Ixion begins by asking the question “What if Homeworld was a management simulation?”. He then proceeds to answer that question in a complete and convincing manner. Bulwark Studios’ epic epic takes the lyrical, elegiac grandeur of Relic’s RTS classic, but replaces space battles with a mellow mix of stellar logistics.
Also like Homeworld, it’s a damn stylish thing. The game begins with a spectacular intro cutscene in which a futuristic space shuttle blasts off from Earth, traversing the atmosphere to dock with a gigantic rotating space station like a chrome hubcap of tanker pride and joy. . The cutscene transitions seamlessly into the in-game perspective, where you see that same shuttle glide into the docking bay from the cold void outside. Welcome to the Tiqqun, Administrator. Your long journey begins here.
The Tiqqun (pronounced “Tycoon”) is an ark for humanity, or alternatively, colossal musky madness built on the belief that finding a new planet to call home is a better idea than not shitting off the atmosphere of this one. That we have. spent millions of years evolving to thrive (not that I have any strong opinions on the subject). Either way, the Tiqqun has everything humanity needs, namely buildings, bug burgers, and a massive engine called the “VOHLE” drive, which allows the station to travel between the stars. in a way that I won’t pretend to understand. Naturally, when you turn the key in the ignition, something goes wrong. I won’t spoil what, but the net result is that the Tiqqun is left broken and alone in the wide expanse. From there, you have two basic goals. Keep your crew alive and find yourself a beautiful watery goldilocks planet where you can restart civilization.
In-game, Ixion is divided into three distinct, yet interconnected layers. The first of these, and the one in which you will spend the most time, is the interior of the Tiqqun. This is where Ixion most closely resembles a standard management simulation. To keep your crew alive and happy, you need to build them houses, ensure a steady supply of food, and maintain “stability” by constructing specific buildings and adopting certain policies. To do all of this, you’ll need to establish production chains for various resources, such as alloys, electronics, and polymers.
All the familiar stuff. But Ixion’s settings add some wrinkles. The Tiqqun may be huge, but its interior is still limited. Before you know it, you’ll have completely filled the first of its six sectors and opened the sector two partition to expand your building space. Each sector is operationally independent, but most will rely on other sectors to provide them with specific resources. This means that you must manage the import and export of resources between different sectors, establishing a complex network of logistics pipelines that run like arteries throughout the station. The focus on spatial management works well with the theme of the game, although it’s slightly annoying not being able to move a structure once it’s been built, instead of having to take it down and rebuild it entirely.
From ringed gas giants to shattered moons to planet-sized shards of ice, Ixion goes to great lengths to make space tangible and spectacular.
The other notable wrinkle is the crew itself. Since you are stuck in space, your manpower is initially limited. While you can acquire more workers in a way I’ll cover, you can’t just create more when you want, because that would take about eighteen years too long. Therefore, you need to be careful how you distribute your workforce, migrating workers between sectors and making sure you don’t overload individual sectors with work, as this can lead to accidents and labor. dissatisfaction.
On that level alone, Ixion is a perfectly decent management sim. Balancing the needs of your population with the space and resources you have allows you to rotate the dishes, while setting up a new logistics route and watching all your automated robots come out of the backup stock is always satisfying. The depiction of life aboard the Tiqqun is a bit barren, however. The buildings contain a reasonable amount of detail, but your human workers wander aimlessly along the pathways. It’s a far cry from the complex, characterful animation of the Two Point series. That’s not too much of a problem, however, as most of Ixion’s personality is elsewhere.
The second layer is the exterior of the station, which mechanically is much simpler than the interior. All you’re doing here is building solar panels for more power, and a few more specific additions that you’ll unlock as you continue through the story. It’s worth visiting once in a while, however, for its magnificent views of space. The various star systems you visit are fully rendered in 3D, so as you move the Tiqqun between planets, you get a whole new, often spectacular sci-fi backdrop. From ringed gas giants to shattered moons to planet-sized shards of ice, Ixion goes to great lengths to make space tangible and spectacular. You’ll also see your EVA workers gliding across the surface of the station as they constantly repair the hull, though the outside view doesn’t seem to visualize your various ships docked in the station, which is a shame.
“Ships, you say? Well, fellow traveler, let me introduce you to the third layer of Ixion – the planetary layer! Here, your perspective zooms out to a Mass Effect-style overview of the star system you’re currently in and lets you direct Tiqqun’s exploration of the system. You’ll launch probes to investigate signals that reveal new resources and anomalies, then send out mining ships and freighters to acquire the resources, and science ships to investigate the anomalies. These will reveal story nuggets that, depending on your choices, could result in new resources, a gruesome death for your science team, or the discovery of cryopods that you can collect and thaw aboard the Tiqqun to earn new workers. .
The three layers are all interesting in their own way, but it’s in how they interact that Ixion really begins to impress. If a freighter brings a resource back to the wrong loading dock, you’ll need to establish a whole new logistics pipeline to get it where it needs to be. Meanwhile, external events, like the loss of a science vessel, can have a dramatic effect on crew morale, leading to unrest and even worker strikes. Moving the Tiqqun itself is always a huge event, as the station can only run on battery power while moving, and moving greatly increases the stress on the hull. Therefore, you must plan and prepare Tiqqun’s maneuvers very carefully, making sure you have enough stored energy to handle the journey, and possibly doing it in stages, jumping from planet to planet.
Meanwhile, these micro-stories unfold against the backdrop of the larger narrative. Your progression through the different star systems is linear, each acting as a chapter in the overall story. Ixion’s sci-fi storytelling effectively captures the weird and passively hostile nature of space. The Tiqqun isn’t the only manifestation of humanity’s flight from Earth either, and as you jump from star to star, your science teams will rummage through the remains of other expeditions. You’ll explore moon bases ravaged by mutated spores, converse with an AI that’s been left alone for countless years, and witness the galactic aftermath of the accident that left the Tiqqun stranded in the first place.
“It’s a gripping story that gives your day-to-day management of the resort a real sense of duty”
It’s a gripping story that gives your day-to-day running of the resort real meaning. Moving from chapter to chapter can be a hassle though. Key story points will often require you to meet a certain set of parameters, which may mean transporting a set number of resources to and from the Tiqqun. Unlike general resource gathering, for which you can assign as many freighters as you can support, these mission-specific deliveries can only be made by a single ship. This means waiting for it to charge, travel, discharge, return, and then recharge, usually multiple times. It’s an annoying bottleneck that really slows down the later stages of a chapter, made worse by the fact that the game punishes you for staying too long in a star system, with your crew essentially taking psychological damage from not having any planet to call home.
That aside, though, Ixion is a great mix of management sim and sci-fi storytelling. There are a lot of games clamoring for my attention right now, Darktide, The Callisto Protocol, this new God of War on the Devil’s PC to name a few. But throughout my time at Ixion, I’ve never been tempted to sacrifice it for those bigger, flashier games, which is a testament to its meticulous design and gripping story about humanity’s search for a new celestial roof under which to sleep.
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