Pros:

  • UI familiar to 4X players
  • Simple yet nice graphics
  • Traditional 4x gameplay
  • Good unit variety

Cons:

  • Free accounts completely gimped
  • Griefer
tl;dr – The best browser based space empire builder, Astro Empires will still cost you money to compete long term.

Astro Empires is a browser based space empire builder game by Cybertopia Studios. First released in early 2006, the game boasts around 2 million registered players as of 2016.

Gameplay

Astro Empires is a space strategy game or a 4X, with close similarities to the cult classic Master of Orion. The game is a space empire builder. You start with a home base with which you build a fleet, research technologies, colonize new worlds or conquer another players’ worlds. Gameplay is real time, with most actions requiring a couple of minutes to complete. The game continues on after you log out. You can get attacked by other players even when offline.

The main resource in this game is Credits. Credits are automatically collected from all your bases, hourly. They are used to pay for structures, fleets and base defences. In addition to building up your base, you can also gain credits by establishing trade routes with another player. You can also conquer and plunder another player’s base for credits.

Each star system in this game is home to multiple planets, asteroids or moons, and these planetary bodies, called Astros in-game, can only have one owner each. The first player to colonize an astro owns it. On each Astro, you have the base screen which allows you to build structures, units, base defense or perform research. Unlike most 4x games, research in this game is done per planet and technologies tend to require multiple research labs to complete. Multiple structures of the same type aren’t allowed per planet. Instead you just upgrade the existing structures. So to get better technologies, it is imperative to expand.

War is a crucial aspect of this game. Ship types are pretty much varied and have their own pros and cons, requiring you to create a well balanced fleet. Dreadnoughts, for example, are powerful, but they are vulnerable to bombers. This isn’t a game where you can just spam the most powerful unit to win. Also, unlike single player 4X games, conquering another player’s territory does not make it yours. Instead you gain 1/3 of that planet’s income and can pillage the enemy players’ coffer. Base structures aren’t destroyed by an attack and an occupied base can still build units and defense. Colonizing new worlds are how you expand in this game.

Like most other browser strategy games, everything is real time and everything in the game takes tens of minutes to complete. You can’t just sit and play this game for an hour. Well you can, but you’ll be just staring at the screen for the next 50 minutes, waiting for your actions to complete.

The Good

This is pretty much multiplayer Master of Orion. The galaxy is massive; there are a lot of planets to colonize. The game’s graphics are also pretty nice for browser game. It reminds you of those old school space empire builder games like Master of Orion 2. The gameplay is also pretty much your standard 4X game, so if you’re into those you can just jump in and play the game.

The Bad

There are two types of accounts, free and upgraded. The free accounts are pretty much gimped, you can only have 2 items in you research and construction queues. You don’t get a bases overview or fleet overview which are essential QoL stuff. And most of all, you can only have 9 bases. Can you imagine playing a 4X game where you can only have 9 planets/cities/territories? Even worse is that new players starts as an upgraded, which reverts to a free account after a week. This is sleazy bait-and-switch tactic. More than in other browser strategy games, players can easily take over vital parts of your base. It can be pretty frustrating to login and see your planets conquered without a good way to retaliate.

Closing Thoughts

As a space empire builder, Astro Empires is so so. It’s core gameplay is good, but I don’t even know if you can really call this a free to play space empire builder game. After all, how much of an empire can you build with only 9 bases? If you have money to spend then you can upgrade your account and enjoy the game to its full extent. Or maybe you can use that money to buy an actual 4X game instead. Ultimately it’s a decision you’ll have to make whether the fee to play is worth access to a fully fledged multiplayer 4X browser game. And don’t forget to make friends – you’ll need them to survive. At least you can play for a short time with all the bells and whistles to see if Astro Empires is a good fit.

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