“Always forgive your enemies; nothing bothers them so much. So said Oscar Wilde, and the quote also appeared in the corner of my loading screen when I first turned on The Pegasus Expedition. I made a mental note to keep it in mind as I prepared to engage in galactic warfare to conquer and colonize an entire universe, but at the end of my time with this 4X strategy game, it it was I who asked for forgiveness.
Things started pretty well, with the demo catapulting me around 25 laps. I found myself at the head of an established space colony, spanning several systems and about a third of the known galaxy. Half of it remained unexplored, but my allies secured my borders, and things were looking good. That was until I was made aware of a war. The war was over – it wasn’t clear if you played it in the full game or if it just happened – but despite my forces winning, things didn’t go as planned. We had accidentally killed the opposing Empress instead of capturing her, and many of our own troops had been caught up in the planetary explosion. Despite the huge hole we had made in the earth’s crust, I was free to start colonizing it.
I was immediately pushed to make decisions with my advisors. You know the situation: the pragmatic scientist, the level-headed diplomat, the racist war officer. I was thrust into the thick of it with little context, so I was quite relieved when every option I selected seemed to be pointing me towards the same outcome. If it was a full game, I’d be less impressed.
A few guests taught me how to colonize planets, and I built research facilities and military bases on various moons. This aspect of the game, colonization, is much deeper than I imagined. As you build each base, you can not only choose whether it should focus on improving your army, increasing your population, scientific research or mining materials, but also on specific buildings your minions must erect in each outpost. Consider each planet’s atmosphere and chemical makeup, then decide if you need the standard shipyards and spaceports, or opt for a personal wellness center or antimatter research supercomplex instead. (abbreviated ARS, lol).
However, once you’ve selected what to build, you can’t change your mind without starting the colony over again. It’s especially frustrating in the early stages of the game when you’re still figuring out what you need and where you need it, and that frustration is compounded in a demo when your opponents are also 25 turns deep and have entire space fleets hovering. your door.
If that was frustrating, the AI was even worse. Once, one of my allies suddenly decided to hate me. We had been a 99% strong alliance the previous round, and now there were only four percentile points holding us together. Why? I have not got the faintest idea. However, it wasn’t the worst culprit of weird AI situations. I had made an alliance with the expanding House of Inoa in my early turns, but their expansion had increased so much that they now controlled my primary mission target. I was supposed to defeat the Hanoar system – the crown jewel of the Hanoar Clique empire – until it submitted, but Inoa got there first. And now I had to declare war on my powerful allies to carry out my mission. Reader, I haven’t even arrived in Hanoar.
Inoa destroyed my force destined for Hanoar and sent vast armies to the flanks of my empire, cutting off swathes of the galaxy and reducing my systems to a handful of fragmented planets. Also, I don’t remember being told that ships under repair could not return fire. This makes thematic sense, but it would have been nice to know before Inoa wiped out my three strongest armies, without taking any casualties in return. Maybe this stuff will be sorted into a tutorial for the main game, but the demo could use more instructions.
Combat is fun, though, when it works. I enjoyed choosing from a selection of tactical formations – although I’m used to using Lightning Strike, which seems the most effective – but attacking is more fun than defending. During battles, you can zoom right in on your little ships firing lasers and passing through portals, or sit in the back and watch the systems burn at your feet. Speed it up, slow it down, you’re in control. However, I don’t see the point of real-time button prompts that launch swarms of missiles or specialized weapons.
I wish I had spent more time testing the reputation meter and seeing how people treated me differently if I swung too far into Nemesis, or if my firepower would be nerfed when I bounced into Diplomat.
The other disappointment concerned my advisors. Like I mentioned before, they all follow the generic tropes, but they’re also all human, which is really annoying. The Hanoar clique I was waging war with are a Rito-like race of birds, and I was approached by alien robots that had once been biological creatures but had outgrown the need for such weak bodies. Why can’t they be my advisers, why am I stuck with a space racist who thinks all other species are a threat to be set on fire with plasma? I guess it comes with colonization.
I enjoyed my time with The Pegasus Expedition, despite its flaws. It’s all too easy to make unalterable mistakes when you’re thrust into the middle of such a complex game, but that’s nothing a robust tutorial can’t fix. Most of your enjoyment will come from space battles and lunar colonies, but comparisons to genre heavyweights like Stellaris will still leave the Pegasus Expedition feeling lacking. After a bumpy introduction to the mechanics and world-building of Pegasus, I must take the advice of the legendary writer quoted at the top of this article: I forgive this game its faults, with the caveat that they are Severely improved for the full version.
Next: I already love the invincible robots