was no suggestion that development had been so problematic right up until release and a belief that all will be well at some point in the future. It’s amazing how many people are willing to wait, fully believing that the game will eventually be the one they thought they were purchasing in the first place. I don’t actually fall into either camp, having not spent enough time with the first game to be a true devotee. However, reports of missing tutorials and tooltips, a lack of some basic functionality, and features missing from the game that are described in the manual don’t inspire much confidence at the moment.
It’s also worth noting that many of these issues are very similar to events immediately following the launch of the original Sword of the Stars. I can think of two ways to look at that: the previous game improved massively so this one should as well, or why were the right lessons not learned in the intervening years? Certainly, the stories (in comments) of forum-based hostility suggest what could be described as “trenchant stubbornness in the face of criticism”.
Martin describes the current build as containing “a pile of blown apart code and unstable features” and promises that all effort will initially go toward fixing stability. His final word is on refunds and other forms of recompense.
“If you demand a refund then I completely understand and you can be assured, the cost of that will make it directly to us. We will feel your “voting with your dollars”, you can be sure about that and we accept that as fair play. On the other hand, if a free copy of the orginal SotS will help tide you over while we get this game shined from turnip to jewel, then please write to “email@example.com” and we will set you up. If nothing else, if you are not familiar with how we support our products, you can play it and then ask the old-timers how much it changed over the years and that may reassure you.”
Personally, I often purchase pre-releases to support development and encourage others to do the same, but in those cases developers are usually careful to ensure the customer knows what they’re buying, in terms of the current product and the long-term intent. Here, as far as I can tell, that hasn’t happened until after the release. Do I think Kerberos will do their best to deliver the game they have always intended to? Yes I do and I imagine they feel fairly awful right now. But this launch means even people who loved the original would be advised to hold back for a while, unless they’re entirely happy seeing their purchase as funding further development.
We’ll have detailed thoughts on the game in the near future, with review code arriving at the end of the week. Hopefully, that means it’ll be in a happier state for everyone soon enough, but it would have been remiss not to comment on the launch itself. It’s just a shame it has to be like this. I’m reminded of excitedly reading the Master of Orion 3 manual on the train back home from Game, ready to immerse myself in strategic bliss. At least updates do have the potential to arrive thick and fast in this digital age.