The Bestest Best Strategy 2014 – Distant Worlds: Universe

Moving from the earliest steps toward the stars to space operas and sci-fi dreams that could be responsible for an expanded universe of spin-off novels, Distant Worlds has never seen a horizon that it doesn’t want to touch. It copes with the enormous scale by allowing players to pick and choose their responsibilities. Yes, the game was first released four years ago and, yes, it’s an expensive and acquired taste. But this is the most complete version of one of the most unique, enormous and engrossing strategy games ever made.

Adam: They should have sent a poet. And a playwright, and possibly a novelist or two.

Just as grand strategy games are often alternate history generators, Distant Worlds: Universe simulates a million possible futures. This version of the game, packed with all previously released expansions, contains all of the tools and rules to create drama on the broadest stage imaginable. I tend to begin with a single planet, a race standing at the threshold of their great odyssey and a universe waiting to be explored and exploited.

From there, you might expand into the farthest reaches, discovering remnants of those who straddled the stars in millennia long long ago. You could build a trade empire or dominate through aggression. You could maintain the peace, using diplomacy and the occasional army of fleets for hire. You could even, quite brilliantly, develop the most desirable sectors and rely on the tourist spacebuck to fund your research and expansion.

If you don’t want to write an (almost) complete history of life, the universe and everything, Distant Worlds is entirely customisable and moddable. http://www.moddb.com/games/distant-worlds/mods Even without user-created races, systems and tech, the initial game setup can be used to create a facsimile of various science fiction settings. Whether your preference is for Banks’ Culture, Roddenberry’s Federation or something with a little more zip and zap, Distant Worlds can be bent to your will.

If, rather than starting with galactic empires in place, you allow a universe to develop from the initial journeys into the unknown, you might take as much pleasure watching it take shape as much as actually sculpting it yourself. Like Crusader Kings and Europa Universalis, Distant Worlds is a complex simulation with a strategy game laid across it. You don’t have to play to win, you can happily play simply to experience the creation and destruction of spacefaring civilisations.

The central innovation of the game, which has been in place since the first release back in 2010, is the automation system. If you want it to, Distant Worlds can play itself, ticking over like a perfect machine created to build galaxies and the stories that they’re made of. It’s a system that allows you to play within your own comfort zone, concentrating your efforts on the areas that interest you – or that you’re capable of handling – while the computer tackles other business. In that sense, the automation is a way to customise difficulty settings to fit precisely with a player’s own capabilities, but its overall effect on the game runs much deeper.

In Distant Worlds, each playable entity is a presence at the centre of an autonomous society. Private enterprises will handle the micromanagement of your empire, beginning with mining companies that gather the resources that enable early exploration and colonisation, and the basic functions will continue to operate and adapt as your decisions change the course of your culture. The game looks for areas where work is needed and creates AI-controlled vessels to act as cogs in the machine.

Not only does this reduce the possible tedium of handling every minor asset of an enormous, system-spanning empire, it also creates a believable industrial-commercial entity, in which control is not necessarily from the top-down in every instance. That feeds into the use of automation to allow AI control of various features – whether military, diplomatic, scientific or whatever else – which, along with the start-up customisation and modding, allows players to mould Distant Worlds to fit their own style of play.

The impact of the automation on your enjoyment of the game will depend, largely, on what you hope to discover in a strategic simulation. Distant Worlds hits the sweet spot for me because I like to roleplay within the bounds of a game’s structure, using whatever systems it offers to find a narrative thread to pull and pick at. Here, I can be the fleet commander who takes gradual control of a civilisation as his fame and the power of that civilisation spreads through the stars. By cranking back the automation as a game unfolds, I take control of features as they become vital, and by that point there’s a shape to the society that I’m controlling – the game creates a scenario, dynamically, and I can choose to take centre stage in the most exciting acts.

It’s a far cry from the sort of strategy game in which every action requires almost-instant analysis and reaction. In Distant Worlds, it’s possible to feel like an observer and to some that may be a weakness, but for me it’s the game’s greatest strength. I believe that it’s mechanics are honest and cleanly dissectable because I can watch the AI’s use of them from one minute to the next. That goes a long way toward convincing me that the results that those mechanics generates are worthy of attention and study.

Back to the complete bestest best PC games of 2014.

76 Comments

  1. Gap Gen says:

    I guess people are getting tired of reading this, but I’d be all over this if it came down to a more reasonable price. Ah, well.

    • A Gentleman and a Taffer says:

      Unfortunately, yes I am one too. It is the most expensive game in the history of gaming, I swear. Sounds fascinatin, just not £40+ fascinating

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        Neurotic says:

        I just read the whole piece with an almost orgasmic excitement, but 40 quid is an instant de-boner. :/

      • malkav11 says:

        There are quite a few wargames that cost more. Not coincidentally, many of them are published by the same people publishing Distant Worlds.

      • Danley says:

        I get the feeling these are stolen keys, but that may also be unfair if they’re not stolen but just the product of speculation and then, ‘Hooray, capitalism…’ but I found out about this site on the comments of another RPS article and have bought three games there since, but g2play/kinguin is worth checking out. They have it for £27.97.

    • Tacroy says:

      I’m torn about that, I really am – I bought the game, and I enjoyed it tremendously. It’s definitely worth the $50 – $60 they’re asking for (I mean heck Civ: BE is still $50), but I don’t think the target audience is willing to pay that much.

      If it was $30 it’d be a total no-brainer for people who enjoyed anything from Escape Velocity to Master of Orion to Stars! (and it does, in some ways, span all of those categories), but it’s just not polished enough to give a wholehearted recommendation to everyone at the current price.

      • Phier says:

        The irony being in todays dollars I payed more for MOO and Stars! then for Distant Worlds.

      • Kitsunin says:

        I think that with games, there’s a price, and then there’s something kind of like an “uncertainty price”.

        For example, I had a time in my life when I bought everything I thought I would like…I would play and enjoy maybe one game out of ten. In a sense, this brings the cost of all games I purchased to 10x their actual price, because each would offer me only 1/10 of its content (smushed together into the one which I did enjoy, mostly by chance). In a sense, this brings the cost of a game like this up to $500, it being a 10/1 gamble with $50, I would have to buy ten similar games to probably enjoy one.

        During this period, I was throwing way too much money at games, so after that, I learned to only buy games which stand far, far above the rest (in terms of safeness, not quality) so the chance of enjoyment is 75%~, or games which are extremely cheap; a $40 game on sale for $5 still has an “uncertainty cost” of $50 because it will take ten uncertain purchases to find one I like.

        Indeed, I’m willing to pay about $50 for a one game which sucks me in, whether that be one well-reviewed $50 sequel to a game I already loved, or ten $5 games that looked great but sit outside my comfort zone. This is something I think many people don’t understand; there is often a great deal of risk associated with a purchase, because it can be very hard to tell whether something truly is your cup of tea.

      • Aetylus says:

        Oh, I think you just sold Distant Worlds to me… I’m within the Australian digital price gouging sphere, so CivBE is $90US for me whereas Distant Worlds (being developed by good Kiwi chaps) only costs me $US60… its a bargain by comparison.

    • Paraquat says:

      Couldn’t agree more. I don’t think it’s been on sale ever, either, which is unusual.

      • Dilapinated says:

        It’s on sale right now. Think it still ends up around 40, but a significantly smaller “about”.

    • Montavious says:

      Totally agree with you. No way im paying more than 30 bucks.

    • espenhw says:

      It’s on sale right now, both on Steam and on matrixgames.com

    • Stellar Duck says:

      What is reasonable for a game and a stack of expansion packs?

      I’ll admit that I’m getting a bit frustrated with these posts any time a game published by Matrix is mentioned. The new Civ game is 50€ and that’s a pretty shite game by most accounts but I don’t hear the same complaints any time it’s mentioned.

      For goodness sake, it’s on sale on Matrix as we speak. You can get the game and all the expansions for quite literally the same you’d pay for Civ Beyond Earth. So, buy it or not. But if you don’t, shouldn’t you make a price comment on every game ever?

      • malkav11 says:

        I know what I’m getting with Civ – an installment of a franchise that I’ve enjoyed since game one – and I also know that if I’m dubious about getting my money’s worth it’ll be down under $20 inside a year. And it was possible to knock it below $40 before launch, too.

        I don’t know Distant Worlds will work for me at all, and I’m not going to pay $50, much less $60, to find out. And there’s no reason to expect it’s ever going to go lower. But that’s okay. I’ve got plenty of other games competing for my time. Besides as long as the developer’s getting the money they need to keep going, I suppose it doesn’t matter that they could very likely be getting a lot more if they were more flexible on pricing. (I’m aware of the argument that they don’t have a wide enough potential audience to make up in bulk what they lose in per unit sales. Maybe that’s true here where it hasn’t been for plenty of other supposedly niche products that participated in Steam sales, but I doubt it.)

        FWIW, also, I appreciate that you’re getting a bunch of what were previously expensive expansions included for the price, but I think a smarter play would have been to knock down the price on the base game and the expansions both and then sell them separately for a combined total of around the current $60 or perhaps a bit more. I’d rather have a cheaper point of entry than all the content when I’m just starting with a game. But that’s me.

      • Paraquat says:

        Well now I just feel bad.

      • Gap Gen says:

        In pounds, Beyond Earth’s non-sale price is around 10% cheaper than Distant Worlds’ sale price (which, as you mention, is a bundle with DLC). It also came out a few months ago, as opposed to 4 years for Distant Worlds. Other indie 4X games are selling for less – Sword of the Stars and its sequel, Pandora: First Contact. Something like EUIV is comparable in price (although, again, newer, and Paradox games do tend to drop in price more over time and be more amenable to deep sale discounts). I see what you’re saying, though.

        I think there’s a lot to unpack in game pricing. The unit price is effectively zero, so you’re basically trying to figure out max(price * number of customers), which isn’t an obvious one. For Matrix, a lot of their games have very niche appeal and probably have an older target market, so they probably rely on charging a premium. If this means that they price out curious younger players who have a lower threshold on the amount they’re willing to spend, so be it. Someone like Activision can charge a premium on their big games because again, people will apparently spend top dollar on a yearly franchise shooter. I think I’ve commented on this, too, but I forget, and in any case I’m not sufficiently interested in the latest CoD to really care what the price is (this isn’t a condemnation of CoD, only my whim as a consumer).

        Value to individuals is also not a linear function of much. I’ve got much more play time out of Minecraft than from a trip to the cinema, and Minecraft probably even cost less (I forget how much I paid originally). Does this mean that films are worth less than Minecraft? I assume most people would say no.

        I accept too that there’s a certain amount of damage that sales and dirt cheap games are doing to the market as a whole. To some extent it’s inevitable; there are so many games out there that I’ve given up even buying games on sale that I’m not immediately going to play, because I have so many games that I haven’t even touched. If Matrix are fighting against the idea of discounting their games by 80 or 90%, all power to them, and to some extent their remit shields them from direct competition with Valve.

        So yeah, I assume Matrix know the consequences of their sales strategy, and accept that they’re going to lose some people who are merely curious about a game, or who have too many games priced at 20-30 euros or below. I accept that my comment isn’t a condemnation of their sales strategy, or a sign that their games are completely unaffordable. It’s mainly a comment on how I’ve responded to a market that’s saturated and that’s engaged in a race to the bottom in large parts. As long as people rely on a market to exchange items or services for some form of economic value, there will be a tension between how much buyers value something and how much the seller believes they should sell it for. I have bought Matrix games before at their prices, but it has put off people I knew who I might otherwise have played with. It’s frustrating, but this is the way the game is played, I suppose.

        • Hedgeclipper says:

          —–I accept too that there’s a certain amount of damage that sales and dirt cheap games are doing to the market as a whole.—-

          I’m not sure its as clear cut as that – certainly you say you’ve stopped buying games you won’t play – but for my part if the price is low enough I’m happy to buy a game that looks interesting _even if I know I’ll never play it_ just to ensure there’s a vibrant market out there and developers are rewarded for making games I think look interesting so they’ll go and make more.

          The other question with Matrix turning off potentially interested consumers is that people who find they enjoy a genre rarely stop at one game – you’re not loosing just that first sale, but potentially selling your whole catalog and as we see with the yearly AAA FPS stuff once invested players are much less reluctant to pay full price for the latest and greatest.

          Finally Civ V was also released in 2010 currently the complete edition with all the expansions seems to run about $40 and I’m betting it will go lower in the Christmas sales. Fraxis and Matrix both do strategy, granted the Civ games are less complicated but I’m not convinced Matrix has the optimal market strategy here.

          • malkav11 says:

            I agree with you pretty much entirely.

          • Kitsunin says:

            I’ve seen Civ V go down to $10 standalone in a sale, maybe almost a year ago? And I recall paying just $5 during that sale to upgrade to the “gold” edition which was all DLC except Brave New World (which had released less than a year before) which had dropped in price by, I believe 33%. So yes, it’s already been very deeply discounted.

      • Boosh says:

        And Civ will be about a tenner next year. DW will still be priced at what it was 4/5 years ago.

        The reason games get reduced in price over a period of time is generally everyone that will buy it has done, so the price is reduced a bit to draw in new customers/fence sitters and maximise revenue.
        That is the bit I don’t get with Slitherine/Matrix.

      • PhilBowles says:

        One problem is Matrix’s expansion model. This really isn’t a game that’s playable out of the box without the add-ons, and on top of which every expansion requires the prior one. The first expansion, Return of the Shakturi, isn’t really anything but an interface patch, but costs the same as the ‘genuine’ expansion Legends.

        One thing that irritates me is the charges whenever a new Civ expansion is released that it just adds features stripped from the base game relative to prior versions, and I routinely point out how vanilla Civ V has more features, units and buildings than the first two incarnations of Civ did in their lifetime. But Distant Worlds genuinely did take several expansions to add features that were basic features of Master of Orion 2, and without much in the way of elaboration or exploration of those mechanics in many cases (such as the addition of assorted ship components such as fighters, tractor beams and assault pods, and ground assaults). Only characters, pirates and pre-warp starts really add value in terms of new features relative to the base game, and I find the implemention of the latter a little lazy with its identikit starting systems and use of a global view interface at the system level (so that you know where all the artifacts are on different planets before you’ve developed exploration ships, for instance).

    • jasta85 says:

      It’s always been priced at full price, the developer (this was developed for the most part by like one guy) knew it was a very niche game but that people who really liked the genre would be willing to pay full price. This game is actually a deal as it comes with all the previous DLC included (a lot of people miss that as it’s not obvious in the description on steam) and considering each of those were priced pretty highly as well means you really are getting a deal for it.

      As a lover of grand strategy games this is one I had been waiting for, a real time 4x game that actually has good AI and with customizable automation so that I can control absolutely everything if I want or simply sit back and watch my faction grow on its own while I fly a single ship around on my own. It is absolutely worth the full price (it’s actually on sale right now) but it’s also for a niche audience so it really is a matter of taste.

      There are so many so called triple A games that come out that offer maybe 10-20 hours of gaming experience for $60, this one offers potentially hundreds of hours, especially if you include the mods (star trek and 40k fans rejoice, those both exist).

      • mouton says:

        Most people don’t pay 60 usd for their games, I think. Mostly parents, fanatics and rich guys. Others have backlogs and/or wait for sales.

        Still, I think it is cool that Matrix prices themselves like that. A bit steep, but it is high time indies stopped selling themselves literally for pennies. And if someone reaaaally can’t afford it and realllly needs to play it for whatever reasons, there is always piracy.

      • Kitsunin says:

        Considering I would have to blow my game budget for three months (why so small? Because I desperately need a new monitor and am saving for that) I could never justify it for a game I even maybe wouldn’t like. I might love it, I bought AI war for $5 and because it was great I bought the DLCs for $25, I’m not usually a 4x fan at all, so that was a total impulse purchase shot in the dark.

        That being said, piracy exists, so I wonder if that might actually be part of the idea? Allowing for that in your market strategy, there’s no cost or risk involved, unlike a demo, so maybe the cost makes sense.

    • mouton says:

      I think most would also agree that indie devaluation fueled by bundles and sales went too far. I think it is slowly bouncing back a bit, though. Only my impression, not research.

      • Hedgeclipper says:

        I think it depends on the genre you can’t move on steam without falling over several dozen platformers and retro-pixel-somethings but games in the strategy or management areas seem less crowded and better differentiated from one another (but then they’re much harder to make and Metroidvania VXHGHDDLIKRKIII: The Vain Metroiding)

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      teije says:

      You’re right. Am very tired of reading this any time a Matrix/Slitherine game is mentioned. Price per hour of entertainment is dirt cheap compared to many other games (not to mention other forms of entertainment), given it’s scope and replayability.

      It’s a great game that won’t appeal to all, and eagerly supported and enhanced by the small development shop that created it. If it’s your cup of tea, it will turn into a huge time sink, and then it will be fantastic value for money. Kind of like Paradox’s grand strategy stuff that way.

      • mukuste says:

        And what if it’s not your cup of tea? Then you just wasted a sizeable chunk of money to find that out. That’s what’s wrong with this whole “money per hour of gameplay” line of argumentation — maybe I’ll just bounce off it and never play it for more than an hour.

        I also don’t agree that something which is a huge time sink is intrinsically good value for money.

    • P.Funk says:

      I read these comments and all I can think is that if gamers spent in the 90s like they do now all our favourite classics would never get made because the industry wouldn’t have existed.

      Gamers are so bloody cheap now and paranoically risk averse, in a period where you can watch hours of unscripted gameplay on youtube no less.

      Gamers seem to think that indies are so much better than AAA devs these days, so much better that they’re willing to pay them much less money, even though the economies of scale would clearly indicate that an indie should seek more money rather than less to make ends meet.

      Derivative and unimaginative iteration of Civ in space? Yea, easy sale because it has tenure, boring boring tenture. Refined and boundless 4X in an era of nearly extinct decent 4Xs? Oh I dunno about that… I don’t KNOW what the game is like so I couldnt’ possibly buy it… I need to know what to expect! Please don’t surprise me and make me take a chance. I demand predictability.

      Hmm… I think Sid Meier’s 33% rules make a lot of sense when you look at it that way. Don’t be a risk taker! Even the indie lovers can’t help themselves but play it safe.

      • ExitDose says:

        Prices came down for a product over time even in the 90’s. And there were also cheaper indie publishers back then, too – we called them shareware, back then. All that’s really changed is that quality control and competition increased and improved.

      • Chirez says:

        On the other hand, I do enjoy Beyond Earth, and Civ V itself, with expansions is a truly great game.
        Given that if I DID buy Distant Worlds, I’d probably stare blankly at it for five minutes and never go near it again, your whole point basically evaporates.

        Far fewer people will enjoy DW than enjoy Civ, because that’s the way they’re made. Feel free to consider the minority superior, for their refinement and sophistication, but the belief that any given person will aquire your taste for such things if they only tried them is unsupportable.

        Anyone posting comments about what they’d be willing to pay for DW is trying to express how much enjoyment they expect from it, which they probably have a better idea of than anyone else. Given that there is apparently a large potential audience who would spend £20 on the game, but won’t spend £30 or £40, keeping the price high is just leaving money on the table.

        • P.Funk says:

          The point isn’t about being pretentious, its about how many gamers seem to perceive all games the same: they all must end up in a $5 bargain bin or they’re not worth the money.

          I can’t think of any hobby where people are so dedicated to spending as little as possible.

          Its also not about slamming people who actually do enjoy Civ. Its about arguing that perhaps not every game ought to be priced like a serial production product from the Ubisoft or EA sausage factory.

          I buy lots of sale things. I eat cheap food if I can, you know affordable and then cook it so its nicer (economists call that value added) but now and then its nice to have a steak, you know a proper one. Of course you can’t know what it tastes like til you have it, but such are the pitfalls of being almost any type of consumer except maybe a gamer.

          Gamers wan’t bespoke quality, new in package, at liquidator’s prices. I don’t know of any other market where thats the norm as an attitude..

          • meepmeep says:

            But you can sample food. If I want to know if the newly imported Spanglefruit is to my taste, I’ll buy one for a quid and try it. If they only option for purchasing Spanglefruit is in 25kg sacks at £40 a go, that might be a great bargain in terms of Spanglefruit purchasing, but if I buy the sack and eat one and don’t like it, it’s a huge waste of money, and so I probably won’t take the risk. I may well buy the sack after trying one, though.

            Basically, this game needs a demo.

          • Kitsunin says:

            I said it above and I think it holds very true against your perspective: You don’t always play games you buy. It’s very frequent you will purchase a game and realize you just don’t really want to play it. Even now, that I’ve learned not to buy games unless the likelihood I will enjoy them is in line with the cost, I still don’t like games which seem like very sure bets.

            I bought BlazBlue: Continuum Shift. I loved Calamity Trigger many years ago when I had a console, and I love Skullgirls even now, but I bounced right off Continuum Shift, no idea why, but I don’t want to play it, not even the single player. Blam, even though the game is worth $27 by all means, they went right down the gutter.

            And that’s the thing. Purchasing a game is always something of a gamble. If you aren’t extremely familiar with a genre, a developer, a series, an individual game, it can be difficult to know whether it will click with you. I don’t like 4x games, yet I bought AI War for $2.50 (then later the expansions for $25) and effing loved it. Distand Worlds sounds really interesting, but when there’s a 10% I will like it why the fuck would I ever buy it for more than $5? If the cost of a game is five dollars, I can buy ten and be totally happy if I only like one of them. If a game costs fifty and I don’t like it, I’ve been ripped the fuck off, even if it is super duper worth that fifty.

            Unlike with games, I’ve never paid for a movie and started watching it, but thought after the first ten minutes “Nah, I’d rather watch Princess Mononoke again”, yet why would I bother with a strategy that doesn’t grab me when I’ve always got good ol’ TF2? (Here, though, I think story games like Bastion, Brothers, differ from more gamey games)

            This is why I believe wanting games at low prices has nothing to do with people thinking they are not worth their actual value.

            I also don’t think demos are great. Extra Credits did a good episode on why they are rarely a beneficial decision for a developer, and I personally believe the only situation where they boost the sale of a game, is when they are exceptionally good. Like Defender’s Quest’s demo. However, generally it’s an huge endeavor to really represent your game properly in a demo. A 4x usually begins with really tedious tutorials, so I think it would take a true stroke of genius to manage, which is just too much to expect.

          • ExitDose says:

            It seems pretty universal across the entertainment industry, even in some of the hobbyist niches like board gaming. Why are video games entitled to different treatment in the culture business?

          • Hedgeclipper says:

            Cheap hobbies off the top of my head: Pickling, quilting, country dancing, many types of music – most craft hobbies are not only focused on cheap they actually give you something useful at the end of the process.

            —-Gamers wan’t bespoke quality, new in package, at liquidator’s prices. I don’t know of any other market where thats the norm as an attitude..—-

            Bespoke quality – you know that means hand crafted for a particular individual right? Software is the perfect definition of its opposite; mass produced zero marginal cost post industrial identical product

            New in package – uh yeah don’t remember the last time I got a game in a package but I do like the smell of fresh 1s and 0s in the intertube, I can’t stand it when they give me someone’s second hand 1s

            liquidators prices – not sure there a competent liquidator would charge what the market would bare surely? As is we have plenty of companies asking low or free and they don’t seem to be going bust any faster than previously – the sheer number of games has just exploded.

            Other markets where that attitude is the norm: how about car sales (particularly used cars)? Air travel? Vacations? small appliances (got one of those industrial design toasters? mine was $10 from the supermarket) etc etc For that matter how do you feel about Windows pricing, want to stuff another $100 in Bill’s pocket?

          • P.Funk says:

            Too many to answer so I’ll go with Hedgeclipper

            They WANT bespoke, ie. they want something fantabulous and complain when the product is instead produced for the masses, ala the big box people. This is why kickstarter is big. Its about as close t bespoke as you get. Its popularity comes from people’s desire for something specific that the market by and large has failed up til recently to offer.

            New in package. A bit of an indulgence in comparing the physical product to the digital one, but its basically to say that gamers want the full product for nothing. Games don’t wear like real products, they don’t lose lustre after being used and unlike cars you don’t suddenly devalue a game the moment you download the bits onto your hard drive.

            As for real life markets you seem to forget. Used cars, are not new. Super cheap flights don’t come with first class services. Vacations, you get what you pay for, ie. you spend as little as possible but you know there are things you only get by paying more. And thats the point. Gamers think the only thing that should be behind a paywall beyond the sale price is the resin model that the 12 year olds are desperate for in the special edition. Everything else must be included.

            I repeat, with slight clarification. I can’t think of any hobby that involves people spending as little as possible while expecting the full measure. Also, my girlfriend worked in a knitting store, one of those hip yuppie crop ups when that thing went chic, and my lord can you spend a lot on all sorts of unique things. If you want to be cheap though, acrylic is alright I guess. However baby Alpaca is very nice on the skin but you won’t ever find it for acrylic prices, not on the regular schedule that gamers expect.

            I’m not even saying you can’t dumpster dive, I’m saying that gamers expect mainstream retail products from retailers to be at unusually low prices on a regular schedule. You go to enough shops you can find some baby alpaca in an odd colour thats been sitting in the store for a year and a half untouched, probably, eventually. You can’t however expect all of it to be that price inevitably.

            I find the gamer consumer mindset strange. I particularly find it strange how many games people buy never get played. Its like impulse shopping at the thrift store. If you instead bought one or two games a month or even more infrequently, like people who might go out and only spend $100 every 2 months on their HO model railroad, your sense of value and your caution would be greater. You’d also be less willing to bounce off things.

            As a small child with no money (bitterly small allowance) I saved up to buy one game. It was like 1997 or something. Finally got my $60 copy of Railroad Tycoon 2, brand new from the shop, packaging and all. Played the hell out of that thing. Still have the box. I spent my money deliberately, and I spent a lot of it, and my childish inability to cope with the details of the game was overcome by the simple statement from my mother “You saved up a lot of money for that, you better enjoy it”. Today I don’t think anyone would bother with more than a tenner for a game like that.

            Sometimes I think that a game in a box with a manual somehow affects how you perceive it. All that effort to package it, all that thought into those little things like a printed manual. Hard to just use it once, throw it in a corner and shrug off the money spent.

          • Emeraude says:

            Games don’t wear like real products, they don’t lose lustre after being used and unlike cars you don’t suddenly devalue a game the moment you download the bits onto your hard drive.

            Not to touch on the rest of the argument, but at the same time, game obsolescence is fairly high – at least for the mass market – as with most entertainment products, and it’s all the more true for the AAA linear, narrative driven games that have little replayability.

            It’s not rare for a one year old game to be already outdated.

          • P.Funk says:

            True, however you help me make my point by mentioning mainstream AAA titles and their tendency to obsolesce by DESIGN. They deliberately manufacture these titles as annual releases. This means that you can expect it to lose value because the sequel which is really more like an updated platform to carry the bulk of the online community who interact through it displaces it with 12 months.

            However with a title like Distant Worlds its not meant to be replaced every year. The expansions literally do that, expand the base product and add value to it. As time wears on the game actually gains value (assuming the expansions are successful at their task) and so by the time they’re done one could argue the game should cost more, which it does when you bundle expansions together.

            Games like this are entirely different from the mainstream of gaming and the eventual drop to the bargain bin. This isn’t one of several, its designed to be THE ONE you buy, the one to keep and the one to keep investing in and playing.

            My contention then is that the mainstream of how gamers have come to consume products has in my opinion warped the mainstream attitude towards game pricing and the concept of value. We should be willing to throw mountains of cash at the little guys for their unusual products that they keep themselves improving and investing development time in, games that are intended to be playable for at least 5 or maybe even 10 years.

            One person said “What the market will bear” and what if I said “the market is full of small minded people who want to cheap out because they don’t know better”.

            Of course not everyone thinks this clearly. Star Citizen is showing that there are in fact thousands upon thousands of people who are willing to throw mountains of cash at something that they really really like the idea of. Sadly they’re still problematic in their own right, namely that they do it mostly because its flashy and advertises itself, if still substituting different slogans than, the same way as the AAA crowd.

            I just think that when gamers say “Won’t buy anything that expensive” it seems odd. NOTHING? There’s no game you’d ever value above a tenner? To my mind at that point you become someone who’s role in the market is not to fund and propel small developers forward but instead the one who funds and propels forward the clearing houses that we call digital distributor services.

            When you buy a Zippo at a yard sale you’re not helping out the Zippo company, they don’t see any money from that. When you buy games like that then how can we ever expect anything but schlock since those are the guys who have access to the budgets and access to the marketing that push the $50 derivative and unimaginative conservative products. At least the Zippo company saw a full return the first time it was bought. If they had to sell Zippos like games they’d be selling like a loss leader.

      • cederic says:

        In the 90s all the gamers I knew balanced a very low volume of full price purchases (2-3 a year) with a low volume of budget purchases (5-6 a year) and a fuckload of piracy.,

        These days Steam sales have replaced the piracy, and other purchases remain constant. However, the market is stupendously larger, so more full price games get sold because more people are buying them – not necessarily that any individual is purchasing on average any more or less.

        Meanwhile the Steam sale effect and various bundles means that even more revenue is generated by the industry than the pure full price -> eventual budget release model ever attracted.

        £4 on a game that I might play for 20 minutes and decide I don’t like? Sure.
        £45 on Distant Worlds, when I may play it for 2-3 hours and decide I don’t like it? Sorry, but I have 30 other games that I haven’t played yet, that I spent £4 on.

        I do buy full priced games, but it tends to be sequels and/or developers I trust. Even there, I still don’t own Company of Heroes 2 because although CoH and its expansions remain one of my favourite games of the last 30 years the whole business model around CoH2 and its DLC has put me off. I could buy CoH for £8 right now and I’m denying myself the pleasure of playing it because I’m waiting for the publisher to offer me a sensible combination of price and completeness.

        Meanwhile I paid £2 for Sanctum 2 including all of its DLC, another £2 for my friend’s copy and we’ve clocked up 40 hours of co-op enjoyment. Is that destroying the game industry? Doesn’t look like it, plenty of games still being made.

    • bill says:

      It all depends on who they want to play it. If they want hardcore strategy gamers, it’s a sensible price.
      If they want to appeal to mainstream gamers, it’s way too high or needs big sales.

    • Joshua Northey says:

      On a dollar per hour basis the price is excellent if you like this kind of game. Not every game has to be $10, particularly if it has a lot of replayability like this one.

      There is not “right” price for games, each game is different it depends on the audience size, cost to develop, cost to market, et cetera.

      They very easily might make more making 40,000 sales at $60 then they would making 60,000 at $40 depending on how the agreements are structured.

    • Chalky says:

      Yeah, setting an unusually high price point really isn’t helpful – I seriously doubt they make enough from the additional price hike to make up for the people who are put off by the price.

      £35 would still seem a bit high but at least it would be what most people pay for AAA games – although I’m not sure this game really looks like it can consider itself AAA in terms of graphics, gameplay could make up for that. Pricing yourself higher than most AAA games? How can you compete?

    • DThor says:

      I’ve had this on my wish list for some time and finally gave up waiting since from the sounds of it they appear to refuse to ‘sale’ the game away, and there’s a modest sale right now on steam. I’ve been seriously distracted by DAI, so I haven’t really had time to wrap my head around it yet, but it’s hard to argue with an absolutely monstrous scale and detail but allowing you to decide how much micro managing you want to do. The way I look at it, I’ll spend more than that on a nice meal as a treat, so it’s worth it. I think we’ve all become spoiled by these slashy sales that make you gun shy to commit to anything more than half price because you fear seeing “60% off!” next week. I sort of admire that they stick to their guns.

  2. Phier says:

    Well deserved, and soon to be followed by people who wish they sold it at crappier games prices.

    • chunkynut says:

      I agree, it’s not without it’s faults but you can buy any two other 4x scifi games and not touch the breadth of experience Distant Worlds gets you.

  3. Eikenberry says:

    I tried playing this game several times and bounced off of it so hard, which is weird, because it seems like right up my wheelhouse – sandboxy grand strategy simulated by complex processes. But I often felt…. completely disconnected.

    • Hanban says:

      My advice would be that you try it with one of the guides for playing without too much automation. When the game automates too much it doesn’t feel very intimate. Once you get the hang of the many mechanics of the game, however, it is a glorious game to play.

    • Premium User Badge

      municipalis says:

      This happened the first two times for me as well. There was simply just way too much going on. After an hour I had a fairly large empire, but no clue how I had managed that. I just said ‘yes’ to whatever my advisers told me to do. So I’d put the game down and say “maybe later!” Then I tried again just a few weeks ago, and everything started coming together. Now I can’t put it down.

      The game actually isn’t that confusing once you realize what’s going on, especially because so much is automated. I don’t think the learning curve was significantly higher than say, Endless Space.

      As an example, the huge list of resources was an initial hurdle for me – I had no idea what I needed or why. But then I realized that I could easily sort resources by my need under the “Resources” tab, and then go to the “Expansion Planner” and sort nearby planets by the resources they have, and then just hit the button to queue a construction ship to build a mine at the best locations (that hadn’t already been staked by the private AI).

      If you’re still struggling with one concept or another, this guy has some pretty good tutorial videos, arranged topic-by-topic: link to youtube.com

      • P.Funk says:

        I’m sorry, perhaps I’m mistaken, but it sounds like you’re describing an 4X with an intuitive and informative menu structure that makes accessing, collating, and using information to create broad stroke actions a simple and easy task to perform.

        Surely you aren’t describing a 4X title?

    • schlusenbach says:

      Me too. I bought it for 47,-€uros after watching several hours of ‘Lets plays’. I was sure I would like it, but I can’t connect to it. When I automate things, I have the feeling I don’t play the game. When I don’t automate, it’s overwhelming after some time, there’s too much going on and I loose control.

    • kuertee says:

      I’ve had it for a few years now, but I could never get into it. Because I think I could never get into the correct “mind-set”. In the past, after every game, regardless of whether I was winning or losing, I felt too far removed from what was happening. Then a few weeks ago, I decided to check it out again again after I watched a YouTube player’s tips that helped me get into what I think is the correct “mind-set”. He has some tips in those videos, but watching “how” he played, rather than what he did, is what helped me, I think.

      Here are the tips I posted: link to matrixgames.com. No replies to hit. So I’m not sure how helpful it was to others. It’s likely that I simply stated the obvious. Hahaha!

      And here are that YouTube’s (Larry Monte’s) tips. There are only 2 videos. link to youtube.com

  4. Boosh says:

    Finally a bestest best I can agree with.
    But, agreed price is ridiculous. Silly Slitherine.

  5. jrodman says:

    A high price doesn’t bother me.

    I would like to hear rumors about slitherine being more customer-friendly though, to balance those I’ve heard in the past.

  6. jeeger says:

    Own this game, only played a few hours though. Need to play it aigain some. Gee thanks, RPS. Anyway. It’s a strange thing, almost Dwarf Fortress-like in its aspirations and also its limitations. The game aims to simulate an entire universe and succeeds incrdibly. The split between private enterprises and government alone is something that other so-called strategy games should implement as sell. Why should the supreme ruler of a people have to decide every little trade route between little backwater planets? It really makes the game much more immersive when you’re governing actual intelligent beings instead of stupid machines. And there’s also the old DF downside of a poor interface. Not arcane as in DF, but horribly ugly and unresponsive. In-game windows look like Win 98 pop-up dialogs, and you never feel your clicks actually hitting something, feedback is always delayed a bit.

    I don’t regret my purchase though, it’s a kind of game I wish there were more of. I think developers such as the distant worlds guy, paradox and Illwinter occasionally deserve some of my money for making games more diverse and interesting.

    • P.Funk says:

      They might look funny but I found them a far cry from the useless interfaces of other titles. There are some nearly Paradox levels of convenience in there that make coping with the complexity surprisingly easy. Of course not everyone will agree. I think UIs can be a rather personal taste.

      • jeeger says:

        Yeah, the interface is not unusable by any means. It looks incredibly strange compared to other games though. Also, the slow interface is especially annoying when most of the game consits of clicking buttons. Ocasionally, clicks didnt register as well. Not a bad game though, just strange.

      • PhilBowles says:

        There are some things that are unequivocally problematic with the interface. Not having any way of identifying the suite of components you need for ship manufacture without going into a design’s window and manually checking every component, and similarly not being able to plan resource acquisition around future shipbuilding needs are major ones.

        Sure, the design window will give an immediate summary of the resources you don’t have at a given time (“Can’t build this design because you lack silicon, carbon”), but that’s of no use as a general guide to what resources you need to be sure to keep in stock for your production needs because it doesn’t give any guidance on which components you currently have in stock but may not necessarily have a reliable source for. The expansion planner takes no account of future production, based for example on the resources the ship designs you have require.

        This is a hindrance for strategic expansion, since ultimately you just have to spam mining stations and colonies on every resource type. The economic game becomes quite boring as a result – just a paint-by-numbers check of the commodities currently in greatest general demand, and sending out something to acquire it.

  7. ExitDose says:

    “The impact of the automation on your enjoyment of the game will depend, largely, on what you hope to discover in a strategic simulation. Distant Worlds hits the sweet spot for me because I like to roleplay within the bounds of a game’s structure, using whatever systems it offers to find a narrative thread to pull and pick at. Here, I can be the fleet commander who takes gradual control of a civilisation as his fame and the power of that civilisation spreads through the stars. By cranking back the automation as a game unfolds, I take control of features as they become vital, and by that point there’s a shape to the society that I’m controlling – the game creates a scenario, dynamically, and I can choose to take centre stage in the most exciting acts.”

    Is there a 4X game that does this mechanically, as opposed to just offering it via the settings?

  8. muther22 says:

    Any suggestions for how to mold the game to resemble a specific fictive universe? (say, The Culture or Star Wars or what have you)

    • Premium User Badge

      Harlander says:

      Check out the official modding forum.

      Folks have been pretty industrious with it.

      There’s multiple Star Trek mods (focussing on different eras), BSG, Babylon 5.. all sorts.

    • Kempston Wiggler says:

      If you’re a fan of 4Xs and Star Trek, the Star Trek Mod for Distant Worlds is possibly the finest thing you’ll ever play in your lifetime.

      I’m sure the author said he’d be putting out a new version of it around now too…

      (NB: Any Star Trek fans who own Sins of a Solar Empire: Rebellion, might want to check out the newly released Star Trek Armada 3: A Call to Arms mod. Strategic Star Trek fleet combat has NEVER looked so good!)

  9. Laurentius says:

    Distant World is almost a great game for me but a lot of time it also brings serious annoyances. UI is something between functional and rubish. Many things are actually inclined to work automaticly b/c micromanaging ( I like micromanaging in games ) is a real pita due to UI. Things like managing and creating fleets is a torture with big empire but when done automaticly is not efficient. When you look from certain distance (eh pun ) at this game you see galaxy working like nicely oiled mechanism of cog wheels but when you look up close, you will see that mechanism needs tuning but from time to time when doing it you will have your fingers painfully wringed into it.
    PS. Tech tree is a serious bore.

    • P.Funk says:

      You know its funny, it strikes me that trying to manage a massive intergalactic empire would probably be no less complicated in real life. Accidental authenticity perhaps?

  10. scottyjx says:

    Adam, it feels like you’ve been in a dozen of these Best Games posts, several alone. The rest of the Hivemind needs to get on your level!

  11. Sidewinder says:

    You know, RPS, you’re right; this game has been out for four years. Four and a half, actually. So how about taking a few weeks and giving us a frigging demo, Code Force? I understand that it takes time and effort to create one, and that it can be hard to pare down something so big. I also respect your decision to stand firm on prices. But grand strategy games (especially the 4E (yes, E; consult a dictionary if you don’t understand why) types) really can’t be shown off with video alone. throw us a bone and you’ll find a lot more of us wiling to throw you fifty.

    • Stromko says:

      I bought the game full price and didn’t like it. It should be my sort of game, I’ve put thousands of hours into Dwarf Fortress, I even got the hang of playing Aurora (albeit not very successfully), but Distant Worlds: Universe just wouldn’t let me feel any sense of ownership or connectedness to what was happening.

      I imagine that more could open up after the 5 hours that I struggled with it, but I just ceased to care. There was nothing compelling to keep me going on with it.

      • PhilBowles says:

        This is a weakness with the default, semi-random start. Unfortunately it took Distant Worlds three expansions to give you a basic ‘one system’ start of the sort every other space 4x since Master of Orion has had as default. The game really comes into its own when you select the ‘pre-warp’ start from the Legends expansion (included in Universe), since you get to start from scratch with your own tech progression and ship designs rather than feeling you’re halfway through a game. Unfortunately the single-system start still has a weakness, in that the starting system you explore is always essentially the same, with the same wrecks and artifacts, basic resources, and rewards for exploring said wrecks. And as great as it as you slowly struggle through the early stages of system exploration, the abrupt transition from ‘struggling spacefaring culture’ to an interstellar empire that can send colony ships by the dozen on a whim is jarring.

        The main reason I don’t play it more is, strange to say, lack of content given the sheer scale of the universe. You’ll have most resources you need, or access to them, within the first three or four systems you find, and usually a fair few of the absurdly overpowered derelict ship finds, and there’s not a great deal more to find as you play further. I haven’t played enough to get the sense of identity of the various races that I need to keep me hooked, though it feels as though it’s tantalisingly there just out of reach. Somehow, Master of Orion’s single-graphic, sci-fi-cliche races with their pastiche names that barely skirted copyright infringement always managed to imbue more personality into the game than I’ve found with any subsequent space 4x. And functionally, you run out of micromanagement options pretty quickly even if you ‘de-automate’ everything.

  12. Joshua Northey says:

    A very enjoyable game you can sink a lot of time into.

  13. Sardonic says:

    I see all the acclaim for the game, and it’s in what is probably my favorite genre, but I just see the screenshots and my finger moves away from the buy button. :/

    • vorador says:

      Well there was a need of compromise. In the biggest universe setting, there’s around 1400 solar systems, most of them with several interactive objects, from gas giants to asteroids. Then there’s the AIs, pirates, space critters….there’s a lot of stuff going on.

  14. Gyro says:

    This is serendipitous as it coincides with a new game of DWU I just started. I enjoy playing it a great deal, but can understand how other folks can’t get into it. Took me a few hours and a few play sessions to get my head around it, but once you do it’s a ton of fun.

    Be sure to check out the mods, too. The Expanded mod in particular is pretty awesome.

  15. Shardz says:

    Here we go; something I can agree with. This game has more depth than a Balrog’s playpen. Yes, it’s expensive in today’s terms, but this is what one would pay for a game of this magnitude back in the day. If you want a game with 10 minutes of gimmick, achievements, automated game play, trading cards and cartoon graphics, then check out the other 98% of Steam for your disposable entertainment. Hardcore strategy gamers only apply. Enough said…

  16. vorador says:

    Yes it is expensive, but you can get a lot out of it. The automation options allows you to play in unusual ways.

    For example, you can let your empire run by itself, build a ship under your direct control and boldly go where no man has gone before.

    Or you can only take care of diplomacy and expansion and let the AI do the rest.

    Or simply use it as a glorified screensaver with everything automated.