Ancient Frontier: Steel Shadows – PC Game Review

A Decent Turn-Based Strategy Game

Set in the Ancient Frontier universe, Steel Shadows continues the lore of the epic strategy RPG franchise with a new story and a return of the turn-based strategy combat that made the original so appealing. In doing so, Steel Shadows comes with the same flaws and questionable design choices the original had which may leave some fans a little disappointed. Lacklustre enemy AI holds the game back from being a better title too but despite this, Steel Shadows is a highly enjoyable turn based strategy game nonetheless, even if it does feel more like an extension than a fully fledged title.

Turns are played out on a hexagonal grid, adding an element of strategy to movement

Steel Shadows features a simple overarching story about a pirate on the run from the federation, hunting for glory with a ragtag group of outcasts. This really serves as little more than exposition as the game paves way for the meat of the experience here, and that comes in the form of the gameplay, which takes centre stage.

For those who haven’t played the original Ancient Frontier, Steel Shadows is a turn-based strategy game set in the deep void of space. You control a fleet of ships which you can upgrade and expand as you progress whilst completing missions on a small-sized hexagonal grid. This grid plays host to enemy ships, obstacles and mission-specific objectives, with just enough variety in the background to avoid these areas feeling stale.

The game continues through different rounds until you complete your objective or, in the case of some story missions, you’ve completed your task before the allotted time is up. It’s a pretty simple concept but layers of strategy are added through the inclusion of different class of ship, threat level of enemies and more.

Different ships and fighters can be upgraded with a whole range of skills

For the review copy I was given, there was no tutorial mode so it’s difficult to say how well this game caters for beginners. As someone with little experience playing the first game, Steel Shadows was relatively straight forward to pick up and play, but is a title that benefits greatly from spending a lot of time with, especially with so many options and upgrades on offer. Between missions you’re greeted with a whole host of options on the main menu, ranging from upgrading your fleet, adding crew members and embarking on missions.

Each mission grants you data, hydrogen and other in-game currency that can be exchanged for upgrades to make things easier as you chew through the 20 story missions. This works well, with layers of strategy added as you add crew members to your ships for extra stat bonuses and start tinkering with the various ships in your fleet to find the optimum setting that works for you. Between each story mission you’re given 3 optional tokens, which allow you to take part in optional missions to gain more resources or experience points to level up.

With turn-based moves, it can sometimes drag a little with no ability to speed up moves

Leveling up is pretty straight forward; by competing missions and tasks, the units you’ve managed to successfully keep alive gain experience points, which in turn brings with it higher levels and better stats. It’s standard RPG-fare but the inclusion of things like renaming your ship and complete control over the crew members and ship upgrades give a further level of customization that is most welcome here.

Given that Steel Shadows borrows heavily from the original game, this follow-up is not without issues. A lot of the optional missions are randomly generated, meaning each person is likely to have a different experience between missions. With tiered missions structured around threat level (1 being low, 5 being extremely high), there were a few times where I was given level 5 difficulty optional missions or a relatively straight forward story mission. While I could have jumped into these optional fights, they can be extremely risky and lead to unnecessary deaths and units lost.

The graphics are good, with certain attacks graced with a cinematic zoom showing off the exterior of ships

Much like Armello which I reviewed earlier on this year, the inability to skip turns does slow the overall game down. While this sounds nit-picky given it’s a turn-based strategy game, when you have 7 or 8 enemies – a handful of which beacons that don’t move – these enemy turns drag on unnecessarily. While this may be changed during the full release of the game, for now this is a noticeable problem.

Still, for all of its faults, fans of the first game will love this title and those after a decent turn based strategy game set in space will be hard pressed to find one as deeply rewarding as Steel Shadows. The game boasts hours upon hours of content and with three different difficulty levels and a range of customization options on offer, the game does try to tailor itself to as many people as possible. Those lamenting some of the issues with the first game though may be left disappointed here, but if you can look past this, Steel Shadows is a really enjoyable turn based strategy game.


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