When I woke up this morning, the first thing I did was roll over and check to see if anyone had invaded my corner of the universe. Before I brushed my teeth, I queued technologies to research. At lunch, I sent my probes across the galaxy in the hopes of finding mineral-rich planets that would nourish my growing empire the way strange-tasting goulash was nourishing my body. I had to be prepared. It was still early, but soon there would be people looking to circumvent my attempts to create a few black holes.

Empire of the Eclipse is huge. You've probably heard that word used in conjunction with this subscription-based strategy-MMO many, many times before but that's because that's the only adjective that really fits. Designed to be played over the course of weeks or months, each game in Empire of the Eclipse [Free] is capable of supporting hundreds of power-hungry players, all of whom will be laboring to achieve their respective 'win' criteria before anyone else can succeed at theirs.

As you might have guessed already, it isn't easy. Between negotiating uneasy treaties and dealing with interstellar adversaries, you're also going to have to manage your armada, build an array of orbitals, engage in trade, terraform planets, mine ore, fiddle with skill trees and more. On top of all that, you're also going to have to work towards your end goal, a goal that can be anything from the accumulation of exorbitant amounts of wealth to the collapse of the very stars themselves.

It's a lot to take in but Zarksoft has made everything a bit more palatable by structuring the game so that it's best experienced in brief, 10-minutes bursts. Nothing in Empire of the Eclipse is about instant gratification. If you want to get anything done, be it move a probe from one sector to another or install the knowledge of advanced metallurgy into your people, you're going to have to be prepared to wait. Even the destruction of someone else's home-world is not something you can immediately savor; they'll get twenty four hours to oust you from their planetary crib.

Now, while this sounds like the perfect set-up for those 'pay to get things done right this damn instant' sort of scenarios, Empire of the Eclipse is not a freemium game in disguise. Everyone gets to stand on equal footing. No matter how much you want to hurry things along, you're going to have to wait like everyone else. But, that's enough talking about the game in the macro. How does Empire of the Eclipse actually play? The short answer is: slowly.

Empire of the Eclipse isn't one of those fast-paced, hair-trigger games that will have you jumping all over your iPhone. It doesn't help that the learning curve is less of a gentle arc than it is a near vertical incline. Unless you're the sort who is patient enough to sit through a hodgepodge of somewhat inelegantly designed video tutorials, chances are that you'll spend those first few days flailing confusedly about, something I'm unfortunately well-acquainted with.

However, if you're willing to persevere through that initial phase, the game will eventually open up. (A disclaimer: everything you're about to read comes from the perspective of a budding mad scientist. It's entirely possible that the playing experience will differ if you're the sort who needs to marshal up the Death Star or something.)

You begin life with but one solar system in your dominion, a single home colony and a host of outposts. From there, it's your job to expand even further. The first order of business is, in general, to create a platoon of fragile, fast-moving probes so as to be able to explore the space around you.

Building them is relatively easy. First, you'll need to head down to a colony with the necessary facilities. From there, it's as simple as tapping on the factory icon in order to access your production line and then tapping on the image of the probe in order to catalyze its creation. After that, it's simply a question of waiting. (Told you there's a lot of that here.)

I'm going to take a moment here to note that fans of finger swipes and pinches will likely be disappointed with the game's control scheme. Everything in Empire of the Eclipse is generally accomplished with a tap or a double-tap, depending on which menu you have open. Needless to say, given the abundance of menus and elements to worry about, Empire of the Eclipse doesn't really let you get your hands dirty. Instead of leading your troops into the thick of battle, you're going to be responsible for deciding their routes, what kind of technologies they're going to have and how best to optimize the usage of your many factories. In that respect, you're more of an overseer than an overlord.

Speaking of technologies and skill trees, the system utilized in Empire of the Eclipse is one that will likely be familiar to Eve Online veterans. Like the creation of ships, you conduct research by tapping on a skill in order to add it to the queue. Once you've accomplished this, you will have to, yet again, wait until it is completed. (Of course, you can queue several skills at the same time but that's neither here or now.)

Separated into four different branches and six tiers of research, the skill trees available to an Empire of the Eclipse player are as follows: trade, science, combat and fleet control. In general, the names are self-explanatory. The trade skill tree, for example, deals with things like allowing your mining colonies to produce rare ore, the ability to cause your trade ships to explode violently should they be compromised and even the study of piracy. In short, it is designed to make you a bartering powerhouse. One thing I particularly liked about how they've approached the whole skill trees thing is the fact that you are not limited by your chosen specialty. . Even if you're a researcher, nothing will stop you from developing that omnipotent armada. Want to build your solar taps after you've demolished every other player in the game? Sure! There's nothing stopping you.

In between all of this research and fleet generation, you're also going to worry about having enough ore to facilitate all of your activities, something you'll be able to accomplish by doing anything from colonizing new planets to establishing trade routes to commandeering occupied solar systems. It's all up to you.

If all this kinda sounds like a dream come true, you'll be mostly right. Empire of the Eclipse is a massive, sprawling affair that will keep you busy for weeks. It's the kind of MMO that serious-minded iOS gamers have been waiting for, the sort of game that will draw a trill of appreciation from Angry Birds haters. If you have the right mindset, Empire of the Eclipse will rock your world.

That said, it's also far from perfect. The interface is a little too cramped, the writing occasionally breaks out of character (just try to destroy an orbital platform, I dare you), and the game is still far too empty. During my experiences with the tutorial server, I found myself sadly bereft of company. To be fair, it might have had something to do with how I wasn't really ready to venture out myself prior to being able to do some some heavy damage to any encroaching hostiles but that does not change the fact I didn't get any house calls myself. Asides from that, the game was also plagued with inexplicable glitches and bugs. For no reason at all, it would crash or disconnect. Though it has improved since then, I still find myself stumbling across these kinds of issues.

Long story short, Empire of the Eclipse is (or, at the very least, will be) well worth that subscription fee. Whether or not it will succeed at fully realizing its ambitious promise hinges on if the game is capable of achieving that critical mass integral to any good MMO. The only other caveat is that you'll probably spend an inordinate amount of time learning the game (text-based tutorial? In-game wiki? Any sort of alternative to the video tutorial? Please?) first. Nonetheless, if you're willing to go through all that , Empire of the Eclipse will probably be that massively multiplayer 'Master-Of-Orion in a pocket' experience you've always longed for. Just hold onto that urge to jump for a year's subscription a little longer.

TouchArcade Rating

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  • Ryokashi

    It'd a lot better if the servers weren't so unstable and prone to disconnections. The game is fun but that's a huge problem with it.

    • Lee Dotson

        The servers have been increasing in stability but more importantly the new client resolves the various disconnect issues along with adding in functionality to automatically log back into games when returning to the app from the launch pad. The new client should be submitted to Apple very soon now.

  • yasw

    The last few days the servers has been pretty stable. The game is really growing on me, where the first day or two you couldn't do much, now there is quite a lot to manage.

    And I really don't get the criticism about the learning curve. If you have some knowledge of 4X strategy games, it is pretty straightforward and alot simpler than the PC games it draws inspiration from.

    If you have played Starbase Orion or Ascendancy (other two great 4X space strategy games for iOS), this will be familiar. The difference being than conquest is not the only way to win, whic I really like.

  • http://twitter.com/karmaportrait chris

    iPad version planned?

    • Anders Peterson

      Yes.

  • Ben Ruddock

    I've all the notifications ticked in the options, but I still receive no notifications from this game. Anyone know what's up with that?

    • Anders Peterson

      They found a bug with battle notifications and had to turn all notifications off temporarily.

  • Noah

    It can't be more complex than EVE online... can it?

  • http://twitter.com/JustCallMeDewey David Massee

    I'll wait until they fix the bugs...and make it Universal....and when its not stupid expensive to play

    • http://pulse.yahoo.com/_CKBNMJGLGCBQOSH2BM264QIHLI Bridget

      .....2 dollars a month is stupid expensive?   What?

      Just.... what.... I dont even....

  • http://twitter.com/JustCallMeDewey David Massee

    I hope the devs are responsive to player wishes

  • ezraanderson

    the devs are responsive you can contact them over on their forums

  • Quickmix

    I will try it soon :)

  • Noah

    Been trying to sign up using AT&T 3G but keep getting timeout errors. Oh well!

  • http://twitter.com/abdelmaseh Aaron Abdelmaseh

    I signed up this morning and haven't been able to log in once since then. I keep timing out. I'll try connecting again tomorrow, but if I can't get on I'll have to contact Apple for a refund on my subscription and post a 1-star review. I feel bad, I really wanted to like this, but this is very disappointing.

    • Lee Dotson

       Hi Aaron, sorry to hear that you're having problems getting into the game. A force quit will usually solve that particular issue. We're submitting a new build to Apple shortly that will resolve that problem entirely but I thought you might appreciate the work around in the meantime.

  • http://www.facebook.com/mobileosterberg Geoff Osterberg

    I know it doesn't really fit the genre, but I would love to one day be able to license technology from other players. If I'm focusing on a Trade based strategy, it would be great to pay a daily Ore feed to an ally to utilize their research into jump gates.

    Beyond that I'm loving this game.  It's the first strategy game I've ever played where the pressure to win eventually eroded the fun of the game. So far , while I would like to become a victorious Ore baron, finding new solar systems, opponent's home worlds, even the occasional pass through of a neighbor's probe, all make it feel like I'm not just seeking the win but rather being fully immersed in the game world.  Now if I could just stop getting disconnected...

    • Lee Dotson

        I wouldn't say something like leasing jumpgates is out of the question. One of the core design principals for Empire is to encourage players to interact with one another even though they're in competition so it's something I could see us eventually adding.

       As for the disconnects those are corrected in the next build which should be going out to apple today.

  • SoyGreen

    I just wish the game was actually fun for me... I was very hopeful for the game - but unfortunately found it really stale. I just couldn't get myself to login and play. The UI isn't as intuitive and streamlined as it could be (this is kind of a non issue if you watch the videos... as they walk  you through the different aspects of the game.)

    I like 4x games... but this one just fell really flat for me and I just couldn't get myself to login! I wanted to love this game... but just couldn't.

    I uninstalled it for now. I might come back in a year or so when it matures and has hopefully a stronger feature set... I just didn't feel like an explorer or a builder or a developer of worlds...

  • mojo9889

    I strongly advise against trying this game. If you check the reviews on AppStore you will see the same complaint over and over. I downloaded and signed up for 1 month, the game continues to show no valid subscription and will not allow me to connect to the server. I have tried this several times, the game also continues to demand that I pay a new subscription.

    Unbelievably disappointed, game devs... SORT IT OUT or remove the game from circulation instead of ripping off your hard working customers

Empire of the Eclipse Reviewed by Cassandra Khaw on . Rating: 4