Having played a game in the original Neptune’s Pride and now having played through a number of Neptune’s Pride 2: Triton (a name I approve of as it is one of the moons of Neptune) games I think I am in a reasonably educated and sensible position to produce a review on the new and improved game. It is a game which caused heartache and strife for both me and Tim, way back when we played the original. Tim reviewed the game after playing with a number of people from the RPS boards and I produced a diary of my exploits in the game (Parts 1 and 2 here). This new instalment of the game promised just as much and so me and Tim were both incredibly eager to dive right in and this time created a private game with our friends.
The game is, as far as I’m aware, still currently in Beta, but the meat of the game is there and I believe it is only a matter of fixing bugs and making small balance changes here and there before it will be officially released (thus why this is a full review and and not an impressions or preview article).
Neptune’s Pride plays like a game of Risk, in fact it does bare a lot of similarities to a board game in general and were it not electronic I might well class it as such. It’s a game which takes place in real time over days and weeks at a time. You are a race of aliens in a galactic cluster with a number of other races in the same space as you and it is a race and struggle to Galactic domination to see who will form the first Galactic Empire! You conquer and colonise systems or stars which you can upgrade and improve. To travel between stars you use fleet carriers which carry your ships, be it to a neutral and uncolonised star or a system belonging to an enemy. Everything happens in real time using a tick system where every hour the map and game updates. Carriers take hours to travel even the smallest of distances and can take days to cross the larger ones.
Systems can be upgraded to improve their Economy, Industry or Science capabilities. Each economy point in your control provides you with 10 space dollars (I like to call them credits) at the end of each cycle (a cycle being 24 hours). Each industry point increases the number of ships produced by that star over the course of time and each point in you own Science increases the amount of points which are put into the area you are researching every hour (i.e. with 1 point of science you get 1 point in your area of research every hour).
There are 7 sciences or areas of research, an increase on the mere 4 in the original. Those which will be familiar to those who have played the original are Weapons, Scanning Range and Hyperspace Range. However, replacing the technology of Speed there are now: Banking, Terraforming, Experimentation and Manufacturing. The technologies, despite the increase, actually seem very balanced and it is definitely in the game’s favour that despite me knowing which ones I prefer to go for in what order, I still haven’t got any real clue if any of them are particularly stronger than any of the others. It’s a strong point in the game’s favour that the player has to stop and think before choosing what to research.
Combat takes place by moving a carrier with your ships to a star occupied by enemy ships. It’s a very simple and basic mathematical system which still tends to get newbs pause. The number of ships in a fleet (in the carrier and the defensive garrison) act as the “health” of that army and the weapons tech level of the player acts as the “damage” of the player. The armies take it in turn whittling the other sides “health” down until one fleet is completely destroyed. Defensive fleets also get to strike first and have a defensive bonus of +1 weapons skill. Once you get your head around it the combat has a very simple and clear system, but it does take a little getting used to.
Where the game shines though, is not in the gameplay or the variety of tactics you can employ to win. Investing in economy or science or industry can only get you so far towards winning. What makes it truly special is the player-player interactions. With no built-in alliance system players are free to make pacts and treaties and trade technology with whoever they please. The best players of this game are those who can not only think tactically but can also play everyone else off against each other until suddenly they are the strongest and there’s nothing anyone else can do about it. A couple of examples of the cunning diplomacy in this game come from two separate games I was following recently. One game, in which I was participating, had me and another two players attempting to destroy a fourth. This was on the other side of the Galaxy from player 5, but in order to prevent us from becoming too strong he continuously fed the weaker player advanced technology for the entire war, preventing us from wiping him out. Another excellent example was when a friend of mine was playing against random people, two others decided they would gang up on him to take him out. He messaged both of them informing them that whoever attacked first would be the only one he defended against and he would allow the other to take every star undefended. It worked brilliantly as neither player was willing to give the other that much of an advantage. Of course this same strategy when tried in another game had absolutely no effect and while he did carry out his promise he was unceremoniously wiped form the Galaxy.
And that is where the game’s strength lies: it’s human aspect. The way that every single player is a potential ally and threat simultaneously and how you should never trust anyone. It’s a game which is addictive and time-consuming. Despite the fact that upgrading planets and moving ships ought to take, at most, 15 minutes out of your day, me and a lot of my friends all found ourselves compulsively checking the game, who had what tech, who was the strongest, where our fleets were. And so on. It’s a truly fun and nerve-racking experience.
Now you’ll be forgiven if you are thinking “Well hang on, this all sounds a lot like the original Neptune’s Pride”. And that’s because it is. Now don’t get me wrong, it is a great fun game, but I simply do not understand why they made it. With any other video game a sequel with as few changes made as Triton it would be ridiculed. Admittedly it is different from any other video game I play, but if you think of it as a board game. Board games don’t tend to have sequels. They have expansion packs. And that’s what Triton is really, it is an optional expansion pack for Neptune’s Pride. And honestly I don’t see why they don’t market it as such, especially as the Premium version is (as far as I know) the same price for both games.
All that said, you can play both for free. So really I think when it comes down to it, it is still a case of whether or not to use the optional expansion pack before starting up a game. The only difference is that you have to use a different website!