If you’re into your base simulator strategy games, Exogate Initiative is one to keep an eye out for. Developer Xeno Bits have already built an immensely addictive, thoroughly compelling simulation game, and it’s not even properly released yet.
Coming to Early Access on April 18th 2023, it’s a title all about building the ultimate space exploration and research colony. You basically take on the role of Elon Musk, only you won’t be getting into social media tiffs and then proceeding to buy out companies to settle your quarrels.
Exogate Initiative is less about the act of venturing out into the galaxy itself, and more about the behind-the-scenes goings on that allows intergalactic investigation to happen. Looking after scientists, protecting from alien threats, managing financial incentives, the real fun stuff.
Now comes the real question: do you dare step through the Exogate now into the boundless unknown, or wait to see what the future holds?
Investigate The Exogate
The Holy Grail of human scientific discovery has become a reality in Exogate Initiative. Wealthy donors and backers have provided the platform for an Exogate to be developed, providing humanity the chance to reach out and teleport amongst the stars. The committee financing this breakthrough needs someone to head up the facility to facilitate this opportunity, so who else but you?
There’s not a whole lot of story per se in the game, but there are some strong narrative threads that carry you through the campaign. As you develop the base and send out scientists, soldiers and scholars alike, you’ll need to make decisions on how they approach new planets, lifeforms and even dangerous threats.
From my two playthroughs, there’s one consistent foe that’ll be your dominant focus for overcoming. They only appear after you’ve ventured into a decent chunk of the galactic map, but the way choices are offered up during expeditions and their repercussions had me intrigued throughout.
Again, you’re role as overseer of the fledging base means you’re restricted from ever seeing the other-worldly delights yourself, but the sense of running humanity’s outpost amongst the stars is palpable. Some choices don’t seem to make a difference whether they succeed or fail (according to character stats of the squad on the mission), but the level of interactivity is nice and keeps you connected to the overall goings-on as you manage the day-to-day needs of the colony.
While the central hook of Exogate Initiative is pretty cool, the lack of a proper tutorial isn’t. If you’ve played base building games like Dungeon Keeper (I know it’s old but it’s one of the best ever, leave me alone), Two Point Hospital/Campus or Evil Genius 2: World Domination, you’ll roughly know what to do. For new players, you’ll simply be lost I’m afraid until you mess around and figure it out.
The initiation mode provides you with sets of objectives, completion of which nets you money and gives you an idea of how to progress the game. Exogate is all about base and people management. Scientists need a laboratory to study and research, medics need a medbay to keep your trusty employees alive and kicking and everyone needs a barracks where they can rest and recuperate.
To this end, much of the game is about digging out space in the environment around the Exogate, building rooms to accommodate different needs and making sure the pioneers of this colony can survive. There’s a wealth of rooms and various items you can purchase and place for each already. For example, you’ll need a mess hall for food, a workshop to study and process ores, an armoury for exosuits and a recreation room for R&R, to name a few.
I’ve played a few Early Access simulation/management games recently where almost 70% of the content wasn’t ready yet, so for Exogate Initiative to already have so much on offer and functioning so well was great. There’s plenty of systems already in place that are accessible and work smoothly, so once you’re over the initial lack of an introduction, there’s a lot of meat on these bones to get stuck into.
I had some tiny issues with some elements like placing items can sometimes lock the camera, or it can deselect if an expedition finishes at the same time, for example. While they’re by no means deal breakers, they’re rough edges to making the game feel as seamless as it could.
Searching For Sustainability
Now while it would be lovely if you could simply build all of this from the off, having the means of sustaining your colony requires more than well wishes and a clap on a Thursday each week. Exogate Initiative, to this end, sets itself up with a really satisfying and addicting gameplay cycle.
Starting your campaign, you’ll be generously backed by the committee to the tune of $50,000 every month for the first few months. However, like all good things, this support eventually comes to an end. As such, you have to use this investment to set up your lab, hire some scientists and traverse the Exogate via 3-person expeditions to other planets.
This menu is displayed in a grid-like fashion, where it continues to branch out with each planet you explore. Planets designated for research provide your scientists with material they can return with and investigate to develop theories. These theories can then be converted into patents which provide monthly income until they expire. The amount of financial reward is dependent on the quality and number of theories applied to each patent.
So begins your journey of sending out expeditions, leaving time for R&R, researching, writing patents and keeping this flow going smoothly. Every person you hire is another salary to be paid, so it’s a constant balancing act of ensuring you have enough staff but not committing too much to over-stretch. Especially once the funding disappears and you’re solely reliant on patent rejuvenation, you’ll feel the sense of pressure.
It’s also immensely rewarding as you find that beautiful, sustainable, middle-ground. I’d easily find myself logging on for an hour and suddenly realising it’s 4 hours later and I’ve expanded my staffing by almost double. On normal and hard difficulties however, you’ll need to be careful, as over-commitment and job hazards will eventually take their toll. This actually scuppered my first campaign, hence me sheepishly having to start all over again.
Enter The Squabs
Financial ruin isn’t the only potential downfall of your intergalactic startup, too. As you venture out into the connected galaxy, you’ll touchdown onto planets housing alien life, mining operations and hazards. There’s a faction and diplomacy system for engaging with extraterrestrial life, which usually comes alongside narrative choices and potential pitfalls.
Mining operations on planets for the 4 potential ores available can be lucrative and are a necessity for building exosuits to increase your expansion and defensive capabilities, but they’ll drain manpower and resources. There’s a lot to contend with, whether it be needing specific unit types on an expedition group, having the electricity power necessary to spread your influence, or dealing with more lethal threats.
Progression means coming into contact with the squabs, an enemy ripped straight from The Matrix. Squid-like creatures who have a penchant for violence and hostile diplomatic relations, they’ll start to frequently invade your Exogate, laying siege to your base.
Countering their assaults means having soldiers available at guard posts and with weapon racks nearby to arm themselves to fend them off. These invasions provide a sense of challenge and disruption to your base building, but they are slightly one-dimensional (they always come through the Exogate) and they demonstrate a couple of flaws in your people’s AI.
Soldiers will stand ready at guard posts 10 days in advance of the invasion. Which would be great, if some of them didn’t pass out on the 9th day and have to go to the medbay. If a guard is also standing to attention as the invasion starts but aren’t committed to combat, they might just wander off to go get some food or have a nap. Florian mate, my power supply is being ravaged by a red fleshy squid, WHY ARE YOU GOING FOR A NAP AT THIS VERY SECOND?!
Aside from those minor quirks, the various systems for intergalactic travel and dealing with the various dilemmas and threats is compelling. It adds to the addictive nature of watching your base, capabilities and star map expand, knowing you’ve overcome adversity along the way.
Looking Better Than Space-X
For the sake of brevity, I haven’t gone into every mechanic in the game. To round up briefly some other aspects: the research tree is nicely fleshed out. Without having loads of options, what’s here works sufficiently and it’ll take at least 5-6 hours to unlock everything in a typical campaign. You can collect alien artifacts and put them on display which is pretty cool. You have options of being friendly with alien races or sending out defensive missions to lay down the law. There’s more, but that covers the majority of Exogate Initiative’s systems.
While it sounds complex – and it is – it’s remarkably easy to get your head around. Once I was in the rhythm with this game, I couldn’t tear myself away. The first couple hours and potentially your entire first campaign might be forfeit to your learning of it, but it’s worth the investment and sacrifice.
Visually, Exogate is simplistic yet appealing. Nothing here is going to blow you away, but some solid aesthetic choices help sell this base building title. From different rooms having distinct colour palettes to some creative object design and decent animations for how your space-farers interact with them, there’s enough here to enjoy.
Performance-wise, once you start building up a larger complex with dozens of people, things get hectic. Exogate Initiative only asks for 8GB of RAM but I suspect 16GB will be optimal, as I had some significant slowdown in FPS rates towards the end of my second, more successful campaign. I also had a couple of smaller glitches where a character became stuck in an animation in the medbay that I couldn’t resolve, which prevented them recovering from their illness.
Additionally, I hope Xeno Bits can iron out other wrinkles like how if one expedition mission can’t start, the next queued ones will also sit in limbo. Due to the aforementioned animation glitch, all 3 of my missions were just stuck thanks to this one crew member, so I had to constantly cancel and reset missions to fix it.
Ready To Search The Stars?
Exogate Initiative has me very excited indeed for what its final version will look like. Unlike Virgin Galactic and Space-X, this space venture is already on very sure footing, with a promise it will most likely deliver on. I’ve thoroughly enjoyed my Early Access hours that I’ve spent expanding my colony and spreading humanity’s influence amongst the cosmos.
There’s a certain polish to some elements that are missing at this stage, such as AI malfunctions, a lack of proper tutorial to introduce the mechanics and a punishing mid-game for new players. However, the time in Early Access should be ample opportunity to fix up and fine tune these oddities for its full release.
Is it worth starting your fledging space base right now? I’d actually argue it very much is. Exogate Initiative already feels like a relatively complete and wholesome package of satisfying base building, engaging micro-management systems and enjoyable challenge. With both Initiation and Freeplay modes already available alongside 3 difficulties, there’s plenty here for dozens of hours of play.
Time to step through the Exogate and see what lies beyond.
Exogate Initiative is a rare Early Access success, delivering a content-complete base building strategy game that has equal amounts challenge and entertaining systems. Flaws in AI and a lack of proper tutorial may make this a difficult entry point for newcomers to the genre, but beyond the initial barriers of the Exogate lies a thoroughly satisfying and addictive simulation title.
Exogate Initiative is available now on PC via Early Access (review platform).
Developer: Xeno Bits
Publisher: Xeno Bits
Disclaimer: In order to complete this review, we were provided with a promotional copy of the game. For our full review policy, please go here.
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