Now it's already been well documented that I'm a huge fan of turn-based strategy games. I recently reviewed Fort Triumph, just picked up Kings Bounty 2 and I'm eagerly awaiting the Xbox release of Phoenix Point. To tide me over till it drops though, I decided to see what upcoming releases would scratch my tactical strategy itch...
And came across Galaxy Squad.
Developed by Kazakov Oleg and published by Big Way Games, it's a budget-priced roguelite that takes a galaxy filled with random events to explore and combines it with turn-based strategy style combat to create a fun but basic sci-fi adventure.
Taking control of a plucky band of space pirates, the story begins as the crew has just pulled off the biggest heist of their career, stealing an important artifact from the well-armed government soldiers who were transporting it.
They now must deliver this item to the shady businessman who hired them, traveling from star system to star system, they'll visit space stations, derelict ships, unexplored worlds, and more as they try to gather enough resources to fuel their ship and upgrade their squad, all while trying to stay one light-year ahead of the pursing Galactic Forces trying to capture them.
Drawing obvious gameplay elements from the likes of FTL for its interstellar exploration, and Xcom/Gears Tactics, etc for its combat, the result doesn't quite reach the heady heights of those it takes inspiration from but still ends up creating a fun little game. Many of its mechanics feel a little underdeveloped on their own, but when brought together create an experience that's greater than the sum of its parts. It is fun to play, easy to get into, and with enough replayabilty to justify its 10 dollar price tags whether it's to veterans of the genre or those new to it.
Upon firing up Galaxy Squad for the first time you'll find that although there are 4 modes to choose from, only the story mode (featuring the above setting) is available in the beginning. To unlock the others (free mode, conquest, and survival) you'll need to earn "Glory" a currency you earn by playing the game, winning battles, and completing missions. This means you'll play through the story mode a few times at least to unlock everything, which could get repetitive if it wasn't for the 4 different story paths available. These different paths do radically change the story, which is good, but unfortunately finding them is as simple as picking from the binary choices available during the main mission quests. Having to complete certain quests in specific ways, or finding and completing certain special sub-quests, would have been more interesting but having 4 very different stories at least provide something different to experience with each run.
Your first decision in the story, no matter what path you end up taking, will be deciding the makeup of your squad. You have 3 beginning members, and you can choose their visual look and the class they belong to. The Assault class is your up-close combat specialist, the Shooter is your long-range specialist, while Support is the tech-using healer class. Each has different strengths and weaknesses, as well as a unique skill tree with a few class powers that become available as you level up. They have enough for each class to feel distinct from each other but not enough to create multiple unique versions of the same type. There aren't enough skills available for that, there's only 5 in total for each class, so expect all your assault to have identical skill sets, your support to all have the same abilities, and so on. It keeps things simple but those wishing to create their unique characters will find they have difficulty.
After creating your squad, it's time to pick your ship. Only 3 types are available at first, with a further 3 unlockable later and these do have a great effect on how your game will play out. Each type is capable of holding different amounts of fuel and energy, as well as having unique tech that can be built onto it. A combat ship has loads of powerful weapons and can take more damage for instance, while an exploration ship can travel further and can slow the progress of the Galactic Force trying to hunt you down. You can build these pieces of technology at any time, with each requiring a certain amount of energy to construct and run, plus taking different amounts of time to build. Managing your available energy is essential if you don't want everything to suddenly turn off.
Once these decisions are made, it's onto the gameplay proper and your first decision is where to go on the galaxy map. You're presented with a large node-based area to explore, with each point of interest containing some sort of random event. You might stumble upon a derelict ship, a group of pirates, a distress signal, a space station, or one of several other rewarding or dangerous discoveries. You can explore as many as you like, as long as the fuel holds out, but must always keep an eye out on the government trying to track you down. Shown by a red area that slowly creeps across the map as you move, getting caught in the army's territory will cause you constant damage as you're attacked at every stop and will force you into combat with high-level, powerful opponents. This gives a "risk v reward" element to the proceedings. As each node can reward you with money, items, and equipment, but also costs fuel and allows the Federation forces to catch up, you're in a situation where you must balance exploration with advancing the story.
And there are quite a few nodes to explore. The screen can be filled with different areas to travel to and each has its own little randomly generated story with randomly generated rewards, giving plenty to experience.
In theory at least.
In practice most of the areas felt inconsequential and basic, repeating the same simple storylines even on the first playthrough. None felt impactful of the main story and they have no choices or decisions that increase the rewards or can cause failure. You'll either get a few lines of dialogue telling you what happened and then the outcome, or you'll be drawn into battle and have to fight for the reward.
And combat is one of the most fun parts of Galaxy Squad, as well as where you'll spend most of your time, but it's also the most familiar. It's the usual action point, turn-based style we're all familiar with where you control a squad as they try to take down the enemies. I don't want to say "It's like Xcom", as I feel like I keep saying that for every strategy game I review, but...It's like Xcom.
Each unit has a couple of AP each turn and can spend them to move, shoot, reload and use class skills. Maps are filled with high and low objects of various kinds and these function as full or partial cover, reducing damage taken from the direction they face. Your squad takes a turn, their squad takes a turn, both trying to do damage with the victor being the team left standing at the end. As I said, it's something we've seen a million other places but there is one small difference that Galaxy Squad uses that makes it feel slightly different.
Scattered around the battlefield is a selection of 3 by 3 glowing tiles of different types, each of which can activated by having a team member stand on them. Some will simply provide experience while others will provide equipment, others still might restore health, grant a new trait, or a powerful "one-time use" weapon. They can rapidly provide you an advantage in the fight, or the game overall, but also must be got to quickly. Once discovered on the battlefield, a timer appears above them showing the number of rounds left before it disappears for good. They also must be collected before victory giving an interesting tactical decision to make. Do you quickly finish off the enemy and claim victory or do you risk defeat for a greater reward? Alongside the disappearing pickups, there are also permanent ones that act as switches for various tech in the stage and will have some sort of environmental effect. Holographic bridges can be turned on and off, damage-causing laser fences can be activated, auto-turrets powered up, and more. These can provide a useful way to deal with larger teams of opponents, evening the odds in a tricky situation. You must be careful though as they can also hurt your squad members as well, and in Galaxy Squad permadeath is a thing. Any of your team whose health hits zero will begin to bleed out and, if they aren't taken to your ship before the turn counter runs out, will be lost to you forever.
I found this an easy fate to avoid though. You can restart the mission at any time, without penalty and I found the combat rather easy and trouble-free anyways. This is subjective but I found the battles here simpler and more forgiving than the usually more hardcore examples you see in the genre. I'd recommend it for those wanting to get into this type of game or for youngsters trying to understand the genre.
It isn't a perfect game though, with some minor bugs that mar its presentation. The low poly art style, while looking good when still and with characters that change model depending on equipment (something I love), does have a problem when animated especially during cutscenes. During these moments, when your squad is moving around or running, your crew is very slidey and moves as if on ice. The various lines of text used to describe missions and for NPC conversation could do with a once over as well. Word spacing, punctuation, and sentence placement are off in certain places, with text being jammed together or with large spaces between lines. A minor problem to be sure, one that only affects presentation and could be easily fixed, but also one that popped up regularly. There were almost numerous times when the music cut out completely, leaving only sound effects to fill the void. Again, not game-breaking by any means, it's easily ignorable but happened enough to be notable.
Galaxy Squad is a budget-priced tactical strategy game with node point exploration and turn-based, action point-driven combat. With a large galaxy to explore and many side missions to get involved in, there's plenty to do. Avoiding the ever-expanding territory of the Galactic Forces gives an element of risk versus reward to factor in too, giving a tactical decision to each move you make. Combat is the tried and tested formula used by many other games but collectibles and interactive elements give something different to focus on above just killing opponents. While mission descriptions and types do get repetitive, the gameplay can carry you through with 4 story missions and unlockable extras giving much reason to replay. While each individual element feels a little basic, they are easily understandable and work together to create something more than its systems. Its $10 asking price makes this a great purchase for those wanting to get into the strategy genre for the first time and can provide a little distraction for those veterans looking for something greater. While it doesn't reach the high heights of the best of the genre, it's one worth exploring for the money alone. A worthwhile budget strategy experience.
*Note: A copy of the game was provided for the purpose of the review.
Final Score: 7/10
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