Published by Iceberg Interactive and developed by Ashdar Games, Stars in Shadow is a sci-take on the 4X genre, not too unlike Master of Orion which we reviewed very recently. Starting off a new game, you’ll be in the early years of interstellar travel, and your empire will grow as new technological advances become available. This will allow you to colonize worlds and develop ever more powerful machines of war, right up to the so-called Dread Stars that will destroy enemy planets much like the Death Star would if this were a Star Wars game.
Stars in Shadow offers a choice between seven different factions, most of them coming from distinctly different alien races. This impacts the game in how you relate to others and in terms of the research trees you have available to you. An immediate positive, since your choice of race never felt quite as impactful in Master of Orion.
Battles are turn-based and rendered in 2D, but can also be automatically resolved if you’re facing off against a weak opponent (or if you don’t want to bother with the actual battle). As your fleet grows, the option to issue commands to grouped units makes things easier to manage, especially in combat.
Obviously inspired by games like Master of Orion and Master of Orion 2, Stars in Shadow is a promising attempt by a small studio to capture the magic that those games have held for 4X veterans for so many years. The game’s visuals feel like a blend of retro and indie to me, opting for mostly 2D visuals, especially in combat sequences. It lacks the polish and shine that recent titles like Stellaris and the Master of Orion remake have, but Ashdar is working with a far smaller team so the design choice is understandable. If you’re an old school 4X fan like me then the aesthetic won’t bother you at all, but if Master of Orion (the original) turns you off because of its visuals, then this may not be for you.
If it’s gameplay you focus on, then Stars in Shadow is one to look out for. Combat is fun, and doesn’t get too bogged down by micromanagement as the game progresses and your empire and army grows. This is due to smart choices, for example the aforementioned ability to group units. The likeness to the first two Master of Orion games is strikingly strong though, and I’m hoping Ashdar Games will be bold enough to make some design choices to give their game its own identity as well. For a two-man studio though, this is already an extremely promising effort.