Star Trek Armada III: To Boldly Blow Stuff Up

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At long last, here is the review of Star Trek Armada III that I promised about a year ago!

The Basics

So, what is STA3? Well, to start at the beginning, back in the early 2000s there were a series of Star Trek real time strategy (RTS) games published as Star Trek Armada and Star Trek Armada II. However, after the bottom fell out of the Star Trek market, this series was shelved, apparently forever. That is until about 10 years later, when a dedicated team of volunteers started work on a mod project. Put simply,  STA3 it is a “total conversion mod” for the PC strategy game Sins of a Solar Empire. That means that while STA3 shares the same basic interface, engine, and gameplay of SoaSE, all of the ships, races, symbols, sounds, etc. have been lovingly converted to a Star Trek theme. There has been some truly impressive work done by the team of folks that have put STA3 together; the SoaSE framework is barely recognizable under all the Trek glory, at least visually!

The Factions

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When I first started playing this mod, the available races were the Federation, Klingons, Romulans, and Borg. The most recent update, which hit over the winter, added the Cardassian/Dominion alliance to the mix. This now brings the total up to an impressive 5 factions, 6 if you include the fact that the Cardassians can either be played as a pure faction or as the Dominion War alliance. Pretty much every single ship that ever appeared in Star Trek on the big or small screen (with the exception of the recent Abramsverse movies) is included in the game, along with a fair number of the more famous non-cannon ships. About the only exception to this is that there are no Refit Constitution-class or  Oberth-class ships in the game, presumably because the Refit Constitution never appeared in the TNG/DS9 timeframe the game is set in, and the Oberth has been replaced by the Nova class. However, even with the Federation faction (which always had the most screen time and had the most different cannon ship designs) there simply weren’t enough ship classes to fully flesh out the fleet, to say nothing of all the alien factions that tended to not get as much attention in the shows and movies. As a result, there are also a number of ships in STA3 that were created from whole-cloth. These designs are generally well-done, and seem to fit  into the overall fabric very well.

Sound & Graphics

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As you can see from the screen shots, the quality of the ship models is impressive. Believe it or not, this screen shot wasn’t even taken with the settings cranked all the way up, as I took it on my laptop. Since I’m playing the Feds, you can also see how the interface has the distinctive LCARS look; each faction has a look that also matches their established symbology systems from the shows. The game looks just as good in motion, with all kinds of neat weapons effects, and even the trademark warp “blink” when ships move from system to system. Overall, this game looks stunning!

It sounds even better. The music is sources from previous “abandon ware” Star Trek games, including the first two Armada games, and so it is not recognizable to someone who hasn’t played those games in the past. That being said, the music fits the Trek setting very well, and is very atmospheric. All the sound effects, from weapons fire noises to the trademark Red Alert klaxon, all sound like they were pulled straight from the show. In summary, the sound direction really supports the feeling that this is, indeed, a Star Trek game. The final aural nod is that samples of Sisko’s, Picard’s, and Janeway’s voices are used when those captains are summoned to your aid. Joy!

Gameplay

For better or worse, STA3 pretty much still plays exactly like Sins of a Solar Empire. You still collect resources, research technologies, and defeat your opponents in pretty much the same way. That’s not a bad thing; SoASE is a very addictive game that I’ve spent hundreds of hours playing over the years! However, that does mean that for experienced Sins players like me STA3 has a sameness to it that can make it feel a bit stale, as many of the strategies and tactics that worked in straight-stick SoASE also work in STA3. It also means that STA3 inherits some of the gameplay quirks and limitations from its SoASE forebear. Chief among those is that while SoASE tries hard to be a true 4X game (eXpand, eXplore, eXploite, and eXterminate), it falls short of the mark due to the fact that it is so combat-oriented. True, there is a Diplomatic victory and a diplomacy system in play, but the AI tends not to employ it very effectively. This isn’t too much of a problem, as blowing crap up is tons of fun (especially when it all looks so nice!), but not having a truly valid diplomatic victory option makes SoASE (and by extension STA3) feel more like a RTS and less like a true turn-based 4X game like Civilization or Masters of Orion. It also means that the canonically peace-oriented Federation often has no choice in the game but to wade in to a fight with Phasers a-blazin’, and this constitutes a minor chink in the mod’s otherwise excellent thematic feel.

Conclusion

This, my friends, is the Star Trek game I’ve been waiting for since I was 10 years old. It allows players to build fleets made up of practically any ship from the show that they have ever heard of and use that fleet to seek out new worlds and new civilizations. More often than not, that contact will result in a huge war, but hey, that’s a lot more fun than boring negotiations anyway! I highly recommend this game to anyone who is interested in Star Trek and/or strategy games. While the mod is free, you will need to own SoASE to play it. That’s not a huge deal, as you can find SoASE on sale for around $20 quite often on Steam.

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Time to take the war to your enemies and kick them out of the Alpha Quadrant. Engage!

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