IXION is a survival city builder and manager, set in the vastness of space. It was developed by Bulwark Studios and published by Kasedo Games. This review was written playing a press and media pre-release version of the game, until halfway through the 3rd chapter. While there has been effort to keep spoilers to a minimum, story setting and elements will be referenced. IXION is now available on Windows PC, and you can purchase it on Steam and on the Epic Games Store.
The year is 2049, and the Earth is dying. It’s not dead, but the point of no return has been crossed. The Marduk Council of the Dolos Corporation has put you at the helm of their project to ensure humanity’s survival. You are the administrator of Tiqqun, a city-sized spaceship, divided into six sectors. As such, you must guide its crew through the perils of space, in order to find and settle Remus, a planet identified to house hospitable environments for human life. Remus is, as 21st century would call it, Planet B. And you must do so in competition with other factions, all wanting a piece of the new world.
However, the Tiqqun is just a husk. You are tasked to make it and its space-travel Vohle engine operational. This task constitutes the prologue, where you get to learn a bit about the Dolos Corporation, the Marduk Council, and basic mechanics of the game. Since you are not just making the journey, you are preparing for it, this provides a rare sense of involvement in story and lore right off the bat. The prologue is otherwise quite linear, with not many options to explore or gather resources (it makes sense that they would be depleted in our home system). There are a few surprises though, and you can get a glimpse of the true motives and methods of the Dolos Corporation.
Once the first Vohle-engine powered jump is performed, which lore-wise is the first one ever, the prologue ends in a spectacular manner, and the game suddenly picks up speed. The change in pace is accompanied by new and fitting parts of the soundtrack. Now there are several crises to solve. Communications with Earth and Dolos are non-functional. Your PA, Edden, lets you know just how low chances of survival are. The planetary system around you is quiet and desolate. There’s about 200 crew relying on your command. Alone in space just attained new meaning. This is when your true trials will begin.
Let’s talk a bit more about music. The soundtrack is composed by Guillaume David, and if you have never heard that name, know that the description of Bulwark Studios on Twitter defines them as a music label first and foremost, whose studio makes games to promote that music. While it is certainly unorthodox to create a game for music rather than the other way around, the approach has yielded a fantastic result in IXION, where the music has laid the foundation for an incredibly atmospheric game. I find myself pausing and cranking up the volume at certain bits.
The intensity and difficulty of the game increases at a nice pace as you progress through the chapters. Each chapter contains a few main objectives, which after completion will allow you to use the Vohle-engine again and proceed to the next. Doing so will put you in new perils each time, both through added mechanics, but also through more severe versions of earlier mechanics, an increasing number of events and population requests, and more complicated main objectives. One example of such a mechanic is that each Vohle-jump will both cause irreparable damage to the hull, and faster deterioration of the repairable part, thus increasing the maintaining difficulty as you advance throughout the chapters. Losing all the hull points is one of two ways to lose the game. The other is by losing all your crew’s trust points, causing mutiny.
Stability is your people’s perception of how you are doing as administrator, and will directly influence trust. Stability modifiers can be both permanent from events and present buildings, or temporary from (dis)satisfaction. Tip: Don’t let your people starve. They will HATE that. It’s no fun when the only mess hall you have in a sector breaks down right before a meal is served. Suddenly that entire sector will hate you. Low stability also causes strikes, which basically work like accidents (people are injured and buildings become inoperable for a time). There’s no way to prevent all accidents and deaths, but you can make them far more unlikely by providing decent working conditions, which means only operating as many buildings as your workers can handle.
As mentioned, the station is divided into six sectors. From the beginning you have access to just the one, and unlocking more will become both a necessity and a downside as you progress. Each sector has its separate needs and wants, both in regards to electricity, workforce, resources and crew happiness. You can transfer crew freely between sectors, but will have to make sure the new sector can provide for the new inhabitants. Overall ship crew can (and must) be increased by collecting and processing the “cryo pod” resource. The downside is that you will have to provide more food and housing. Some of the thawed personnel will also be untrained for work, bringing only the downsides. The untrained personnel are not useless though, as they can be used for colonisation. Each Tiqqun sector also has a specialisation which is automatically assigned through the buildings you place there. This means you want to concentrate on one building type for maximum efficiency. You can also redesign entire sectors to meet these criteria. Deconstructing just takes time from your mech and transporters, it does not account for a resource penalty.
Mech and transporters are the core of your internal expansion. The mech will build and deconstruct buildings and roads, and the transporters will distribute resources. Distribution is limited by the fact that resources must be transported and distributed from one location to another, via the storage, and each storage has a limited number of transporters. Transporters cannot go directly from a deconstruction site to a construction site, for example. However, the transporters working for the storage can “teleport”. This means that if there’s only inward flow to the storage, transporters only move one way, they do not need to move back and forth. Managing resources between sectors is done with a well thought out surplus, shortage and priority system. You set the rules, and the game handles the rest.
Internal expansion and story progression are dependent on exploring and colonising space. Space can be explored by launching drones to find resources and locations (this HAS to be a nod at the similar mechanic from Mass Effect 2), and then by sending out mining and cargo ships to collect. There’s also the essential science ship piloted by the explorers in a science team. Don’t be fooled by the term “science” in “science team”. The terminology is based on the fact that they collect science resources from events, but these scientists are actually your main system-exploring asset and they will put their lives at stake to unearth stellar secrets hidden on planets and derelict stations. In short, they brave the nightmares of a barren universe so you don’t have to.
You can also explore by moving the Tiqqun itself, which provides an opportunity to place the base of operation closer to resource nodes. Moving and jumping the Tiqqun takes all of its solar power. This means you need batteries to keep everything going meanwhile. Failure to do so will result in production losses and trust penalties. To do a Vohle-jump, all ships need to return to the Tiqqun, however, the station will start charging the jump immediately anyway, after calling them back, and once charged you can accept to perform it, so I’m not sure if there’s any penalty to leaving ships out for the jump.
The game contains so many mechanics that I could talk about them all day, but it still doesn’t feel overwhelming playing IXION, as the basic mechanics are very similar to other such city survival games, and everything that makes IXION a unique and memorable experience, is introduced at a steady pace. There’s also an expanding amount of information provided in the tutorial encyclopedia, very accessible and easy to read.
Graphical representation of empty space can be difficult. While most of the game is spent in the Tiqqun station, IXION does a very good job of creating rich visual experiences also while exploring, both by cutscenes, but also with stellar formations, ruins of artificial constructs, space weather. There’s also those little details that can be difficult to explicitly notice, but subtly increases the experience, for example actual visual representation of the Tiqqun being present in cutscenes, depending on how far you’ve built up the exterior.
So what is there to improve on in this game? Mostly minor complaints but let’s go through a few. There’s already the quite handy resource HUD which shows exactly where resources are stored. I’d really like a population HUD to see where the crew live and work easily. Gimme an energy HUD while you’re at it. I’d also like less of “random choice outcomes'' (would it be best to explore the lab or the staging area when I can only pick one? Who knows!?) and more “lesser evil” or “greater good” choices where the result is tangible for each choice, but the choice is still difficult.
As someone who likes to explore everything in a game, the end of the chapters provides a curious dilemma. There’s still a TON of resources to collect before moving on. Being a novice with the game I’m not sure if there’s any downside to just leaving them behind, or if I should spend a multitude of cycles to stock up and unfreeze personnel. Either way, this coerces the perfectionist into experiencing a very slow episode, and I would have LOVED to see some kind of mechanic with “soft timer” at the end of chapters (preferably accompanied by more awesome music). For instance, increasing solar activity with resulting storms, accelerating the hull deterioration of the Tiqqun. This provides the opportunity to stay longer if you can keep up repairs, but at some point it’s just not gonna be worth it any more. As I am writing this up and going on my merry way to collect every single cryo pod in the chapter one system, suddenly an event pops up. “Move or Die” slams me with another permanent stability penalty until I find hope somewhere else. Oops. Still, that’s just a penalty, which isn’t even permanent. It’s not an inevitable demise.
To sum up, IXION is a finely crafted experience in every aspect, and it does an incredible job of drawing you in, both through great music, sophisticated and sometimes quite unique gameplay, and through a very intriguing story setting and exploration. What happened after the first Vohle-jump? Why are there clues indicating Dolos operatives are being hunted by the UN? What’s the next step to regain hope for humanity? The plot soon converges into a wild goose chase to find the Eldorado, or planet Remus, rather, by traversing space and time to find the intricate clues scattered across the unforgiving universe. Do you have what it takes to write another chapter in Humanity’s history book? I strongly recommend that you take your time to find out, playing IXION for yourself.
Victor’s Rating: 5 cryo pods out of 5.
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