Ancient Frontier: Steel Shadows Review - A Casual, Easy-to-Play TBS
Steel Shadows is a stand-alone expansion for Ancient Frontier, which doesn't require players to have the original game or any experience and knowledge of the first game. Steel Shadows has its own tutorial, separate campaign and procedurally-generated missions.
However, if you've played the original Ancient Frontier, then it will be a lot easier for you to get all the intricacies of this turn-based sci-fi strategy with RPG elements. Here, you will play for the Pirate faction that brings chaos to the normal layout of things at the Frontier.
If you want to know more about the story, campaign missions and the gameplay mechanics of Steel Shadows, then read our review below.
Story and Setting
The story of Steel Shadows focuses on a few Pirate leaders, Rogan and Rickshaw, that struggle their way through the Frontier. They attack convoys and raid mining stations for valuable resources that could keep their network of ships survive in the long run.
There is an extensive black market of ships and items available for purchase with the help of several types of in-game currency. Also, ships can be upgraded through a skill tree of various technologies that focus mainly on combat and tactics, which can be bought using Data, one of the main currencies.
But there are two more resources that are of even higher value: Hydrium and Proto Energy. Hydrium is used specifically for buying new ships and repairing old ones, while Proto Energy makes those ships run well. All three are needed and they can be obtained in the course of the missions.
The combat in Steel Shadows is very much the same as in the original Ancient Frontier game. You control a fleet of various types of ships that carry different types of weapons, some of which can deal more damage from a long range, while others can do well only in close combat.
That is why it is important to acknowledge yourself with each and every type of combat ship in your fleet during the Tutorial stage. Later this will help you to choose the best ships for your fleet between the campaign missions.
A strong fleet supported by well-planned tactical and strategic game can lead to many victories.
The AI in the game is quite smart, especially in the harder difficulties. If it senses your weak spots, it will attack there and destroy your main ships. In this regard the gameplay becomes really exciting and makes you think about your next moves.
As usual, when it comes to TBS genre, you have a series of steps for each of your ships, and then you pass the turn to an AI. The ships move really fast in this game, which is a good thing, because you don't want to spend your whole day just getting from point A to point B.
That's why you really need to keep your ships in good condition, as your fleet will only keep growing. This means that each campaign mission will take more time than the previous one. In this regard, the technology tree is your best friend, as this is where you get to improve your fleet's capabilities.
But there is also a possibility to deploy a part of your fleet on the Bounty missions through the Mission select menu, and the rest to continue the campaign. Either way, the big fleet needs to move as fast as possible, and thankfully, the tech tree will allow you to increase your Move and Ability Points.
Each type of ship has its own tech tree, and everything here depends on your budget. Of course, if you have enough Data to purchase the right skills early, then it is possible to make every ship grow in an equal manner. But this kind of scenario would work in a perfect world, while in this game it's a bit more complicated.
The lack of resources makes you put money in the most necessary things only, such as Shield improvement for your own ships and Shield damage for your weapons. This is one truly neat technology, since the AI ships often flee and hide when you destroy their shields. From then on finishing them off is really easy, but that's the trick you need to discover in the course of the gameplay.
Fortunately, the fleet management menu is really user-friendly, so making out the proper gameplan turns into a fun adventure and not a boring chore. Usually, it would take you hours to figure out what to do in any other TBS game, but Steel Shadows is very clear in its intentions from the very beginning.
Final Verdict: 7/10
Fans of the original Ancient Frontier game will be happy to try out another brand new campaign with all the familiar features. New players will have no hard time figuring out what to do either, as it's really easy to jump into the gameplay.
On the other hand, the veteran TBS players that are looking for a re-imagining of the genre or look out to be struck by the depth of the gameplay mechanics will be disappointed, as Ancient Frontier: Steel Shadows is a rather casual game, although pretty well done taking into account that it was made by only two indie developers.
The good thing is that it's really light on hardware and will run even on the older PCs and office laptops that are not intended for playing games. After everything's said and done, it's a fair experience for the price given.
- Intuitive and simple fleet management system
- Extensive Tech tree and market
- Fun and engaging gameplay
- Not much depth for a TBS game
- Low-quality graphics
[Note: A copy of Ancient Frontier: Steel Shadows was provided by Fair Weather Studios for the purpose of this review.]