AI War: Light of the Spire (PC review)   Leave a comment

Developed by: Arcen Games LLC
Published by: Arcen Games LLC
Out now
Reviewed on: 16th February, 2011.

Presentation: Arcen has a stated commitment to 2D games, but that should dissuade no one. The graphics look modern, the effects are very impressive and the interface is straightforward and easy to use. The music of the game also really shines and what Light of the Spire adds lives up to the precedence in quality set by earlier expansions.

Atmosphere: The atmosphere of the game is quite dark and serious as befits the setting. Humanity is on the cusp of extinction and as the AI attacks increase and wave and wave has been pushed back, the pressure is really felt and the necessity of making each victory, each conquest, a vital one is impressed on the players.

Control and Mechanics (for AI War generally): The game mostly poses no difficulty for any players who can manipulate the mouse and can press at least one key. The game does use a few multiple key and mouse click functions, which might prove a problem for some, but most players will never recourse to these functions. The game’s detailed tutorial shows one such example (requiring the combination of G, X and the left mouse button in order to give a certain set of, albeit rarely needed, orders to a group of ships). The learning curve is a lot milder than you might expect from first impressions.

Who should buy this: Those who want a complex 4X RTS game and don’t mind going through a few brief tutorials to get to grips with the game, people who want to try a game with more complexity but want the ability to run shorter missions or play without having to gather other players, people who want a good co-op 4X game with a sizeable community behind it.

Who should avoid it: Those who find complexity detracts from gameplay, those who bought and were happy with just the main AI War game, those who don’t want longer games or prefer games with a much more PvP-centric design, those who simply want a pick up and play game with no learning curve.

If I have to give a score: A great expansion which adds new content and new ways to play to a solid, well-designed game. 3.5/4


AI War has been out a long while and is a real gem of the indie movement. The basic premise of the main game is that humanity has lost a devastating war to its own creations and now humanity’s hopes are all but gone as its mechanised children expand across the once vast galactic empire belonging to the human race. It’s a clichéd plot, sure, but AI War offers a few interesting twists to the tale that really makes it stand out.

Thinking about the way AI War plays shows that there are two kinds of strategy games out there. There is the uncomplicated kind like Command & Conquer and all its descendants up to games like Supreme Commander 2. These are games where you can switch on for about quarter of an hour, play through a mission or two and come back later. There are also games like Europa Universalis III to give another example. These are games that pull you in and offer a very deep, complex experience that takes a lot of mastering with a vast amount of variation and control. AI War seems to marry the depth and complexity of a grand strategy game like any of Paradox Interactive’s Europa games to the atmosphere and, to an extent, scale of RTS games like Supreme Commander 2.

And the real important difference between these two groups is that the former aren’t really strategy games, they are tactical games. You don’t have an overriding strategy to win a campaign or war, or even achieve a set of objections. In Supreme Commander 2, it’s simply a set of tactical choices and manoeuvres designed to win a battle or complete a few simple objectives.

This is a fine, tried and tested format and I hold no problem with it, but I can’t help feel that a game like AI War is more mature and more reaching for the level of complexity and variation that grand strategy games have. With all that said, let me turn to Light of the Spire.

Light of the Spire is the latest expansion to the game and is easily the largest. It adds several great features and makes the game more accessible to those who find AI War appealing, but can’t play co-op or want shorter games. The big feature I want to talk about is the addition of the defender mode. In defender mode, you can select a time limit for which you have to survive against waves of enemy attacks rather than the surgical strikes of conquest mode. This opens up the option of short games that can still be quite a struggle but doesn’t take the hours of play that conquest requires. It still can be up to 4 hours if the player or players choose, but 15 minute games are an option.

The other big feature is the addition of a new major faction. Alongside the Zenith and the Neinzul, the Spire make an appearance. Like humanity, they were a much younger race that the Zenith, at the height of their glory when the AI attacked them. Unlike humanity, they didn’t shatter as easily and regrouped. Driven by a hatred of the AI, they are potentially useful to the human protagonists but as they recognise the humans as the creators of their race’s fall, their position towards humanity is uncertain.

The major addition with this new faction is the story mode that comes with the Fallen Spire minor faction (each major faction in AI War is divided into smaller minor factions that might have conflicting goals). When the faction is active, players get events and an optional set of victory conditions besides the standard ones of taking out AI homeworlds. It allows the player to follow special events and start seriously threatening the AI rather than hoping to slip under the radar until it’s too late.

Beyond those two major additions, extra features fall in line with what previous expansions brought out. The AI system in this game, as you’d expected, is incredibly detailed and as well as AI difficulty, there are subtypes that define an AI’s personality. This expansion includes quite a few interesting ones like the moderately difficult ‘thief’ AI that concentrates on stealing player ships and converting them to the AI side or the harder ‘crafty spire’ AI that surrounds itself with stolen Spire technology, making it a lot harder to take down. As well as that, there are also AI plots that add special twists to the way an AI plays. New to this expansion is an AI variant that creates beachheads at some systems’ warp points, interrupting supply and reinforcements to an under siege system.

What you have alongside all this are new styles of map layouts, 180 new ships with several new types to account for Spire technology, new AI super weapons and more. The music is beautiful, as always, and LotS comes with several new tracks to add to the mystery and atmosphere of this strange new race of aliens. If you enjoy AI War, especially the free upgrades and the earlier expansions, then these standard additions more than justify the minor cost of the expansion. The two major features I outlined above alone make the expansion a must for any lover of the game.

If you enjoy complex, thought-provoking games that will challenge you, especially if you want something deeper than the standard RTS fare without turning to the vast complexity of grand strategy games, there is no reason not to indulge that craving with AI War. Anyone scared off by the drawn out nature of the game can ease their way in with the new defender campaign types offered by this latest expansion. All AI War expansions only require the base game to play and no previous expansions are required. Let AI War get a little wedge into your game collection, however, and the beauty, charm and style of the game will do the rest.

Light of the Spire is out now, available via digital distribution on the website and elsewhere, for $9.99 USD (around £6.33). The main game is available for $19.99 USD (around £12.46).


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