Gratuitous (adjective): Done without reason, uncalled for.
It’s an important definition, and a very telling name, because the space battles in GSB2 are a little bit pointless – sparkly and pretty to look at, but ultimately redundant.
This isn’t a game where split-second decisions decide the fate of galaxies, or a single well-placed shot takes down a Death Star. Your position in battles is purely observational, as you watch your carefully assembled fleet triumph or be annihilated. But fear not it’s in that careful assembly that there’s fun to be found.
Four races, five ship types and hundreds of possible modifications – this is a game that delights in the minutia, as you must design your ships, your fleet, and your stratagems to achieve victory.
The experience begins with the ship builder, where dozens of hulls offer a plethora of stats. How many weapons will each hold? How much power and manpower will it take to run them? Do I have enough space? Should I choose rockets over lasers? Nukes might do more damage, but can I really afford to sacrifice my shields? These are the questions that will haunt you, as you piece together the most effective combination.
Hundreds of modifications, both operational and aesthetic, add to the sheer depth of available content. It feels stupid to be criticising a game for having too much stuff, but to a newcomer this variety can be overwhelming and, if you’re not the kind of person who takes delight in the little things, all of this choice might scare you.
But the decisions don’t stop there, because next you need to put the ships together. Designing your fleet is another exercise in micromanagement; how many Dreadnaughts should I use? How will I defend them? Do I have carrier space for my Fighters? What strategy should I assign my Destroyers? It’s an intricate process, and requires wells of patience and a keen mind for strategy.
The battles themselves are gratuitous indeed. Your powerless to influence tactics while watching your stratagems succeed or fail. If you’re keen to learn from your mistakes, it’s the ‘post-battle report’ that you’ll want, showing effective weapons, ship types and other pertinent data.
After the battle, it’s the research budget you’ll be interested in. Smaller fleets, cheaper ships or more honourable victories will grant you more research funds and deciding whether to bulk up your armaments or try to skate through by inches is just another example of the pro-and-con analysis that makes up the game’s challenge.
Research unlocks new ship designs, upgrades, even new species to play as – adding more choice to a game already bulging with content. With more equipment available, you can choose to improve your ships. This is a necessary step as the fleets you face become more expansive, and the strategy to beat them more meticulous.
So that’s the gameplay – plan, upgrade, assemble, watch what is essentially a cutscene, research and plan again. It’s a repetitive system and your enjoyment will probably depend on your personality. If you love strategy and have patience enough to micro-manage all the features, than this game will happily absorb hours of your time and days of your attention. So yes, I can imagine people who would love this game. However, I am not one of them.
Don’t get me wrong – I did have fun with it. Upgrading, assembling, and strategising do all have a certain charm, but I lacked the interest and discipline to really get sucked in. My experience was not helped by a few glaring bugs, which at one point hindered me from saving new ships, and another filled my modified vessels with bloom. I don’t know how common these issues will be (at time of writing this review, GSB2 had only been released for a few days).
A couple of the design choices also detracted from the experience – losing battles had no negative consequences and the visual customisation suite (which is massive) is finicky to use. In fact, ‘finicky’ is a good word to use for this game – too many details and not enough motivation to go through them.
Fun but finicky
Some will love, some will hate, all will be awed by the depth of content.