Preview: Infinite Space III - Sea of Stars

Strange Adventures is freeware, and I highly recommend checking it out if you're interested in Sea of Stars. It's a lot simpler, and has a painfully easy win condition (get the wish-granting item, give yourself the best weapon in the game, kill everything), but it will give you a good idea as to the general pace/scope of Sea of Stars.I'm really enjoying Sea of Stars, personally. I would like to see a little more to combat, though; right now it's either stomp or get stomped, with no middle ground. The optimal strategy is to almost always run.
Nethack. Best. Game. Ever
Thanks for mentioning this game. I didn't realize they had done another one. I've enjoyed Weird Worlds: Return to Infinite Space in the past. Definitely a fun little game to play when I've had a few minutes to kill.
I love the Infinite Space series. Ernest Adams even described the original as a perfect game.

By their nature, many space games have a tendency to be grandiose, technically complex, and delicate affairs. Countless hours split between multiple days can go into any 4X game of your choosing; this can become a problem if you lose interest or the resolve to keep track of dozens of worlds, trade routes, and battlefronts. Digital Eel's Infinite Space series however, steers away from that paradigm. The latest installment, Sea of Stars, (now available on Steam Early Access) dispenses short bursts of fun that don't require an investment of time, effort, or even thorough planning.

The developers describe the game as a "lunch break roguelike of interstellar adventure!", and each part of that sentence rings true. The time spent in each session is short enough that you never feel overwhelmingly attached to your current life. The game re-arranges itself so that good and bad luck can shape your playthrough tremendously. The game is soft sci-fi,  dusted with references to any series you can think of, and glued together with the sort of rubber suited aliens and half-plausible supertech that thrives on suspension of disbelief.

A true game in the "have fun and try to beat your high score!" sense, the decisions you make are simple: click on a planet to explore, pick up items, trade with aliens, enter or evade combat. Each one of those choices is small, and usually pretty obvious, but the procedural nature of the game rewards risk taking as much as caution. You never know if taking the long way through a purple nebula will reward you with nicer treasure than going through safer, emptier space.

Starting a new career as a space explorer is as easy as picking a ship and clicking on planets. You'll amass equipment with descriptions vague enough that you'll usually need to try them to see how they work. How fast is a maximum speed laser? How well does this repair bot do its job? As you deck out your ship's limited slots - which are categorized into weapons, engines, and miscellaneous (shields, drones, etc) - you're taking chances on strange new gear.  As you become familiar with the game, you'll develop some confidence in what's worth using. In these respects, Sea of Stars is strongly reminiscent of the first faltering steps in any other roguelike. Lacking Nethack's finesse to identify unknown items in clever ways, and a much flatter progression based on sidegrades rather than strictly superior choices, Sea of Stars rewards you for trying, even if that means making deadly mistakes.

Combat is quick and decisive in most cases, and despite the tactical nature of being able to draw paths for your ships to fly along in the middle of combat, almost all battles are over in seconds. For example, after accumulating a small fleet of mercenaries to escort my main ship (which I had outfitted into a heavily shielded missile boat), I instantly destroyed enemy fleets up until I encountered a foe that decimated my meatshields before I could react. I decided then that if my current configuration couldn't destroy the enemy by kiting it around and flinging nuclear death, then I would graciously accept a game over. I finished that game with several thousand points more than my previous best, and I soon bested that by trying to avoid combat as long as I could.

The dynamic, procedural nature of the game means that there is no surefire strategy to winning. Different playthroughs will have you face unexpected needs; more purple nebulas on the map will mean you need different types of stardrives. Different trade hubs require different currencies, which can be anything from generic space credits to a swap-meet "one item for one item" deal. You can't go in with a specific build in mind, as that would be expecting luck to drop the gear you want in your lap. Starting up a game is almost an agreement that you're going to be trying something new, and that you will try make the best of what the game gives you.

While Sea of Stars might not be the most deep space game, the consistency of enjoyment and ease of use make it a very enticing choice for those wanting a quick burst of fun. By paying attention to what makes a game of this sort engaging without trying to expand the mechanics and gameplay into anything that would slow it down, the game openly embraces something seen in many great mobile games: a desire to be a fun game above being a deep, enthralling experience. Of course, Sea of Stars takes that barebones mentality and rewards players in numerous ways; it strikes a great balance between skill and luck.

I am a luxurious spaceperson. Greetings, mortals!