To Boldly Go Where No Real Trek Game Has Bothered to Go...
For being a rather large and open body, few games, especially strategy games, seem to think that anyone would ever be commanding a group of fighting units in more than a 120x120 sector of space. It's bad enough that all games (excepting Homeworld, though that had its own set of problems) seem to think of space combat as 2D, but to think of them as confined to a straight-forward march through territory is just a stifling idea. Conquest takes strategy gaming to a whole new level, though, with its use of wormholes. Next to your minimap is another minimap, but this one does not show any radar blips or bases, it simply shows a bunch of dots connected by lines. These are the star systems and their connecting wormholes. You can jump your fleet between maps, have bases built on multiple maps, wage war on several maps at once, or sneak-attack an enemy from an adjoining star system.
In addition to providing an endless supply of confusion and chaos, as well as strategy, the multi-map system also introduces another new idea to strategy gaming. The occurrence of several key locations that may all join together via a web-like effect, meaning there may be no feasible way with the amount of resources in an area to fully defend or blockade every entrance to a system. These systems quickly become hotly contested for resources, and the feuds over who builds a jump gate (blocks enemies from using a wormhole, and opens supply lines to that sector) consume the game.
Another new feature introduced here is a logical system for base building. In space, it doesn't make much sense to just build things anywhere you'd like, does it? Of course not, you'll want to build on planets. Indeed, planets are a resource in their own right. In order to build all of your species buildings, as well as maximize your total unit limit you'll need at least three planets under your control. On each you can mine for resources (which can also be collected from asteroid belts and nebulas) and you can recruit crew. More importantly, you can build all your structures, with the exception of turrets which can be built anywhere, around planets.
The game AI is extraordinarily good. In too many RTS games it is seen where the enemy will simply send stragglers to attack you, or sends wave after wave of the same units, or worse, doesn't generate new units at all. In Conquest, the enemy can be far too good in the campaign. Repeatedly I continue to get crushed by excellently balanced fleets of enemies, and no sooner do I build my fleet back up after the ambush than the enemy does the same. This did make portions of the campaign a bit more difficult than they likely should have been.
Speaking of the campaign, the Conquest campaign is an intriguing story of space travel, new friends, enemies, traitors, missing admirals (Or "admals" should say I? (you'll laugh once you play...really!)) The cinematics are of a theatrical quality rarely seen in rendered imagery; I'd watch it weekly if it were a series. The pre-mission briefings feature some futuristic humor including commercials for a used spacecraft dealer, and the reports from a news anchor that is, well, less-than satisfied with her job. After the humor, though, things get a bit more serious with briefings from Admiral Halsey and the other admirals of the fleet. In-game, between the exemplary gameplay you'll get superb narrations, commentaries, and other information from some of the admirals in the game.
The multiplayer gameplay, though, is perhaps even better than that of the campaign. In multiplayer mode, there are a few noteworthy features. Besides the cunning use of wormholes and cloaks that just don't prove as effective against the AI, Conquest beats Warcraft III at one of its most prized features. In multiplayer you may hire of of the fleet commanders for your species (admirals for Terrans, magistrates for Celerions, and warlords for Mantis.) These commanders each give boosts to the stats of the fleet they command, and some give extra boosts for fighting a certain species. When organized into a fleet, a commander may also automatically handle things such as special weapons and fall back to resupply and repair. This makes fighting battles on multiple fronts much easier than if you had to baby-sit your units. To add to the balance, each of the three sides is entirely different from the others, yet can cause just as much damage in the end. Terrans are masters of simply rushing in and blasting things away, though this can prove fatal to hull integrity. Mantis use their ranged carriers to send out fighters over extreme distances to attack. The enemy may be pummeled by the time they actually find the Mantis hives. Finally, the Celerions have beam turrets, heavy shields, and are masters of defense turrets, meaning that setting up a blockade is simple for them, though in ship-to-ship combat their hulls prove a weakness.
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