A few hours with Ancient Frontier

Ancient Frontier is a turn-based spaceship strategy game from two-man dev team Fair Weather Studios. While the far-future setting is achingly familiar and voice acting is tedious, the actual meat of the game is something you can get into. As with XCOM, you move your units one by one, seeking cover while obviating that of your enemy, but additional objectives force you out of a comfortable creep through the map.

Through the game’s early missions, you can get a sense of Ancient Frontier’s flow. Missions will task you with defending friendly freighters and take on rival factions, or merely exploring space and gathering resources. After you make it back in once piece, you can outfit your ships with the loot you’ve gathered — targeting computers, shields and armour and weapons. Your ships are persistent, their crews gaining levels and becoming more specialised with time. That makes loosing one particularly vexing, which can happen fast if you’re not careful.

Moving aggressively into unexplored areas of space can be quite dangerous, but once the enemies are revealed things become a bit monotonous. The safest strategy is simply to cluster your ships to take down foes one at a time; in our experience pirates and other foes would often hide on the corners of the map while their friends were slaughtered in the centre.

There’s relatively few rules in play here — leave a bit of space between your ships to account for missiles, maximise your damage at the expense of all else, pop out of cover to shoot and return there by the end of each ship’s turn. The equipment on offer adds a few wrinkles, but by in large you’ll be increasing your numbers rather than radically changing each unit’s role. Hopefully this happens later on in the campaign than we played.

While there’s clearly been a lot of labour lavished on the game, it still lacks polish in certain areas. There are too many interface screens in general, and it’s tiring to click through them each mission. The camera goes all cinematic seemingly at random during some turns, access to high-level equipment comes seemingly too soon, and the conversations that take place between missions and during the over-long tutorial made me want to uninstall the game (thankfully, these conversations can be skipped, although perhaps you’ll miss out on some exciting plot later on).

More important than these, the game doesn’t feel particularly well-balanced. Some upgrades do very little while others are tremendously impactful, and it’s hard to look at your fleet collectively to get a sense of where its strengths and weaknesses lie. I’m sure playing through the campaign would obviate these concerns somewhat, but I’m worried that most people playing through the game will bounce before they have a chance to get to grips with things.

Of course, it’s hard to be too critical of a new game from a tiny development house. Hopefully we’ll see improvements to the game in the weeks after its release. There is reportedly a lot of content here, so if you like it then it might be worth a purchase. It’s currently 25% off at £14.24, and that feels about right.

Give it a try, and let me know what you think!

See Ancient Frontier on Steam >

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