Much like StarCraft, the main focus of Conquest: Frontier Wars is on harvesting raw materials for resources, building and developing an infrastructure in the form of ships, structures, and technology, and real-time tactical combat. Managing forces in multiple interconnected star systems simultaneously, while ensuring that supply lines are maintained to keep ships and outposts armed and repaired, is the major thrust of gameplay.
Fleets of ships can be assigned to computer-controlled AI commanders, called Admirals, Magistrates, or Warlords, depending on race. Having the commanders is a nice feature, making large-scale fleet management more effective. Splitting the game field into multiple interconnected but distinct sectors adds a new and challenging factor to resource and troop allocation. Technology development follows a branching tree structure, with certain types of ships and structures being dependant on research and the creation of lower-level technologies.
The three game races are distinctive in their strengths and weaknesses. Humans are the most balanced, the super-intelligent Celareons excel at research, and the warlike Mantis strive to swarm their way to power across the galaxy. These racial traits are effectively expressed both in game AI, as well as in the graphics and sound for each species. The technologies for each race are distinctive in appearance and nicely represent the divergent personalities. When zoomed in to maximum levels, the ships and structures are detailed, though it's much more likely you'll take a broader and less detailed perspective during gameplay.
While the parallels to StarCraft are clear, enough distinctive touches have been added to make Conquest: Frontier Wars a unique and enjoyable space combat simulation. The emphasis is on tactics and depth, which occasionally results in a slower-paced development phase, but the game makes up for this in engrossing detail. On the downside, the tech development trees for the three races are too similar, and though this may contribute to game balance, more individualized research paths would have enhanced the overall effect.
Of the three gameplay options, the single-player campaign mode is quite goal-oriented and will most likely only be played through one time -- it should take average players about 30+ hours to complete. There's a fairly quick learning curve for the interface and controls, but mastering the multiple levels of strategy required in the various scenarios is the main point of gameplay.
Graphics: The graphics are solid and attractive, but a few small improvements would make them better. Combat is somewhat lackluster visually; neither munitions nor explosions pack much of a punch. They're certainly visible, but carry no visceral impact. Mantis ships are somewhat difficult to locate on the system map.
Sound: Incidental sounds are above average, and vary from race to race. The militaristic soundtrack, while not particularly memorable, is never intrusive nor annoying.
Enjoyment: Although not groundbreaking, Conquest: Frontier Wars is solid and offers many hours of quality and absorbing entertainment. The lack of divergence in the tech trees is notable but the level of detail and game depth in the scenarios is well developed.
Replay Value: The game offers three modes of play including single-player Campaign, a connected series of missions playable only as the Terrans, single-player Quick Battle, where you can take the role of any of the three races, and multiplayer, which supports eight players over a LAN or four on the Internet. Quick Battle games have a wide variety of parameters from which to choose and the random and semi-random game universes of varying sizes helps ensure that the playing field remains stimulating. Beings able to play as all three races in both Quick Battle and multiplayer increases replay value considerably.
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