January 27, 2023

Ixion begins with the question “What if Homeworld was a management sim?”. It then answers that question in a comprehensive and compelling way. Bulwark Studios’ epic star-hopping epic takes the operatic, elegiac grandeur of Relic’s RTS classic, but replaces the space combat with a tough mix of killer logistics.

Like Homeworld, it’s damn stylish. The game opens with a spectacular intro cutscene where a futuristic space shuttle launches from Earth, breaks through the atmosphere to dock at a giant orbiting space station like a chromed hubcap from some petrolhead’s pride & joy. The video transitions neatly into the play perspective, where you see that same shuttle slide out of the cold void outside the docking bay. Welcome to the Tiqqun, admin. Your long journey starts here.

The Tiqqun (pronounced “Tycoon”) is an ark for humanity, or else, a colossal Muskian folly built on the belief that finding a new planet to call home is a better idea than not ruining the atmosphere of the one we’ve spent millions of years evolving to thrive (not that I have a strong opinion on that). Anyway, the Tiqqun has everything humanity needs, namely tenements, insect burgers, and a massive engine called the “VOHLE” drive, which allows the station to travel between stars in a way I won’t pretend to understand. When you turn the key in the ignition, something goes wrong, of course. I won’t reveal what, but the net result is that the Tiqqun is broken and left alone in the great expanse. From here you have two basic goals. Keep your crew alive and find a nice watery Goldilocks planet on which to restart civilization.

In the game, Ixion is split into three separate, but interconnected layers. The first of these, and the one you will spend the most time in, is the interior of the Tiqqun. Here Ixion most closely resembles a standard management sim. To keep your crew alive and happy, you must build houses for them, ensure a steady supply of food, and maintain “stability” by constructing specific buildings and enforcing certain policies. To do all this, you need to set up production chains for different resources, such as alloys, electronics and polymers.

All familiar things. But Ixion’s settings add a few wrinkles. The Tiqqun may be huge, but its interior is still finite. Before you know it, you’ll have completely filled the first of six sectors and you’ll be breaking open the bulkhead to sector two to expand your build space. Each sector is operationally independent, but most will depend on other sectors to provide them with specific resources. This means managing the import and export of resources between different sectors, establishing a complex web of logistics pipelines that run like arteries throughout the station. The emphasis on spatial management fits well with the game’s theme, although it’s a little annoying that you can’t move a structure once it’s built, instead having to dismantle it and rebuild it from scratch.

From ringed gas giants to shattered moons to planet-sized shards of ice, Ixion is committed to making space tangible and dramatic

The other notable wrinkle is the crew itself. Because you’re stranded in space, your workforce is initially limited. While you can get more workers in the ways I’ll do, you can’t just create more whenever you want, because it would take about eighteen years too long. Therefore, you should be careful about dividing your workforce, migrating workers between sectors and making sure you do not overload individual sectors with work as this can lead to accidents and dissatisfaction.

At this layer alone, Ixion is a great management sim. Balancing your population’s needs with available space and resources makes for captivating flat-spinning, while setting up a new logistics route and watching all of your automated robots out of stock is always satisfying. However, the depiction of life aboard the Tiqqun is a bit sterile. Buildings contain a fair amount of detail, but your human workers wander aimlessly down paths. It’s a far cry from the intricate, characterful animation of the Two Point series. This isn’t too much of a problem though, as most of Ixion’s personality lies elsewhere.

The second layer is the outside of the station, which is mechanically much simpler than the inside. All you do here is build solar panels for extra power, and a few more specific additions that you unlock by progressing through the story. However, it is worth a visit every now and then for the beautiful vistas of space. The various star systems you visit are rendered in full 3D, so moving the Tiqqun between planets gives you a whole new, often spectacular sci-fi backdrop to look at. From ringed gas giants to shattered moons to planet-sized shards of ice, Ixion is committed to making space tangible and dramatic. You’ll also see your EVA workers whizzing across the surface of the station as they constantly refurbish the hull, though the exterior view doesn’t seem to visualize your various ships docking in the station, which is a shame.

“Ships, you say?” Well, fellow traveler, let me introduce you to the third layer of Ixion – the planetary layer! Here your perspective zooms out to a Mass Effect-style overview of the galaxy you’re currently in, and you can direct the Tiqqun’s exploration of the system. You launch probes to investigate signals that reveal new resources and anomalies, then send mining and cargo ships to acquire the resources, and science ships to investigate the anomalies. These will reveal bits of story which, depending on your choices, could result in new resources, a horrible death for your science team, or the discovery of cryopods that you can retrieve and thaw aboard the Tiqqun to gain new employees.

The three layers are all interesting in their own way, but it’s the way they interlock that Ixion really begins to impress. When a freighter returns a resource to the wrong loading dock, you’ll have to build a whole new logistics pipeline to get it where it needs to be. Meanwhile, outside events, such as the loss of a science ship, can have a dramatic effect on crew morale, leading to unrest and even workers’ strikes. Moving the Tiqqun itself is always a huge event, as the station can only run on battery power while moving, and travel significantly increases the load on the hull. That’s why you need to plan and prepare Tiqqun maneuvers very carefully, making sure you have enough stored energy to manage the journey, and possibly in stages, jumping from one planet to another.

Meanwhile, these micro-stories play out against the background of the larger story. Your progression through the different star systems is linear and each acts as a chapter in the overall story. Ixion’s sci-fi stories effectively tell the eerie and passively hostile nature of space. The Tiqqun isn’t humanity’s only manifestation of its flight from Earth either, and as you hop from star to star your science teams will be combing through the remains of other expeditions. You’ll explore lunar bases ravaged by mutant spores, talk to AI that’s been left alone for countless years, and witness the fallout from the accident that left the Tiqqun stranded in the first place.

“It’s a captivating story that gives your day-to-day running of the station a real sense of purpose”

It is a compelling story that gives meaning to your daily management of the station. However, moving from one chapter to the next can be a chore. Important story points often require you to meet a certain set of parameters, which may mean transporting a certain number of resources to and from the Tiqqun. Unlike general resource gathering, for which you can allocate as many freighters as you can support, these mission-specific deliveries can only be made by a single ship. This means waiting for it to load, travel, unload, return and then reload, usually several times. It’s an annoying bottleneck that really slows down the final stages of a chapter, compounded by the fact that the game penalizes you for staying in one galaxy too long, essentially taking psychological damage to your crew from not having a planet to call home. to call.

Aside from that though, Ixion is a pretty good mix of management sim and sci-fi storytelling. There are a lot of games clamoring for my attention right now, Darktide, The Callisto Protocol, that new God of War on the devil’s PC just to name a few. But throughout my time at Ixion, I was never tempted to dismiss it for those bigger, flashier games, which is a testament to its meticulous design and compelling story of humanity’s quest for a new heavenly roof to shelter under. to sleep.

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