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Star Trek: Infinite - title

In a Nutshell

WHAT I LIKE

  • A Star Trek 4-x!
  • Brings back warp drive FTL
  • Studying anomalies and phenomena on the map
  • Greater focus on diplomacy
  • First contact process
  • Missions and quests provide structure and guidance
  • More direct control over espionage
  • Lore of Warp Highways

WHAT I DISLIKE

  • Only covers Next Gen
  • Only 4 playable factions
  • In medias res start limits exploration
  • Anachronistic events and game progression
  • No border skirmishes without declaration of war
  • Not enough to do with military fleets
  • AIs seem very passive
  • Built on an outdated version of Stellaris
  • No licensed Star Trek music

Overall Impression : D+ / C-
Desperately needs expansions and long-term support.

Star Trek: Infinite - cover

Developer:
Nimble Giant Entertainment

Publisher:
Paradox Interactive

Platforms:
PC (via Steam)

MSRP: $30 USD

Original release date:
12 October 2023

Genre:
sci-fi 4-x grand strategy (set in Star Trek IP)

Player(s):
up to 4 players

Play time:
20+ hours

ESRB Rating: N/A
MegaBearsFan Parental Rating: appropriate for all ages.

Official site:
www.paradoxinteractive.com/games/star-trek-infinite/about

When Infinite was first announced, I (and many others) had assumed that it would just be an official release of the New Horizons total conversion mod for Stellaris. That mod was huge, offering tons of factions and covering the entire breadth of Star Trek canon from the Original Series to Voyager, and back through Discovery (and even some Kelvin-verse-inspired content). Unfortunately, that ended up not being the case, and Star Trek: Infinite proves to be a major downgrade from New Horizons.

The "New Horizons" mod for Stellaris included all eras of Star Trek.

Despite its title, Star Trek: Infinite is surprisingly scaled back in scope. It only includes the Alpha and Beta Quadrants, and only 4 playable factions: the Federation, Klingons, Romulans, and Cardassians. I understand not including factions like the Dominion and Borg as playable factions. They actually make more sense as a form of "final boss" that invades the Alpha or Beta Quadrants to provide a late-game challenge that could help make the end-game of a 4-x strategy less tedious, less easy, and more interesting. And I also understand not including smaller, "alien-of-the-week" factions like the Gorn, Tholian, or Sheliak as playable factions. Although I wish more of them would show up as NPC factions. But I really think that factions like the Ferengi Alliance and maybe even the Breen should have been included. The Federation is peaceful and diplomatic, while the other 3 factions are (broadly speaking) different flavors of militaristic. The mercantile, yet exploitative trade-based play style of the Ferengi would have been a good change of pace from the other factions.

Worse yet, Infinite doesn't cover the breadth of Star Trek history that I had hoped it would. The game begins with the Romulan attack on Khitomer, for which Worf's father was framed, and shortly after the Cardassian occupation of Bajor. And [spoiler alert!] the Borg start appearing at the fringes of Federation and Romulan space within an hour or 2 of starting a new game. It takes place entirely within the scope of The Next Generation, and does not contain any content from Enterprise, The Original Series, or the "lost era" between The Undiscovered Country and Next Generation.

Star Trek: Infinite is limited in scope,
taking place entirely within TNG era, and having only 4 playable factions.

Unfortunately, Paradox killed support for this game prematurely, and it will not be seeing any additional updates or DLC. Initially, I had expected to see a lot of DLC that would fill in the gaps, because Paradox has always been known for the ridiculous amount of DLC that they always sell for their games. I expected to see DLC packs that would push the start of the game back to the 22nd or 23rd centuries and include Enterprise, Original Series, and "Lost Era" ships and storylines. I thought maybe we would see factions like the Ferengi, Gorn, Tholians, Kzinti, Xindi, Sheliak, and maybe even the Vulcans and Andorians show up as playable factions. And I had also anticipated expansions that might add Gamma and Delta Quadrant content, such as playable Dominion, Breen, Kazon, Vidiian, Krenim, Hirogen, and maybe even Borg factions, while also expanding the size of the galaxy.

But now, none of that is going to happen, and the only way Infinite will see any new content is if modders decide to take on these tasks. It would be cool if the "New Horizons" modders would move some (or all) of their content into Star Trek: Infinite, as it might give this game a new life, and help it live up to its true potential as an era-spanning Star Trek grand strategy game.

In medias res

The game starts in medias res with every faction already having well-defined borders and having 3 or 4 colonized planets. The Federation even starts with the Betazoid faction about to join the Federation, and the Cardassians start with Bajor being occupied. I like that the Federation and Cardassians have these extra thematic wrinkles to their start conditions, but the fact that everybody starts the game as an established empire with borders pushing right up against each other means that there isn't much of an early-game exploration or colonization phase. This kind of sucks because early-game exploration tends to be my favorite part of 4-x games. I love exploring the new map, finding resources to exploit and exciting opportunities for colonies. Most of that is taken away by the starting conditions.

There's also no option (that I found) to play in a completely randomized map, with all the major and minor factions starting in actual random positions. Maybe that's something that could also have been DLC, if the game hadn't been killed.

The game starts with all 4 factions having small empires and established borders.

On the other side of the coin, having all the major powers start the game with their borders pushed right up against each other creates opportunities for immediate conflict. Or at least it would, if the CPU factions weren't so annoyingly passive. The game starts with the Romulans having just invaded and conquered a Klingon world, yet the Romulans and Klingons are not in an open state of war, and the CPU controlling whichever faction the player isn't controlling doesn't even attack the other early in the game.

CPU factions basically only declare war if they have an overwhelming military advantage. And even then, they are often reluctant to do so. There's also no border skirmishes, because the game does not allow factions to attack another faction's ships unless there is a state of open war.

There really isn't anything to do with your military ships and fleets if you aren't at war. They can be used to explore systems, but you'll need a science vessel in order to properly survey the system and be able to colonize it or build any resource-collectors. And even then, the systems that can be explored are severely limited by the warp range of the military ship, and once the ship leaves the system, I can't see any of the planets anymore. Which means that I have to make a point of looking at each and every system that a military fleet explores before they leave the system, and then have to remember whether any habitable planets were there.

Military ships can occasionally be used to resolve mini-quests.

Occasionally, an anomaly or mini-quest might require the presence of a military ship in order to resolve. But these are few and far between. Most of the time, military fleets just sit around doing nothing. They can't perform military drills or war games. They aren't useful for border patrols since their limited sensor range doesn't tell you much about enemy activity on the other side of the border (spy ships are used for that sort of thing), and the game doesn't allow border skirmishes without a formal declaration of war anyway. Military fleets also aren't going back and forth delivering supplies or medicine, transporting colonists, ferrying dignitaries, or doing any of the other routine stuff that we might see the Enterprise doing in any given episode of the TV show.

And it isn't like the game couldn't have been designed to make military ships feel more useful. If spies, governors, envoys, and so forth didn't have their own ships, then fleets could have been used to ferry them around. The question then is whether that would prove to be tedious for the player to manage (and whether the A.I. could be programmed to properly use the ships for those functions).

The Federation's extra envoys enable most of its expansion.

Another potential use for ships and fleets would be for diplomatic missions, such as conducting the game's "first contact" mini-games. I really like that there is an actual mechanic for making first contact with other factions, but it is a bit passive. Basically, you find an alien homeworld or meet an unknown ship in space, then assign an envoy to learn their language and open diplomatic channels, then just sit and wait for the process to complete. There's a couple points where the game prompts the player to make a decision, and these decisions will affect the starting diplomatic relationship modifiers between the player and the new faction.

Unfortunately, this First Contact mechanic feels a bit under-baked. The envoys aren't leaders or characters in the same sense that admirals, scientists, and governors are. As far as I can tell, they don't have any inherent abilities or skills, and don't develop new skills or traits as the game goes on. Nor can they be elected or appointed as head of state. So it doesn't matter which envoy you send to which other faction. They're just currency; as long as you have a spare envoy, you can conduct a First Contact.

The Federation gets access to extra envoys, which is one of the ways that the game separates them from other factions in terms of playstyle. The Federation is very limited in its Influence generation, which prevents them from rapidly building new outposts and claiming territory. Instead, they are expected to use their envoys to build relations with minor factions before admitting them into the Federation. In the meantime, the other factions are claiming systems and possibly conquering those same factions the Federation is wooing.

Military ships don't do much when not in a state of war.

As far as military ships go, I wonder if the intent is for the factions to not have sizeable standing fleets, but rather to build military fleets only when needed during times of war, then disband or decommission them when hostilities end. But this wouldn't really be in keeping with the theme of Star Trek, in which (for Starfleet especially) military starships are routinely used for exploration, planetary surveys, studying phenomena, assisting with terraforming and colonization, and so forth. But Stellaris' hard separation between a military ship and a science ship creates arbitrary limitations on what starships can actually do.

Players do have more direct control over espionage, such as being able to send spies to specific enemy planets or installations to perform various missions. This proved especially valuable for the Romulans, since the fact that the Klingons refused to go to war with me over the Khitomer incursion (despite the Klingons having a superior military force) meant that I had little else to do, except for spying on the other factions and trying to pit them against each other.

The "good ol' days" of Stellaris?

Star Trek: Infinite is built off an old version of Stellaris, which means it does not include many of the more recent features, mechanics, and ease-of-use updates. This was possibly done in order to re-use the old warp drive FTL method, which was removed from Stellaris years ago for balance reasons. But instead of re-adding warp drive to a newer build of Stellaris with all its other conveniences, they just built this new game off an older version.

Fleets can warp past border defenses.

Personally, I liked the warp drive mechanic and was very disappointed when Paradox removed it from Stellaris. That was kind of the point where I fell off of Stellaris originally. I'm glad to see warp drive come back, but I'm disappointed that Infinite didn't come up with its own fix or work-around for the issues that warp drive caused with the original Stellaris game.

The most notable problem that comes back due to the return of warp drive is that warp makes it impossible to set up defensive perimeters or fortifications. Warp allows ships and fleets to fly to any star system within the warp range, and so enemy fleets can literally just fly past defensive fleets and starbases, and defending fleets have no way to intercept approaching enemy fleets in open space.

To me, it seems like the solution should be to have a way for ships or fleets to intercept each other. But Stellaris' developers either weren't interested in implementing such a solution, or they found it too technically difficult. Sadly, Infinite's developers weren't able to solve this problem either, but they decided to stick with warp drive due to it being more thematic to the Star Trek IP.

Instead, there are 2 less useful concessions that were made to make warp travel feel less exploitable. The first is that the warp range of fleets is very limited outside of that faction's borders. You're fleets can only really reach the systems that immediately border your own anyway. This prevents a massive fleet from warping straight to an enemy homeworld.

Battles take long enough for the
defender to rally reinforcements.

Secondly, the game will throw up a dialogue box warning the player if an enemy fleet is detected travelling to one of your systems. This allows the player to immediately pause the game and issue an order for your nearest fleet(s) to meet the invader at their destination. As long as you have a starbase there (and upgraded it with decent weapons and shields), the starbase should be able to hold off most small or medium-size fleets until reinforcement fleets can arrive.

These limitations of the rules and interface conveniences prevent the the warp mechanic from feeling completely broken. It's still frustrating for the defender, because the aggressor always feels like they are able to hit you at your most vulnerable spots.

All the inscrutabilities of Paradox games

Infinite is also subject to all the inscrutability of Stellaris (and Paradox's game design in general). Upon starting up a new game, it's difficult to do anything, because the game is constantly bombarding the player with popups and tutorial tooltips. Whether it's storyline dialogues, or anomaly prompts, or diplomatic messages, or warnings about economic resources, a new player will likely have a very hard time wrapping their mind around everything that is going on.

This is why I prefer games like Civilization, which start very small and limited, and gradually introduce new mechanics and concepts as the player plays and the game opens up. Paradox's design just bombards the player with an overload of information. You basically have to restart or save scum in order to make any kind of informed early-game decisions.

Why does the Klingon economy suddenly crash
an hour or so into the campaign?!

Even with all of those popups and tutorials, there's still so much that doesn't make sense. The Klingon campaign, in particular is infuriatingly confusing and difficult. Within an hour of starting the campaign, the whole Klingon economy suddenly tanks without any apparent reason or explanation from the game. I'm cruising along, seemingly doing fine. I'm generating between 50 and 100 energy and 25 food, while laying claims on Khitomer and building up my navy for an invasion. Then suddenly, my energy income goes 100 points into the red and food goes negative as well.

I cannot figure out why this is happening! Is it some policy, or edict, or story event that is expiring? It doesn't seem to be a result of empire or planet stability, because this economic crash happens even if I have 2 or 3 governors propping up the stability of planets, and I go out of my way to build amenities and housing. And it isn't maintenance from starships and armies because this happens whether I have built those fleets and armies yet or not. Is this the result of Romulan spies disrupting my economy? I know that I can perform spy missions to syphon energy credits, but I wasn't aware of any spy missions to reduce food income. And if it is Romulan spies, then how do I counteract this? My own counter-espionage efforts don't seem to have any effect.

I just do not know what's happening here, and despite restarting the campaign 10 times and trying different strategies for proactively stabilizing the economy, I just cannot prevent this crash from happening. I have to try to just power through it and hope it resolves itself as mysteriously as it started.

Nimble Giant contributes to Star Trek lore

The developer Nimble Giant also did not seem satisfied simply making an open-ended Star Trek strategy game. Infinite also has its own little storylines in the form of quests that the player can resolve. Stellaris (and Paradox's other strategy games) have always had a very strong emergent story-telling component, but that has mostly come from random events that are determined by character traits. In Star Trek: Infinite's case, there are a lot of scripted events that happen when certain conditions are met. Some of these diverge from established Star Trek canon in weird (and sometimes off-putting) ways; while other story events are actually well thought-out and interesting contributions to Star Trek lore that help to answer some of the franchise's most difficult questions.

My favorite little bit of nuance in Infinite is the lore of the Warp Highways. Basically, in Star Trek: Infinite, certain black holes are linked together by narrow subspace wave emissions that can be "ridden" in order to dramatically increase a ship's warp velocity. This has the gameplay function of allowing factions to explore distant parts of the galaxy beyond the borders of rival empires that would otherwise be impassable. It also serves as is a tidy explanation for continuity inconsistencies behind how fast starships are able to travel at warp in the actual TV show and movies. The existence of such Warp Highways could explain how the Enterprise in The Original Series and The Final Frontier might have been able to travel from Earth to the edge of the galaxy, and from the Klingon-Romulan border to the center of the galaxy in a timely manner. Or how the NX-01 manages to travel from Earth to Qo'nos in a matter of days instead of weeks or months.

Warp Highways provide a compelling explanation for inconsistencies with warp travel.

But Infinite doesn't stop there. It further implies that the highways are, unbeknownst to those using them, old Borg transwarp nodes that the Borg no longer regularly use. In fact, studying and using the Warp Highways in the game seems to be the trigger for starting the Borg quest line.

Each faction also has a tree of missions that also sort of tell a story, as well as providing a series of long-term goals for the player to work for. Each faction also has some diverging paths on their respective mission tree that can allow the player to customize the faction to suit a particular play style. These faction missions and quest storylines provide guidance and structure to the campaigns, and also set the pace of play. Unfortunately, game pacing is one of Infinite's biggest problems.

The player can be given missions or quests for which it is impossible (or borderline impossible) to meet the requirements before the quest's time limit expires. They might require sending ships or fleets to locations that they cannot reach due to closed borders or limitations of warp range. It could be argued that such objectives could act as stimulation or pressure for the player to expand or attempt diplomatic actions with other factions or otherwise take actions that they otherwise would not take, and that this can serve to keep the game dynamic and prevent it from becoming stale. That would be true, if the game's mechanics didn't actively prohibit the player from taking any actions that would allow them to meet the objectives -- whether that might be the slow accumulation of Influence preventing the creation of new starbases that would extend warp range, or limitations on what diplomatic actions a player can take due to relationship levels with the other factions. Sometimes these missions are impossible to complete simply because there literally isn't enough time to build the necessary ship(s) or infrastructure, and move units across the map before the time limit expires, even if you start doing so as soon as the quest is given.

Missions and quests provide some structure and guidance for the campaign.

All of this creates an environment in which players probably do a lot of save-scumming, or they restart a campaign completely in order to properly prepare for some of the more important quests or events. I sure as hell re-started each campaign multiple times.

New ship classes are few and far between, and are out of order of their canonical development. In all of my Federation playthrough attempts, I only had access to the default Miranda destroyers and Oberth science ships up through the date that the Dominion War should be happening. The second ship I would unlock would be the Intrepid. The Intrepid's appearance around the time of the Dominion War is technically accurate, but it's appearance in the tech tree precedes the Excelsior class and Galaxy class (with the exception of the Enterprise-D, if you unlock it early from the mission tree). The other factions have similarly wonky ship unlock timings.

Oh, and ship classes that canonically appear before or around the start of the game, like the Ambassador and Constellation classes, are nowhere to be seen. Nor does the game seem to include the Nebula class.

If you ask me, the Miranda destroyer and Excelsior light cruiser should both be available to the Federation from the start of the game, with the Constellation class heavy destroyer and Ambassador class cruiser being unlockable fairly early in the game. Similarly, the Klingons should have access to Birds of Prey and K'Tinga light cruisers from the start, and the Romulans should have the Bird of Prey and a proto-warbird light cruiser.

New starship classes are few, far between, and anachronistic.

Not the Birth of the Federation successor I was hoping for

Despite its limitations and lack of support from its publisher moving forward, I still kind of recommend Star Trek: Infinite to anybody who is a Star Trek fan, and especially if you've been eagerly anticipating a spiritual successor to Birth of the Federation. Infinite may not be great, but it's still the only Star Trek grand strategy game that's been released in the last 25 years (no, I don't count Star Trek: Conquest). If we don't at least try this game, and give it a fair chance, publishers and developers might think there isn't a market or interest for a Star Trek 4x, and it might be another 25 years before we see the next one.

No, Star Trek: Infinite isn't the epic, era-spanning Star Trek grand strategy game that I was hoping for. But it does have some good ideas, and I still largely had a good time playing it, despite constantly being keenly aware of its shortcomings. And it fills a very specific niche that isn't likely to be filled again by a retail game in a very, very long time.

And hey, if you end up not liking it, you can always go back to the "New Horizons" mod, or get your Star Trek 4x fix from the Star Trek: Ascendancy tabletop game!

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A gamer's thoughts

Welcome to Mega Bears Fan's blog, and thanks for visiting! This blog is mostly dedicated to game reviews, strategies, and analysis of my favorite games. I also talk about my other interests, like football, science and technology, movies, and so on. Feel free to read more about the blog.

Check out my YouTube content at YouTube.com/MegaBearsFan.

Follow me on Twitter at: twitter.com/MegaBearsFan

Patreon

If you enjoy my content, please consider Supporting me on Patreon:
Patreon.com/MegaBearsFan

FTC guidelines require me to disclose that as an Amazon Associate, I earn from qualifying purchases made by clicking on Amazon product links on this site. All Amazon Associate links are for products relevant to the given blog post, and are usually posted because I recommend the product.

Without Gravity

And check out my colleague, David Pax's novel Without Gravity on his website!

Featured Post

The Humanity of NCAA Football's In-Season RecruitingThe Humanity of NCAA Football's In-Season Recruiting08/01/2022 If you're a fan of college football video games, then I'm sure you're excited by the news from early 2021 that EA will be reviving its college football series. They will be doing so without the NCAA license, and under the new title, EA Sports College Football. I guess Bill Walsh wasn't available for licensing either? Expectations...

Random Post

John Curtin is Civilization VI's Australian beachfront prospectorJohn Curtin is Civilization VI's Australian beachfront prospector12/01/2017 I've already written guides for some of Civilization VI's vanilla newcomer civs and leaders, so now I'm going to move onto one of the DLC civilizations that makes its first appearances in the franchise: John Curtin's Australia. This civ and leader are part of the "Deluxe Edition DLC". If you purchased the Deluxe Edition of the...

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