Digital versions of tabletop games are hardly a new concept in PC gaming. For almost as long as there have been PCs there have been various interpretations, variations, attempted one-for-one recreations, and virtual simulations of the tabletop experience. From Chess to Dungeons & Dragons to Warhammer, and thousands of others in between, all have made their way to monitors at some stage, and the quality varies as widely as the games represented.
Exodus Wars: Fractured Empire is the latest game to to undergo this conversion. Australian developer Membraine Studios has sought to replicate the feel and depth of the tabletop experience to PCs. The result is largely successful, but as had been proven elsewhere, accurately translating the rules and systems of a tabletop game does not always translate to a compelling PC experience.
Many will be unfamiliar with Exodus Wars, but to anyone who has experienced a tabletop war game it will look and sound very familiar. Warring factions are fighting to spread their influence and philosophy across the stars. This is basically Warhammer 40K with the grime removed and there's little here to differentiate the Exodus Wars fiction from the glut of dystopian futuristic games already available on PC. As bland as the world and units are, there is nevertheless a meaty and enjoyable turn-based strategy game powering the experience, and that does a lot to distinguish the game even where the fiction cannot.
Fractured Empire abandons the grids many turb-based strategy fans are familiar with and instead uses a much more open and free form movement system. Units have a maximum movement range, and can be placed anywhere on the map as long as it does not exceed their allotted movement points. There are penalties for overextending, and a number of other factors to take in to account such as terrain variance, unit support, range of fire, and the individual strengths and weaknesses of each unit. The tactical depth is impressive, as is the need for an overarching strategy. Conflict rules are dense and can be a little daunting to begin with, but over time suppression, overwatch, maintaining momentum, blitz, and various unit interactions all begin to make more sense.
Battlefield management is where the game feels strongest. This isn’t an all-out slugfest in which you must demolish the opposition to win the map. Win conditions are contingent on a number of objectives available in each scenario, and attempting to wipe out the opposition rather than fulfilling an objective will likely lead to a messy end for your troops. Or, worse, you'll simply run out of turns. It’s these stipulations and tabletop conceits that drive the core experience, and there is a lot to like about them. They provide a level of differentiation that helps make Fractured Empire feel like its own entity rather than just another turn-based futuristic war game. This does help in giving the game its own voice, if only it had more personality to go with it.
Fracture Empire is nothing special to look at. Terrain is diverse, but sparse and lacking in flourish. The dearth of flora, fauna, and any attention to detail makes every map feel as if it were randomly generated and added to the game as is. The same lack of diversity also affects the units in the game. Not only do they look generic, there is a real lack of variety available in the game. A quick look at the table top version shows a huge variety of troop types, tank and mech variations, with only the smallest fraction available in the game at this time.
Therein lies the biggest issue with the game at this time. It’s just not finished. The team is promising more content in future updates, but as the game is now in full release there simply isn't enough of it. More units and maps are needed urgently. It’s still a bit broken, and it's in need of a good polish. The bugs range from minor to significant graphical glitches, as well as issues selecting units or formations. Nothing here is game breaking, but they remain as a constant reminder that there is still a lot of work to be done.
Exodus Wars: Fractured Empire has a great strategic core. It has a finely balanced mix of depth, accessibility, and complexity. That suggests great things for the future of the game - and perhaps for Membraine - but for now a lack of personality makes for a indifferent experience.