Celestial Empire PC Preview

Building a great Celestial Empire may require more rebuilding than planning.

By Fragnarok, Posted 27 Feb 2022

Celestial Empire is a city builder created and published by President Studio. Players take on the role of Governor and are tasked with making a successful settlement in ancient China. They must provide the citizens with homes, food, supplies, and other needs. Watching over the land are the four groups of gods, representing concepts of love, nature, creation, and fortune. These deities may bless their followers, but also bring wrath upon the non-believers.

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The current pre-alpha build features a single map, a lush grass-filled plains intercut by bountiful rivers. Nearby are plenty of forests and stone deposits to cut and mine, respectively. Structures take no time to build, fully cropping up as soon as a location is selected. This can make things slightly annoying if a building is in the wrong place, though it is easy enough to destroy it again at the cost of its resources.

Early objectives include creating peasant homes, providing them with a marketplace, and creating a food supply. At first, this will consist of large rice fields which will need both water irrigation (making their placement near water vital) and supply warehouses. A later resource is ducks, raised on smaller farms but also slowly producing its goods.

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After the initial population of peasants is satisfied, new worker force types like craftsmen will arrive. They will require their own upgraded housing as they will not share space with a lower class of people. These craftsmen can also create more luxurious items like ceramic pottery and brew tea. However, there is a catch-22 is new elite workers will be unhappy that there is no industry yet for the products they themselves make. An easy fix would be for the previous class to actually make the bulk of resources that the upper class desires.

One of the more crucial pre-planning needs of Celestial Empire is road placement. Citizens will not walk on natural land, nor will they visit a place that is completely adjacent. At least one road tile needs to be between buildings for them to be accessible to each other. This can become a bit frustrating as buildings are slowly introduced without revealing their size beforehand. Players could have built out a city block for a 4x5 farm, only to discover way down the line that it is actually 3x6. Players should expect to rearrange districts or use their new knowledge on the next playthrough.

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A big component of the Celestial Empire is balancing the four religions. Shrines and other places of worship can also be built, attracting locals to follow one of the four possible religions. These shrines have a limited radius and cannot compete with each other. Gods of Love provide happiness and population growth; Gods of Fortune more income; Gods of Nature movement speed and agriculture production; and Gods of Creation improves manufacturing. Conversely, when the gods are upset they can dish out punishments including citizen depression, drain money, cause plants to stagnate, and introduce disasters, respectively. 

There is also a seasonal cycle, causing major visual changes from spring, summer, autumn, and winter. While most are a pleasant change, the snowy land of winter can make it rather hard to parse roads and building locations leading to more possible building errors. Additionally, the seasons are meant to increase the chance of disasters and other events but seem to be completely counterbalanced by being on good terms with the Gods of Creation. This feature will hopefully be more fleshed out in a later build, as it seems rather useless at the moment.

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A major issue of the Celestial Empire is the poor controls and lack of hotkeys. Currently, there is only a limited amount of key binds: rotate, open menus, and upgrade. This means there is lots of manual clicking to select building types, switch between selections, and even pause or hasten time. There is no group selection, resulting in each individual building and tile to be interacted with individually. This can cause some headaches when one wants to upgrade or destroy on mass.

The game also simply lacks enough prompts and proper explanations of the next steps. There are limited tutorials that pop up, though they tend to be overly general and cannot be accessed again after being closed. Very often a new building or resource is not mentioned, requiring players to enter the development menu and unlock something they do not know about. The development tree itself hides its next tier of citizen production, making it highly unclear how to plan without trial and error. Celestial Empire really needs a compendium of structures, resources, and goals.

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There are some relatively minor bugs, with occasional texture pop-in or graphical artifacts mostly when opening menus or first loading. There are also grammatical typos mostly in word tenses and plurals. President Studio is based out of Poland, so these minor errors are to be expected.

There is currently a demo for Celestial Empire live on Steam, though no full release or early access date has been announced. President Studio has yet to have a retail release of any of their myriad of games, which may result in Celestial Empire being in development for many more years. Still, the demo has enough interesting gameplay ideas to check out. Just be wary of the quality of life issues.

Kurtis Seid, NoobFeed

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General Information

Platform(s): PC
Publisher(s): President Studio
Developer(s): President Studio
Genres: Real-Time Strategy
Themes: China, Ancient, Imperial, Religion, City Builder, Simulation
Release Date: 2022

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