Nexus 5X is a speedy grand strategy game – Review – WGB


First, let’s address the name and what Nexus 5X is part of. You see, this game is actually a spinoff of Stellaris, a grand strategy game set in space where you oversee vast empires, eventually dominating through scientific research, economic superiority, cultural brilliance, or just blowing the shit out of everybody else. It used to be called Stellaris Nexus, a perfectly sensible name, but I guess the developers worried that potential customers might assume they needed experience with Stellaris to play it. For some freaking baffling reason, they decided to rename it Nexus 5X, which also happens to be the name of an Android phone released in 2015. Guess which one pops up on the Google search results first? I’ll give you a hint: it isn’t the game.

Dubious naming aside, the basic idea is that Nexus 5X wants take those massive, grand strategy games like Stellaris and condense the whole thing into a much faster experience for people who don’t have the time or patience to spend dozens of hours on a single match. It’s an idea I can very much get behind because as much as I love the idea of grand strategy games, I do find myself getting bored halfway through a match and wandering off to do something else. Such is the curse of having an attention span equivalent to puppy with intense ADD and constant access to the sugar jar.

For the most part, developer Whatboy Games has succeeded in squashing Stellaris into something which takes about an hour per match or mission. It’s a breezy experience that manages to capture the grand part of grand strategy games fairly well without asking the player to sacrifice most of their life to it. Entire empires can rise and fall in that hour. Wars will be declared, capital ships built, economies grown, alliances formed and planet destroying machines deployed.

It does struggle a little when it comes to explaining it all, mind you. There’s a basic tutorial followed by an eight mission campaign which acts as a sort of advanced learning zone before you head online and realise that there are a lot of very skilled players out there who will not feel guilty about smashing your empire into dust. The tutorial isn’t terrible, but there were definitely concepts and mechanics that I ran into later which caused much head scratching and a few restarts until I figured things out.

On each turn you’ll have a couple of edicts to choose from which are drawn from your faction leader’s deck. Some are unique to each faction, others are more generalised, like being able to build new projects on planets you control or selecting what research to focus on or deploying a science vessel to check out a weird looking nebula that may or may not be hiding a space monster. The most powerful edicts won’t appear until your leader has levelled up, but it’s worth the effort because they let you do things like buy out an opposing player’s planet or summon a giant crystalline alien.

You’ll also be able to order your fleets of ships around, reinforce existing fleets, merge them together or order the construction of news fleets. The number of ships you can have deployed at any given time is controlled by your total military power, so if you’re aiming to be the aggressive super power you’ll naturally want to focus on building things that will provide more power, and push for research that will make your fleets dangerous. Typically, each fleet can move a single node per turn, with the nimble destroyers being the exception.

All of this is controlled by the use of Support points which dictate how much you can do on a turn, along with the resources you have. The first thing you do costs a little Support, but the price gets higher for each subsequent move you make. It means you need to spend at least a little of your construction efforts on increasing the amount of Support you generate every turn, but each planet has limited room so you also need carefully consider what to build, where to put it and when.

A look at the construction menu in Nexus 5X

The faction you play is what dictates how you’ll approach each match. After all, a faction that focuses on trading and alliances isn’t going to have the strongest military capabilities and vice versa. It’s entirely possible to win games without ever declaring war or opening fire on an opposing empire. Indeed, while that sounds boring, actually pulling off a peaceful victory is immensely satisfying.

Let’s assume for a moment that you are playing as a bunch of militaristic space warriors though, and discuss combat. Spac ebattles use the good old fashioned rock-paper-scissors method, with big-ass capital ships wrecking destroyers, while destroyers are good at taking on ranged carriers, and carries excel at decimating capital vessels due to being able to hang out a sector away as they launch attacks. It’s a simple formula that allows you to parse battles at a glance, aided by a circular meter which indicates which side has the advantage.

You can also quickly get an idea if an attack will be successful or not thanks to the undo button. Send a few fleets in and if its clearly not going to go in your favour, whack the undo button a few times and voila, it’s not a problem. Once you hit the end turn button though, you are committed.

While the 8 mission campaign is reasonably good fun and does a solid job of introducing the various playstyles found in Nexus 5X, it’s not hugely satisfying due to the lack of interesting storylines and characters. The real emphasis seems to be on playing with other people and reacting to their unpredictable human thoughts or pitting your midget brain against the AI in custom bouts of galactic dominance.

A space battle in Nexus 5X, featuring a capital ship

Outside of the campaign, matches against players or AI are played in what’s referred to as Succession, which is not to be confused with the TV show of the same name. Seriously, what is it with these developers and naming stuff after things that already exist? Essentially, the goal is to reach a set amount of Succession Points, anywhere from 50 to 150, and you can do that by building megastructures, levelling up your leader, signing pacts with other empires, blowing stuff up and much more.

Unfortunately, there is a slight problem where sometimes 150 point matches will end at 100 points. Obviously, that can be bloody annoying, especially when you have a solid late-game plan in place and the match ends before you ever get the chance to unleash it.

Every 8 in-game years all players will form a council to vote on the next Title that can be achieved such as Mighty (have the highest military power) or Futurist (have the most completed research) or something else. These are important because the first empire to achieve a a Title earns a good chunk of Succession Points.

This system introduces an interest extra layer of strategy because you can accrue extra votes through several different methods, potentially letting you skew the vote heavily in favour of a Title that suits your Empire and goals. There’s also the possibility of working with other players to choose something that will benefit both of you a the cost of the others.

One thing I did note, is that diplomacy is quite barebones and the higher level AI seem to ignore it for the most part. Signing a pact isn’t a lifelong agreement that you’ll stand by each other in sickness or in health, and breaking it costs a measly 2 Succession Points, so it acts more like a slight deterrent. A lot of the time, other players and the AI will view those couple of lost points as totally worth it for snagging a planet or two. Even as the most peace-loving space hippies, I frequently found myself declaring war for the sake of expanding some territory and then bribing the empire I just assaulted with credits to sign a new pact. On the other hand, maybe that’s just some good roleplaying as a sneaky empire who can get away with murder because they have lots of space money.

A planetary assault in Nexus 5X

Nexus 5X offers a refreshing take on the grand strategy genre, condensing the expansive experience of 4X games like Stellaris and Civilization into faster, hour-long matches. Naturally, that comes with a tradeoff: Nexus 5X isn’t as deep as some of its competitors and doesn’t have the same sense of scale.

Despite some initial struggles with explaining game mechanics, the experience of building and commanding empires, engaging in strategic battles, and pursuing various pathways to victory is both engaging and rewarding.

While the campaign serves as a solid, albeit forgettable, introduction to the game, the real fun lies in facing unpredictable human opponents or challenging AI in custom matches.

Overall, Nexus 5X balances the grandeur of grand strategy games with accessible and satisfying gameplay, making it a terrific choice for anyone who loves the idea of 4X games but finds them too daunting or time-consuming. With its potential for diplomatic intrigue, galactic warfare, and unique victory paths, Nexus 5X offers an enjoyable and strategic journey through the depths of space, all for an incredibly cheap price.

Rating: 4 out of 5.

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