Star Ruler is also one of the more approachable games of this type, appealing to more of the core gamer audience than some other PC games in the genre. If you're more interested in the cool explosions your dreadnought's giant laser beam creates as it slashes an enemy ship's hull than in calculating said laser's optimal joules of energy input vs. size of focusing aperture, Star Ruler is your kind of 4X.
Star Ruler: Lasers! Pew pew pew!
No one could ever accuse Star Ruler of being a "spreadsheet game." Star Ruler blends some real-time strategy elements with the tactical and strategy aspects of 4X games. There are no fixed turns; the clock keeps running, ships keep moving, colonies keep building... unless you close the program or hit "pause," of course. You can speed up, slow down, or stop the game at any time, so there's no need to worry if your reflexes are too slow or your patience is too short. Stop the game to design some new starships, give orders to your colony, or try to figure out where your battlefleet went ("It was right there, right where all those explosions are... oh..."). Run it fast when things are going well. Run it slowly when you want to savor each and every explosion as your mighty fleet rips a hapless enemy to shreds. See also: Group test: what's the best game for PC?
Fleets are indeed mighty in Star Ruler. This is a game that encourages vast armadas, and it's common to see a hundred or more ships battling it out early in gameplay and thousands of ships later on. Those gamers who hate the hours it can take in some 4X games to build anything larger than a frigate will love Star Ruler - massive ships of the line come churning out of spacedock, and towards your foes, practically from the start. This may cause some people to wonder "So if you get battleships and dreadnoughts from the get-go, what's left?"
The answer to that is where Star Ruler has one of its greatest strengths: the ship design system. Ships in Star Ruler can be truly massive, almost planet-sized. It's also possible to build engines on your colony worlds that will move the planet itself through space. Ships in Star Ruler each have a "scale," from 0.5 (about the size of an X-wing) to... anything, if you have the resources. Early game dreadnoughts and colony ships are scale 12, but late game ships can be scale 100, 500, or more. Each component you place into a ship is scaled to that ship, so you don't have "small laser" and "huge laser" as components, you just have "laser," and a laser on a Scale 100 ship is a hundred times deadlier than one on a scale 1 ship, all other factors being equal. Visit GamePro UK.
However, you can scale components up and down within a ship, since there's only so much space in the hull. Make a double-size laser, and then a double-size generator to power it, or shrink armour to a quarter its normal size - it encourages the crew to start shooting soon, knowing they won't survive a counter-strike, right? With dozens of components, and optional add-ons to components, such as bulkheads to armour your fusion generator, at internal scales ranging from quarter-size to double size, ship design is a game in itself.
Of course, you need to research all of those cool toys. Star Ruler begins with a fairly robust set of technologies, and older technologies generally don't become obsolete, though older iterations of them do. That is, a laser remains useful for most of the game, but as you advance your technology in "Energy Weapons," lasers become more powerful, so a ship armed with a Level 1 laser is far less powerful than one armed with a Level 20 laser. Fortunately, blueprints are updated as technologies advance, and older ships can be hauled into dock and retrofitted with the new gear. New technologies open up new options without making old ones completely useless; it's more about expansion than obsolescence.
The tech tree in Star Ruler deserves some mention. It is not a purely linear system of "Research X, unlock Y." Rather, technologies interrelate in different ways, and in each game, you will discover "links" from one technology to another that are semi-randomized. If technologies are linked, research in one partially bolsters another, so if Particle Physics is linked to Energy Weapons, you gain some research points in Energy Weapons even if you focus on Particle Physics. You have the option to spend research points on "Hunches" or "Guesses" which might unlock a link or a new technology... or be a dead-end waste of research time.
Great graphics, ship design, and technology... so what's not to like? Well, while Star Ruler is a lot deeper and more complicated than many games, it's less detailed and intricate than some 4X players might like. The massive scale of the game can sometimes be problematic in terms of interface; if I zoom out enough to see where I want my ships to go, I can lose track of where my ships were (it's very easy to click in the wrong place and lose a selected group of ships before you can give them orders). While there is an excellent tutorial, it can still take a while to get fully used to the interface, and I sometimes found drop down menus to be slightly unresponsive.
Other features in Star Ruler include a diplomacy system, automatic or manual rulership of colonies, resource-mining and factory-type starships, and building ringworlds. Did I tell you the scale is impressive?