Polaris Sector is a game that I really wanted to like, and it does quite a few things well in it’s pursuit of enjoyment. The problem arises when one considers the overall experience, it just feels a bit clustered at times. That isn’t to say it’s terrible, but at times it’s a bit perplexing. The game mechanics aren’t that complex once you understand them; but there are some clear issues with the game not clearly explaining what’s going on, or what your choices mean.
The overall appearance of the game will not be mistaken for an extremely high-quality AAA experience. The various graphical and musical elements work well together to create a nice experience, but they won’t blow you away by any means. The real beauty of the game is the UI, which packs a surprising amount of information and feedback on the screen at any one time. This is where my first major quibble comes up, there are at times a lack of clarity on explaining what some of the information means and how it can be utilized by the player. At some points I found myself having to click through several menus looking for a specific research project or colonization order.
Like in pretty much every other space 4X game, the overall point of the game is to build a strong military. For better or worse, most of the tech you build and resources you exploit will go towards making your military superior in terms of raw prowess and technical advantage. The combat system is an interesting tactical view that allows the player to get up close and personal with the action. However, it feels a bit shallow, at times it was hard not to notice the obvious rock-paper-scissors quality to it all. It’s still fun, but I found myself mostly being disinterested after the fiftieth time I watched a battle play out. There is a diplomatic side to things, which like most 4x games comes across as slightly less important than the military aspects, but it is still fun to dabble with. Of particular note is the espionage, which allows the player to feed false information and counter other spies in your ranks, it makes for a quite interesting meta-game of sorts. If only there was multiplayer, the act of spying on fellow players would be made even better. The similarities to other 4X games don’t end in combat, the customization of races and rulers, economic simulation, and overall feeling of competition between races feels largely familiar. One major improvement is the customization of a ruler that allows a player to engender quite a few bonuses to their race.
The controls and different related mechanics are mostly intuitive, but they lack some polish. At times I found myself having to fight the fleet orders and ship design system to make my desired outcome occur. But these issues were fairly uncommon, and overall the game does feel a bit sluggish to get going. But once the player has a feel for the controls and a large empire to control, the orders and associated goals will flow quite easily. An interesting design choice is to add depth to the maps in the game. This translated to galaxies that feel a bit more realistic, rather than just being rendered on a 2D plane, adding a bit more complexity to movement in-game. On the whole, the mechanics are well-balanced and make for an entertaining experience, making the victories feel substantial on higher difficulties.
Overall, Polaris Sector has a feeling of “same old, same old” in some places, but not others. That’s not a bad thing if you’re just looking for a standard but interestingly designed 4X game. But if you’re looking for more polished and better executed experiences, you can certainly look elsewhere in the genre. Polaris Sector is one of the games I find hard to recommend to anyone who isn’t already a fan of the genre, there are more than a few issues I feel detract from the game enough that make it hard for new players to enjoy. The extensive tutorial can help there, but at times the amount of complexity will be overwhelming.