EA SCOUT the last line of defense for buying on Steam's Early Access
by Sean Martin
previewed on PC
A 4X WITHIN A 4X
Pax Nova, the new space 4x developed by Grey Wolf Entertainment and published by Iceberg Interactive, is an interesting creature. In one sense, it’s a typical 4x like Civilization, with a map, city development, conquest and exploration. But in Pax Novathat map is only one planet, and a level above, the whole galaxy is also ripe for the taking — it's essentially a 4x within a 4x. It’s a really fascinating concept, but whether it will be successfully realized is a different matter. Considering the level of depth that the game will require, I’m skeptical that it might be too hardcore even for 4x players. It also sets Grey Wolf Entertainment the challenge of realizing and connecting what is effectively two 4x at the same time — no easy feat.
In a similar vein to Stellaris, you start out by either choosing your race or creating a custom one. There are a variety of traits to choose from and a faction seal (unique faction attribute) which will allow you to customize your faction. Where it differs from Stellaris however, is that all the factions are humanoid, which I hope they will change later. When each game begins, you start out on a new planet with a colony ship. Choose where you want to make your home (based on tile quality) and your city will start growing. This early game feels very typical 4x — you explore the map with your scout while your city develops, searching ruins and avoiding scary alien beasties. As your city expands you’ll build tile improvements, which will either extract resources or take advantage of the tiles base qualities (food, industry, research). You’ll also research new technologies, from a tech tree split over four eras, conferring a variety of benefits to your faction.
While this is all fairly above board, what I was surprised by is how occupied the planets you find yourself on are. I didn’t really feel like I was exploring a new planet when I’d already discovered 4 other races, a collection of citadels (like city-states in Civilization) and Research Labs, in less than 20 turns. What also made this worse is that you don’t get anywhere near enough of the Influence resource (which you use to undertake diplomatic actions). I really hope Influence is overhauled as the game develops. What I did like however, is something few other space 4x have done — with some races you have to overcome a language barrier before diplomacy can be engaged (a similar idea to talking to the aliens in No Man’s Sky) which I thought was a cool addition. Pax Nova also has text tutorials, which is good considering it has just launched in early access.
It’s impossible to make a space 4x without it falling into the shadow of Endless Space 2. While Pax Nova is fairly solid mechanically, it lacks that all important element that Endless Space 2 realized in the genre — stories. The writing in the game, especially the campaign dilemmas and encounters (when you investigate ruins say) are not currently utilized well. They neither tell a story, nor paint a picture and basically just describe the bare bones of what is happening. Even the campaign dilemmas are incredibly black and white, with no far-reaching consequences. If Pax Nova is to be successful, this element of storytelling is going to have to used far more effectively. But again, it has only just launched in early access, so there’s still every chance it will.
Pax Nova has the foundation to be an interesting game, and its central idea could be really well implemented, but in the long run, it’s going to have to make sure that it’s base 4x is solid, otherwise it will compromise anything that is built above it. But still worth keeping an eye on if you’re interested in the genre!
The game has potential, but we're not ready to jump in with both feet. If the game interests you, look, but don't touch - yet.