A game that has been on my radar screen for a while, Pax Nova, just came out of Early Access on Steam. Given my current interest in developing an engine for 4X games (among other genres) with Digero, I thought it was worth trying out.
I haven’t played the game long enough to give a full-on review, but I thought I would try to situate it within the larger space of current and former 4X games I have more experience with. Pax Nova is an interesting and ambitious title, and I’m hoping that the gameplay holds up as I progress through my first playthrough. We’ll see.
Pax Nova is/was developed by a small company out of Portugal called Grey Wolf Entertainment. Grey Wolf’s previous game was also a 4X, entitled Dawn of Andromeda. That game was…okay. Really, it wasn’t bad at all, and was a very competent real-time space-based 4X. Unfortunately, the real-time 4X space genre was already occupied by strategy giant Paradox Entertainment’s Stellaris. So DoA really flew under the radar. Still, if you’re something of a 4X completionist, it’s worth checking out.
Pax Nova is a much more ambitious title than DoA, however. While it has retained the space-based strategy component, albeit now in a turn-based format, Pax also focuses on planetside civilization development. This means that it combines the planetside play of a game like Civilization: Beyond Earth, with the space-wide strategy of a title like Galactic Civilizations. As such, unlike with DoA, Pax is charting a unique course among contemporary 4X titles. While Sid Meier’s Starships tried to connect up with Beyond Earth, as least in terms of lore, it was still a completely separate title, and a rather bare-bones effort as space strategy. Pax promises to fully combine the two theatres.
Pax arrives in the wake of planetside 4X title Age of Wonders: Planetfall, developed by Triumph Studios and distributed by Paradox. Planetfall was released last year, and is still receiving healthy updates and expansions. It is a fresh take of Triumph’s successful Age of Wonders formula, and is very slick and packed with content. Pax has a lot to live up to, in other words, and coming from a smaller game studio, it is difficult to imagine that it will achieve quite the same level of polish. However, I always believe that it is well worth spending time (and money) on works from small game houses, both to support indie gaming and to experience the often unique touches added by non-mainstream developers. And while it’s still too early for me to offer a full endorsement of Pax, I do like what I see so far.
I’ve only played so far with the more basic Terran faction. There is some initial lore about Earth becoming uninhabitable for some reason or another, and thus its people are charting a course for the stars. It’s enough to get things going, but it’s not quite as rich a beginning as you get, for example with the classic Alpha Centauri. I’m curious to explore how the other human and alien factions start out. Planetfall has a rather rich array of factions and species you can play with, though I find its own lore is a bit too unserious and thus underdeveloped at times. I’ll have to see how Pax compares.
The game starts planetside, and tasks you at the outset with building your first settlement. The landscapes you navigate aren’t as richly textured as Planetfall’s vibrant biomes, but they are still decently compelling, and compare favourably to the planets found in Beyond Earth. Settlement construction is interesting. After building your initial colony, you expand it via the construction of various districts, to which you then assign your citizens to manage. This sort of set-up is not new, but what I believe is unique is that each of these districts also has its own building queue, through which you can construct new units and improvements. Combat units, for example, are built out of the military district expansion. This means that your settlements can have multiple building queues, which I find to be a very effective innovation. Most 4X works make you choose between building new units and building new city improvements, and that decision seems somewhat artificial now that Grey Wolf has charted another path.
Beyond that, I still have much to discover about the game. I’ve had more than few units get wiped out by the alien critters that crawl along the planet surfaces, though it sounds like they get easier to manage with a few tech upgrades. Development times for the various units and improvements are very reasonable, letting you expand quite quickly in the early going; I find this to be a welcome contrast to the slower-paced Beyond Earth. The tech tree splits along three paths, and lead to the emergence of civilization eras that vary depending on your research choices. Tech advances often lead to improvements in the military units, which you can customize — a pretty standard inclusion in the genre now, but one that always makes things interesting. Combat is handled on the strategic map, as opposed to zooming into a tactical battle screen. This makes the game more like Civilization than, say, the Age of Wonders titles, and may be a problem for those who really enjoy the tactical side. Personally, I enjoy tactical combat, but it can be time consuming, so I can take it or leave it in the 4X space.
All in all, I really enjoy it when indie companies try out turn-based strategy, and especially 4X. The fact that Grey Wolf is offering a unique combination of planetside and space-based gameplay is another plus. And, while there is room for improvement in later updates, I find Pax Nova compelling enough to keep playing. I’m hoping that it will live up to its early potential.