Nick Capron - 2015-07-14
Available for: PC
Published by: Matrix Games
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Distant Worlds Universe is a complex outer space grand strategy game. I've been searching for a good space strategy game for awhile, so I decided to buy it and give it a try.

Distant Worlds: Universe, is a package of the original game, released back in 2010, along with four additional expansion packs. The game plays as a typical grand strategy game, not unlike the popular paradox titles Europa Universalis IV and Crusader Kings II, but set in outer space. The game puts you in control of a space empire, making you responsible for running its economy, expansion, research, governance, and military.

It's the Economy Stupid

Unlike other grand strategy titles, where the player directly controls the economy, Distant World's introduces the concept of the private sector to the mix. As the leader of your faction, you can control tax rates, colony expansion, and the building of mines and vacation resorts. As you expand and build these economic assets, your colonies will start building their own ships to service them. These ships that service your economic assets are classified as private sector ships. You have no control over these ships or how and where they are built. These private sector ships will go about the galaxy using your economic assets to gather money for themselves, and for your faction via taxes and fees. Your duty is to protect these private sector ships by using your military to protect trade routes and your economic assets from other factions, pirates, and space monsters.

The Universe is a Scary Place

Yes, I did say space monsters... beyond rival factions and pirates, the universe has plenty of horrors to throw against you. I don't want to ruin any of these baddies for you, as part of the fun is the shock when you get the message these things are attacking your empire. It really is one of the cool parts of the game to battle these bastards off.


Like any good grand strategy game, Distant Worlds features an in-depth research system. As your researchers and research labs generate research, it is automatically invested into three different technology trees. These trees are Weapons, Energy, and HighTech.

The weapons tree gives you multiple options, on how to direct your weapon research. You need to decide if you want to pick a specific weapon type to focus on, or invest into everything and be a jack of all trades. If you focus on a single weapon type, you will gain powerful weapons, but if your foes develop advanced defences for that specific weapon, you will be in trouble.

The energy tree, advances the distance your ships can cover and how often they need to be refuelled. In addition there are research options to increase your shields and the size of ships and stations you can build.

The research options in the HighTech tree allows your empire the ability to colonize different planet types, and gain some extra bonuses in regards to combat, economics, and research.

Politics is a Dirty Game, Especially in Space

Beyond the dangers of space, your own empire can keep you on your toes. For example, the leader of your empire can be replaced suddenly via an internal revolution or a coup. Both which can happen naturally or be triggered by a foreign spy.

Speaking of spies, espionage is a key part of distant worlds. You can use your spies to destabilize the government or colonies of your foes, steal their research or maps, or sabotage their space assets.

Politically you have a large amount of government types to choose from, each with there own unique benefits and weaknesses. Beyond your government type, you can control the tax rate and the immigration policies of your colonies. With immigration control, you can be xenophobic and ban or purge aliens from your colonies, or even enslave them. Alternately you can allow aliens to be assimilated into your empire or allow them to join your growing colonies.

Trade is an important way to gain money for your empire, and you will need to have good relations with your fellow empires to keep trade routes open to gain money to fund your expenses.

A Serious Investment of Time

Distant Worlds Universe is a very complex game, before you consider purchasing it, be prepared to invest a good amount of time to learn how to play. To get a good footing with the game, you will probably need to invest time playing tutorials, reading on-line guides, and watching lets play videos. I would say if you are comfortable with Paradox grand strategy games such as Crusader Kings, or Europa Universalis, you will feel somewhat comfortable with Distant World's learning curve.

Thankfully the developers have realized the complexity of what they have created and by default, the game's AI will assist you with all major game decisions and actions. The AI assistance can be modified to control as much of the game as you need it to. You can set the AI to fully automate actions of your empire, or to only provide you with suggestions on what to do, or be totally turned off. This gives the player the option to use the AI as "training wheels" to learn the game and slowly take over responsibility of your empire as you feel comfortable doing so.

Large Scale, Simple Graphics

The graphics of distant worlds universe are quite basic but functional. All the ships, planets, and objects within the game are 2d sprites. Thanks to a very mod friendly engine there are many additional graphic designs you can acquire from the internet to style up the default graphics to your liking. Beyond graphical mods, there are multiple mods on the Internet featuring full game modifications such as adding races, technologies and concepts from your favourite sci-fi movies and shows.

What's Lacking...

The UI in Distant Worlds is not the best, the look of menus and the interface are dated, and for a game that is asking for a luxury price, it should offer a much better presentation then what is provided. I really struggled with the UI for the first ten hours or so, but as I learned the nuances of it, things became more natural to me. Still even after a large number hours playing, I still run into problems with the UI where I tell my ships to build something and it won't happen, which is frustrating to say the least.

The UI features a lot of information tables and windows, so If you are playing with a small resolution, be prepared to have a cluttered screen. Also the steam integration is not perfect, for example if you bring up the steam overlay elements of the game pop up over it. You might think isn't a big deal but you will be using the steam web browser a lot as you learn the game and it is really annoying to have things pop up as you try to read help on the web.

Pony-up the Cash

Matrix currently has a pricing strategy where they rarely provide deep discounts on their titles. Over the most recent summer sale they did offer a 50% discount, so if you are on the fence, stick on your toes and keep an eye open for another sale. Unfortunately the regular price of entry for the title is quite high currently selling on steam for over sixty dollars Canadian. While I've found the content of the game makes the price fair, it is a large obstacle for people on the fence to jump in.

Should I buy it?

This is not a game for everyone, I would suggest if you are tempted by Distant Worlds, first buy Europa Universalis 4 on sale for a much cheaper price point. While Europa Universalis 4 has a completely different setting, I would say if you have the patience to understand and enjoy it, you should definitely treat yourself to Distant Worlds Universe. If you are already a grand strategy veteran and this game is tempting you, it really is worth the full price, so do yourself a favour and buy it.


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