Ancient Frontier - PC Review

Ancient Frontier is a great example of what a small but dedicated studio can do. It might not have AAA bells and whistles, but the core game is a fantastic blend of deep strategy yet approachable interface that is very easy to sink hours into.

The strategy genre can be a dense one - both in terms of games that have been made available but also in terms of the gameplay itself. Ancient Frontier starts us off on the right foot with a tutorial that helps the player to focus in on the story as well as learning the concepts and game controls. The tutorial also features full voice acting - something of a curse and blessing all in one. I love when an indie title can manage to pack in voice acting, because when done right it can add a lot to the game. Here the lines are somewhat stiff. I don't think the voice actors are (for example, Rachael Messer who voices Alayana is almost always excellent, and again I thought she sounded great, yet for whatever reason, her character didn't resonate with me as well as I would have liked). Since this is a strategy game sporting some RPG sensibilities, the focus on story is cool, as is the development of our primary characters, I just wish the voice actors appealed to me more. I don't know if it is their reading of the script or the dialog they were given, but something just did not click with me here, though I appreciate the effort.

While on the topic of audio, the music is actually pretty fantastic. There is a nice mix of heavier drum beats that help to spur a warlike feeling despite the space setting, that is sometimes offset just enough by the occasional higher note. Considering how much time you spend in strategy games like this, you tend to spend a lot of time listening to music, and I am thankful that Ancient Frontier's is so good. The sound effects are a bit more of a mixed bag. I never really minded them, but they never really blew me away either. I did dig that different lasers resulted in slightly different sounds, so kudos there, but the drone of ships moving about can become pretty repetitive rather quickly.

Moving on to the visual part of the presentation, I actually like the look quite a bit. I am used to hex-based turn games taking place on the ground as you navigate terrain and obstacles. Here you are in space, and there is a neat tilting option you can use when looking around the map that has asteroids and ships hanging in space, all while space rocks gently move and twirl. Nothing here is going to strain your video card, but there is some nice attention to detail in the ships and small explosions caused by laser fire all set against a pleasant space backdrop. The only grumble I have on the visuals has less to do with the actual style or design and more to do with the somewhat fickle camera. Sometimes it is just hard to zoom in and get a close look at units, which is a shame since I generally liked the design. It can also make clicking your paths a little weird, which leads into the game's controls.

By and large, for a game with this much depth, Ancient Frontier is actually surprisingly easy to pick up. The UI is generally sharp and stays out of the way (though a case could be made for popping up unit information automatically when you hover over it, instead of forcing me to press something else to present that information), and there is quite a bit of strategy involved here. You have to take into account the strengths of your units and the weaknesses of those on the other team as you navigate through clusters of asteroids in a very board game-like environment. You can almost feel the rolling of dice behind the scenes, and as someone who really enjoys strategy board games, Ancient Frontier tickled that interest of mine nicely.

There is some nice universe building here, with ample opportunities to click on lore and learn more about what you are doing and why. That being said, the writing here is not very strong, and one of the reasons I feel the dialog was more of the issue than the voice actors themselves. It just creates for some awkward interactions between the characters, which is a shame as this story / RPG aspect of the game is one of the things that would help to potentially differentiate Ancient Frontier from the space strategy pack.

Thankfully, there is a lot to do and it is generally pretty enjoyable. This is a single player experience built around different kinds of missions (as resource accrual and management is key to your success). The game allows you to build different kinds of ships, but offers even more depth when looking for the best equipment for them. This allows the typical 'research' options that help to open you up to more variety down the road. The actual combat is pretty straightforward - especially early on in the game. The storyline moves at a pretty decent pace, allowing you to grow into the game's expectations of you as you build your fleet. You can then progress the story itself, or go ahead and use side missions to help gather more supplies like fuel. There is some risk and reward here as you obviously don't want to fail these missions, but at the same time don't want to overspend on deployment resources that you don't really make proper gains. There is a nice bit of risk versus reward in play here.

The development team has also been pretty darned active so far. This game has only just released and patch 1.0.1 and 1.0.2 have already been released. Some of it has been bug fixing (including an annoying issue where dying against an asteroid can leave the game in a hung state), tweaking damage levels based on player feedback or just improving quality of life (like adding a total Deploy Cost for you, instead of making me math it out. Thank you for no longer making me math it out). This bodes well for Ancient Frontier's future as they continue to get more feedback.

Ancient Frontier is a really solid offering in the space simulation genre. There is some story here, though the writing could be more natural. That being said, it gets better the later into the game you go. There are a lot of good ideas here, and while there is some depth - I would argue that this is the type of game you would encourage a friend to pick up if they have an interest in the genre but have never played something from it before. Ancient Frontier is very approachable, which is a huge plus. It is easy to sink dozens of hours into Ancient Frontier, and by and large I enjoyed my time with the game.

Game Information

Fair Weather Studios, LLC
Fair Weather Studios, LLC
Single Player
Other Platform(s):

Provided by Publisher

Article by Nick


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