A while back we got a chance to take a look at Sunrider: The First Arrival. Sunrider was the result of a wildly successful Kickstarter that raised over 14 times the minimum goal. This hybrid visual novel and turn-based strategy game was received quite well on Steam. Oh, and it’s free.
The original plan was for Sunrider to be released in three installments. The first installment aptly named The First Arrival came and went and then saw many beta updates. Now the next episode, Mask of Arcadius, has hit Steam. With a ton of positive revisions to the game, Sunrider cements itself as the paragon of successful Kickstarter gaming ventures.
As the game is not yet completed, this is not a full review. Sunrider still has a long ways to go before it’s finished even though it already plays extremely well in its early state. As with the first episode, Mask of Arcadius tells the story of captain Kayto Shields, captain of the Sunrider cruiser.
Mask of Arcadius brings with it an incredible number of gameplay changes. The most obvious and impactful is the shift from a square grid battlefield to a hex-based one. The tactical implications are varied and wonderful. A 2D space combat game needs to compensate for the lack of the third dimension, and the hex variant proves to be the missing piece for Mask of Arcadius.
Other gameplay changes include better handling of the missile and flak mechanics, making missiles a key strategic option once again. Outside of combat, new weapons and items are available as well as mercenary ships for hire to flesh out your ragtag fleet. Throw in Skirmish Mode and tons of new content and Mask of Arcadius makes a great early showing.
The game’s narrative ups the stakes as well. Where The First Arrival made sure that the moral conundrums faced by Captain Shields were extreme, Mask of Arcadius now follows up by making those choices matter. At the start, the player is asked to recreate the choices from The First Arrival. Unfortunately the process detaches the player from the emotional weight of those choices.
This is a little off-putting, as the game was not designed to be a seamless transition between the two parts though they are not separate games. Nevertheless, the process is relatively painless and every important choice is available to make again albeit in a generalized manner.
Mask of Arcadius compensates for this by making those choices matter. Skipped side missions in The First Arrival result in tougher missions for Mask of Arcadius. And the options left to Kayto this time around only up the stakes further. Bringing the politics of the world to bear, Mask of Arcadius gives the player greater immersion into the power plays between PACT, the Alliance, and the Neutral Rim.
Musically Mark of Arcadius continues to excel as well, keeping the swooping themes of the space opera. With the same level of art quality seen throughout, the aesthetic of The First Arrival is perfectly maintained while adding enough new material to seem like a definite shift in the overall theme.
Sunrider: Mask of Arcadius vastly improves the experience of The First Arrival. Though it ends on a brutal cliffhanger, the promise of the third part to come is enough to keep the player satisfied. This is a great extension of the game, and Sunrider gets top marks as the most overlooked indie gaming gen of the year.