Combat also presents problems. As you're building and organizing your fleets, you can plot their formation on a grid. This includes putting ships above or below the standard "middle" plane. Yet when fleets go into combat, the formations disappear; cruisers, command ships, and other vessels appear side by side, in one line, wiping out painstaking work devising formations that take advantage of the fleet's ships and their weapons. This also removes some of the strategy from combat. Sure, you can attempt to rebuild your formations, but because the combat view centers on one ship (typically, but not always, your fleet's command vessel), this makes it difficult to get your ships into the formation you want. This centering also makes it difficult to view combat and control your vessels. It's especially annoying when the view centers on a vessel that's slower than others in your fleet; you either advance more slowly or leave the ship behind and accept a limited view of the stellar battlefield.
Another frustration in combat is the timer. When you set up your game, you may not notice the rather small field that controls the length of combat. The default length of five minutes is sometimes too short for you to maneuver your fleet to your opponents or polish them off. You can advance the clock during combat, so don't fret about setting the timer longer. The last thing you want to do is waste a couple of turns finishing off an enemy because you set the length of combat to be too short.
Multiplayer is just as problematic. It's difficult to find games to jump into (it could take days find an open game to join, because the server is just that barren), and between crashes and frequent disconnects, it's tough to remain in the game you've started. Multiplayer games use maps from the single-player game, and so are prone to the same sorts of bugs.
The Sol fleet launches a volley at the enemy. The visuals for combat are so cool that you can watch individual turrets fire away.
The most frustrating aspect of Sword of the Stars II is that, despite all of its problems, the game had great potential. It looks beautiful, with some pretty cool ship designs, such as the humans' blocky Babylon 5-inspired ships or the more organic designs of some of the alien races. Turrets rotate and fire, and as your ships accumulate damage, rents and holes appear, turrets explode, and fires burn. While the game doesn't always provide adequate information, it's fun to tinker with the starship design tools--especially when you're kitting out the larger ships, such as dreadnoughts and the new, massive Leviathans. The new Battle Riders--destroyer-type vessels that lack interstellar engines and require carrier ships--are a lot of fun to play with as well; they're cheaper to construct than standard cruisers, but they can prove to be powerful in battle. And even if combat is sometimes difficult to control, it's fun to watch big ships blow up in space.
Sword of the Stars II: Lords of Winter should never have been released in this condition. It's a shame that more than a month and a half since its debut, Sword of the Stars II is still in an unstable, difficult-to-play state. The greatest shame, however, is that while Sword of the Stars II isn't that much fun to play, it possesses the spark that could have ignited something great.