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Crying Suns has the best scifi story I have ever seen in a game

Overall I give the game a mixed/positive review, with the strengths being story and art design, and weaknesses being some core game design decisions. It's a spaceship rogue-lite very (very) closely modelled on FTL in the general format, but it looks far better (gorgeous pixel art, which I am not usually even a big fan of, but this really won me over).

The story is right up there with big-concept scifi novels. They say they were inspired by Dune and Foundation and I think it really shows. It won't spoil anything you won't learn in the intro to tell you that the setup is that a vast galactic empire completely dependent upon AI "Omnis" is in serious trouble when the Omnis suddenly shut down, and it's your job to find out why and try to save civilisation.

The main story is just fantastic, with some big questions at its core and a cast of interesting characters, and some really excellently written dialogue (which is such a novelty in a game, because so many games have almost no story or have literally highschool-level writing).

It's a little undermined by the fact that a lot of the other written content – like the dialogue in encounter design – has an irreverent tone, almost as if they had different writers for those sections. Genuinely funny at a few points ("Is that your battleship? I hope you kept the receipt"), but it's a bit of a clash that undermines the very serious tone of the main story.

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After the endgame I sat watching the credits for several minutes just basking in the final implications of the story.

As for the game design flaws, I'm going to do a list, because there are quite a few:

  • Like with a lot of rogue-lites, there is a lot of randomness involved that is simply out of your hands, so some of the time you feel like you're more of a passenger to chance than an agent with options. For example, you might feel having more of a certain type of squadron would be very helpful, but you might encounter literally zero options to recruit that type of squadron in your run.
  • Capriciously unfun encounters. Sometimes you will have an encounter where you just essentially get slapped in the face with no options for avoiding it or seeking retribution. Like, someone might sell you something, but it turns out it was fake, and even though they're a civilian and you're a mighty battleship, you can only walk away instead of demanding your money back. Some of them are honestly bafflingly unfun to the point where I want to ask the developers why on God's green Earth they thought it was a good idea – who…who did you imagine would enjoy that?
  • Non-choices. If you tell me treasure might be behind door A, B or C, and I have to pick the door, please just don't bother. That is not a choice, that is a guess. Just pick for me, if you don't give me any clues or options it's just a guess. Go flip a coin in the background and don't waste my time with a charade.
  • There are planetary excursion missions where you deploy a lieutenant and some commandos to a planet to attempt to retrieve resources, and I half-suspect this was originally intended to be an actual mini-game, but as it is now, all you do is choose the lieutenant (with the game already telling you roughly what results they will get, and 99% of the time there is a single obviously-the-best candidate), and then it plays out a series of animations showing you what you get. It feels quite pointless and after the third one – let alone the twentieth – I kind of wish there was an instant "show me the results" button.
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The battles are fun and feel a lot more like a proper space-battle than the remote bombarding you see in FTL. I love having different squadrons to deploy, lets me play out my Battlestar Galactica fantasies. It does use a very crude rock-paper-scissors format, which the AI never seems to make use of, so it's just a tool for the player to get the upper hand.

Overall it's at its most enjoyable when you get lucky, and have a full roster of talented lieutenants to solve problems for you and a well balanced military force so you have strategies for all enemies. When you don't have those things I frequently find myself basically saying "I guess I'll just die, so?"

All that said I found it relatively easy, especially for the first two-thirds (literally cleared half the game on my first run), so you've definitely got some tweaking to do to your gameplay when something can be simultaneously easy and frustrating.

Strongly recommended for fans of rogue-lites and scifi stories.

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