By John Shadle (Sephorus)
Novus Æterno, currently in development by Taitale Studios and in the midst of a funding push on Kickstarter, is billed as “the first fully-realized MMORTS... within a single massive, persistent multiplayer game universe”. With nearly seven years of development time under its belt and a staff over two dozen strong, the title seems prime to harness some of that tactical and diplomatic intrigue that makes Eve Online one of the most infamous titles on the market to date. I had the opportunity to take a brief glimpse into Taitale Studios' vision of the galaxy, and found a game that might not pack the graphical punch of CCP Game's flagship title, but seems poised to spawn the same kind of sandbox gameplay that makes it so utterly popular.
The premise of Novus Æterno is simple – you're in command of an entire planet, with its resources at your disposal, and an ever growing armada of starships to defend it. However, how you expand and defend your empire is entirely pliable. You can turn your small planetary holdings into a trading hub and mining operation and supply other players with goods and ship components in exchange for protection, you can create a small scouting fleet to look for uninhabited planets for an easy – if perhaps brief – colonization, or you can throw together a plethora of gunships and simply bombard your neighboring planets into submission. There's no directive from some NPC organization, no time limit, and no scoring system, making the affairs of the galaxy entirely player-driven. Thankfully, your starting planet is surrounded with a nigh-impervious defensive grid, giving you at least some respite should a nearby player decide that your holdings should be their holdings – and trust me, they will.
Unlike most other RTS titles, though, Novus Æterno doesn't have preset ship configurations based on your selection of race; instead, you're free to select a ship size and tailor it to a given need. Need something fast and maneuverable to harass some slower-moving gunships? Throw some high-speed engines and high-caliber close-quarters cannons on a corvette-class hull and swarm your opposition. Neighboring planets getting a bit too unruly? Station some dreadnaughts along your borders and arm them to the teeth with long-range missile pods and fighters. Mercantilism more your thing? Outfit a cruiser with cargo bays and be a boon to your friends – or at least, anyone with enough credits. There's a lot of potential for flexibility in fleet capabilities, once you take the time to sift through all of the available ship components.
Similarly, Novus Æterno takes a modular – and incredibly novel – approach to the old 'tech tree' system of unit upgrades in other RTS titles. Laboratories generate Research Points, which can be used to perform research via combining several theories. If the combination of theories is sound, a prototype technology will become available, with further research allowing for a refined, mass-producable model. However, not all theory combinations make for good research potential, making what you research as much of an informed decision as what you build and who you shoot at; the possibility of trading or selling your incredibly-theorized beam cannon arrays to a more militarized empire, though, makes delving into research worth it for just about anyone.
Novus Æterno also puts a different spin on the RTS formula by continually expanding the available galaxy for players to cruise around in. Rather than having thousands of players fight over a single solar system, new stars – complete with orbiting planets – are added as new players enter the game, giving a bit of breathing room before stepping out into the unforgiving void of space. Mind you, it requires a bit of suspension of disbelief to have planets pop into existence every so often without anyone noticing, but it's a small price to pay – and a rather clever solution – to make sure that there's always new territory to conquer.
Graphically, Novus Æterno leans a bit on the simple side, with 2D portraits for player characters and pre-fab ship designs based on hull type; you also won't find any fancy bloom, depth-of-field, or anti-aliasing options to tweak, making this initially less of a graphical powerhouse. However, the art assets overall are very well crafted, with a good amount of detail and – dare I say - personality in its painting-styled character portraits, and the detail on each ship is impressive while you realize just how far in you're able to zoom the galaxy map. There were a few minor hiccups I noticed along the way – buildings shifting ever so slightly during construction – but it's hardly a detriment in the grand sceheme of things and something that ultimately is expected and tolerable during the development process. Music and sound are equally good – not ear-shatteringly awesome, and with a few hiccups and stutters when shifting between planet and galaxy views, but good quality overall when heard without interruption and with enough emotion and style to set the stage for something really, really big.
Overall, my time checking out Novus Æterno was pleasant, if woefully short given the massive scope of the game, and while I can't exactly give any sort of definitive 'final verdict' on a game that's yet to see an official release, the crew at Taitale Studios have put together not only a game for a woefully under-represented MMO genre, but one that puts some unique and interesting spins on some traditional RTS staples. For that reason alone, Novus Æterno is worth at least keeping an eye on during its march towards release, if not a visit to their ongoing Kickstarter campaign. In either case, you've got plenty of time to plot and scheme over just how many stars you'll own when the time comes.
John Shadle is a reviewer for Game Empire Enterprises, and he's now wondering just what theories would have to get researched before someone can own the Death Star.