IXION is a city-building / colony survival simulation game developed by Bulwark Studios and published by Kasedo Games. The game was released on Steam on December 7, 2022, and players take on the role of a DOLOS administrator in control of the day-to-day operations of space station Tiqqun. What comes next is a fantastic story premise that had me intrigued from the very beginning. I love sci-fi games, and this ticked a lot of boxes with outstanding music, a great UI, and gameplay that is super challenging where you can easily find yourself out of resources, out of trust with your people and meeting an untimely demise. If you love city builders and colony sims, this will interest you.
My first experience with the game was a demo back in August 2022. I loved the premise where you take control of the space station that is suitable for future colonisation. The graphics of the game are incredible, with fine detail when you zoom down onto your buildings and workers, and similar looks amazing from the space view. In orbit above Earth, we make sure the station has ample resources to survive such as food, water, oxygen and power, before setting off into the solar system in search for a habitable planet. Right at the end of the demo, something went horribly wrong and what transpired left my jaw hanging open, and then the demo ended. It was such a good end to a demo, and it was an agonising wait for the game’s release.
I absolutely love the music in IXION and the simplicity of overarching city building gameplay at first, but I could sense it was going to be a difficult game to play further in. My suspicions were correct as I now having played the full game, I have had to restart chapters a few times now. Players must manage the resources of the space station, build new structures, and research new technologies in order to survive and eventually find a new home for humanity. As your population grows, so too does the demand on these resources. In this first chapter, I had built a good foundation to meet current demand, however when I reached the events of the demo and then to the following chapter, everything went sideways.
You need to balance incoming resources with the ability to store them in stockpiles. The first internal sector of the Tiqqun has enough resource stocks to get you to be self-sufficient. However, when we attempt to leave Earth’s orbit, that all changes. We take on a heap of rescued civilians and resources, so I needed to work on building facilities for them to live in and enough food generation to feed them. While I was concentrating on that, we are given several tasks such as building science and mining ships to explore space, as well as building additional solar panels onto the exterior of the Tiqqun to generate more power.
In this time, I had learned how to create and launch probes, but given my focus was on sheer survival, I parked that system for the next hour or so. Turns out, this was my downfall, but I didn’t realise that until a couple of hours later when it was too late. It’s one thing to just simply survive and keep up with resource demand, but eventually you run out of the starting stockpiles of resources and much search the solar system for more. This is where the probes come in, and it takes time to build a probe, launch it, then send the science ship to that new location which might be resources found within an asteroid belt, an anomaly that needs investigating, or another planet (the locations of which are unknown until you can then with a probe).
Another pressing issue in IXION is the trust and happiness of your population. As your workers go about their business, machinery and buildings start to suffer mechanical breakdowns, and workers could get injured. You will also be regularly faced with requests and complaints from your people. I initially struggled to have enough food to feed my population, so they started to revolt. I promised them I would have enough food in 10 turns. However, my focus was on power at that point and keeping the hull integrity at decent levels.
The events at the end of the first chapter mean your hull has been breached, and so if the hull integrity falls to zero then it’s game over. Similarly, if the population trust falls to zero, they could completely revolt and then it’s game over. The game’s soundtrack is amazing, and I am going to buy it as it’s great background music for other tasks, and it kept my concentration on the tasks in-game and when everything was going to crap, at least my people died to good music.
One thing I do need to mention is the lack of being able to move buildings within a sector, and not being able to transfer goods between sectors before learning how to do so later in the game. I needed to convert iron to alloy and to do that I needed a steel mill. I had researched it and plenty of reserves of iron, except when I was finally able to place it, it took up a massive amount of real estate. I couldn’t fit in in sector so then spent ages clearing sector 2 to be able to fit it. In doing so, I took my eye off my stockpiles of alloy, as I was maintaining hull integrity with the alloy), and then ran out of alloy in both sectors. I sent probes and the science vessel to find more, but after clinging to survival for over an hour I eventually succumbed to both hull integrity and population trust.
At release there was no difficulty options, and that turned a lot of people off the game, unfairly in my opinion. It’s a fine line for the developers to deal with these kinds of situations. Where not being able to move or recycle your building is a good thing that punished bad base design by the player, but with extremely strict building requirements and unknowable future scenarios and building sizes, it becomes a difficult system to balance. It’s easy to compare this game to the difficulty of Frostpunk which has a similarly deadly premise. However, Bulwark Studios have listened to most of the feedback and added difficulty levels, as well as a custom difficulty option to really tailor the experience to your own desires which is fantastic.
While I had to restart chapters several times, death was a learning experience and I got better at prioritising things. The only way I could know how to do this though was to fail. Space is a hazardous place and lots of things can go wrong, particularly as we explore further from Earth. A game shouldn’t give you all the answers, it should be up to the player to explore, learn, and re-learn, and that’s what I liked about Ixion. If I can recommend anything for players without giving away spoilers, it will be to add some focus to probes and exploring for different resources and planets as early as you can. You will run out of basic resources quickly otherwise.
Overall, I found Ixion to be a very challenging but rewarding game with excellent graphics, an amazing soundtrack and an intriguing story. You are constantly kept on your toes, and it does have a hefty learning experience. It can be punishing to hit a stopgap that you can’t undo, and ultimately must restart that chapter. As you learn to adapt and survive, you will work out the best way to make the colony survive and explore further into space. I highly recommend the game for any city building and colony simulation fans.