Space Empires 5 suffers right from the start from a lack of anything driven, there's no gripping (compelling or otherwise interesting) story to draw you into the massive free-form campaign universe. There's actually no tutorial mission, a great oversight and there's no real reason to play the game beyond following the 4X rules of expansion and so on.
There's a tutorial of sorts, but this is again a freeform thing, the text is there for you to read and it introduces you to some of the basics of the game. To get to grips with the intricate functions though, you need to dig into the game's manual as well as the in-game information. How much fun is that? If you like to read manuals for every tiny detail or stop to pick up a new function or element you're going to love this.
I didn't. For one, we were never given a printed manual with our review copy of the game. So I had to go digging around various sources to understand a few of the more complex features.
I found it increasingly harder and harder to engage with this game, due to the lack of anything except mindless expansion. Even the tactical combat, either controlled by myself or resolved by a CPU didn't interest me.
The only thing that actually interested me enough was the ship design; this was a fairly decent system to get to grips with but paled into comparison when compared to other offerings in the genre, such as the excellent Gal Civ II for example. Take note developers and publishers, this is how you make a damn 4X game - you've a lot to learn.
And that's just the gameplay, to describe it in one word: lifeless, in two, stiff and in three boring - as boring as watching paint dry on a suspension bridge. If you added a storm to the bridge scenario then perhaps it might just be worth it, but the lack of anything except watching fleets invade brown, green, and blue planets is enough to make you want to rub salt in your eyes to add some colour.
The year 1801 called and they'd like to request you give them their graphics back.
Space Empires 5 could have been made more playable if it had that little thing called atmosphere, if it had that little thing called gameplay, if it actually had a point except for expanding your empire in a drab and lifeless universe where you feel about as much power as a supreme commanding being, as well, say an ant would feel when in the presence of an anteater.
The graphics do nothing to help; the 2d battles in the 2d space tactical map are full of ropey AI and have nothing really going for them. The sound in the game is pretty drab as well; in fact a good way to describe the game in general is drab. I've seen some freeware games that are much better than this, and as said previously - Gal Civ II is the way that a 4X game should be done.
I understand the developers had a limited budget to do this game with, but there are shareware titles out there that have virtually no budget and a couple of developers and they leave this rusting bucket of bolts in the slow lane like the Robin Reliant it is.
The interface makes things a little more bearable. The developers should be commended for putting in those clever little AI programs that actually automate a lot of the running of ships and colonies; these help elevate the game marginally on my scoreboard and don't make it a complete and utter waste of time, even though I've been harsh on it.
There's a nice fleet system, so that gives the game some bonus points too, rescuing it from being kicked down a well like the Persian messenger from 300. Although at times I did feel like booting this game down a well, whilst screaming something inane like: This is not GAMEPLAY!
I can see the appeal of this game if you actually have the inclination to play it, for say, more than a few minutes and put in your own awesome sound effects, long winded dialogue speeches and story. If you can do that then why aren't you writing games like this? I'd pay for them!
I played it for hours, but in the end I was marginally impressed by the interface, the fleet management, ship design and the AI controllers. The rest left me colder than the dead guy from Titanic. I wouldn't give this game another hours play after the review, because I was totally turned off by the lack of anything cohesive. I don't mind free form or sandbox style games, but they need a story to drive them.
Just Cause had one, Oblivion had one and numerous other games that are mostly sandbox have these damn stories and goals. Space Empires 5 is a total let down in that respect. If sandbox space 4X games are your thing and you can put up with the many faults, then you'll probably like this game, but for me I require a little more meat in the kebab rather than being served a mostly empty pita.