Space-city builder IXION wears its Frostpunk inspiration on its alloyed sleeves. Micromanaging resources, keeping your citizens happy, grappling with moral issues that will decide the future of your race; it’s certainly a wild ride. However, I’m sad to say it’s not one I enjoyed.
IXION begins with a familiar story; humanity has ruined Earth’s ecosystem beyond repair, and now the only way onwards, is up. You are the Administrator of the Tiqqun, a “small” O’ Neill cylinder, that was built by the DOLOS corporation as a proof of concept for interplanetary travel and colonization. After completing a few simple tasks, it’s off to the moon for a test of your FTL system. One that, might, accidentally, lead to you, sort of, blowing a hole in the moon. Congratulations! Humanity is now doomed even more than before, and it’s all your fault. Returning from your jump to find an indeterminate amount of time has passed, you need to pick up the pieces and try to trace humanity’s path from the solar system to seek true salvation.
At the core of the game is, of course, city building. The Tiqqun is composed of six separate sectors that can be opened up over time, giving you the ability to expand. In truth, you’re heavily limited. You constantly have to be prepared to delete buildings and move them just a few tiles over, to make as efficient use of available space as possible. You need to plan your city like a jigsaw, fitting buildings and roads together as best you can; but the game doesn’t always allow you to do that. All buildings need access to roads, but most can only connect from one side. They all seem unreasonably big as well, with no building being smaller than 3 by 3 squares. Every wasted, empty space caused me immeasurable pain. I know it’d be a waste of resources, but I longed for a decorative bush, a public waste bin, just something to fill in the gap!
Resources are also an important part of the game, and collecting, sorting and refining them will take up most of your time. Every time you open a new sector, you get a small amount of basic resources. Over time, you’ll need to build mining ships to take apart asteroids and such, as well as cargo ships to actually bring the harvest to the Tiqqun. To find resources on the system map you’ll need to send out probes, which take their own dedicated building to build and launch. The system for locating this is fairly simple, almost like a mini-game based on radar. I have more issues with the numerous probes I launched by mistake, such as the one I sent off when I went to open the help bar.
Each resource needs a stockpile to allow for storage, and each sector needs it’s own supply of resources, meaning you need to spend time micromanaging the transferral of resources between sectors. It honestly got frustrating after a while, the constant need to bring in a resource and lack of a free storehouse in the related sector.
Science ships can also be built, these are central to the “exploration” part of the game. Using probes, you can find interesting things, then send a science ship to go study it. Often you’ll have some kind of dilemma requiring you to make a choice; some can give you resources, some need them. One dilemma was about bodies on an ancient ship, with one of the crew members of the science ship recognising a relative. You’re given a choice: leave the bodies where they are, or bring them back to the Tiqqun for proper burial. The first time, I chose to leave the bodies, which caused the scientist to stay behind. Losing part of a ship’s crew makes them less effective, so during my next playthrough I made the choice to bring back the bodies. This time, all but one member of the crew died. Can’t say that made me feel good.
Science ships are also needed to collect research points, a resource that you thankfully don’t need to build a stockpile for. Research is used to conduct, of course, research. Mainly into new buildings and upgrades. Frankly, in my opinion, the system is terrible. There are only a limited number of research points to be gathered in a system, after which you’ll have to move on or wait for your single research lab to slowly produce more. Meanwhile there are far more things to research then it first seems. Given how progression is often locked behind research, it’s another thing that slows gameplay down.
You also need to manage your population, in lots of different ways. After the tutorial, the primary way to gain new population is to defrost cryopods. For that you need a special building that works very, very slowly, meaning I almost always had a backlog of cryopods taking up storage space. Population needs buildings to live in, and food to eat at yet another building. You need to grow food, store it, and transfer it between sectors. Population is split into two groups: workers and civilians. Workers can only staff buildings in the same sector as their home, meaning you’ll probably need to transfer workers around to keep everything running smoothly.
Your population also has a morale. If it drops too low, they can stop working, and eventually will riot and overthrow you. I spent a great deal of time trying to make people happy, such as completing objectives and building parks (which were, in my opinion, much too large), but there always seemed to be something affecting them! There is a stacking negative for simply counting on your journey, and if you stay in a system too long, you get another negative! This was one of the main parts of the game that really robbed me of any enjoyment.
Playing this game, it always felt like there was one thing that needed to be done before I could continue, one building that needed resources necessary for objectives. Most of my progress was done when I decided enough was enough, and actually pushed myself forwards. Soon though I’d be back in a rut, waiting for numbers to tick up, while praying others didn’t tick down.
For someone that has played survival city builders before, and that already enjoys them? I can see IXION being a superb challenge, something to really test yourself against. For me, however, it was a hard slog, where I had to continually second guess almost every decision I made, and no matter what I did failure always seemed to be closing in.