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Last March, ZarkSoft Games’ Lee Dotson granted us a galaxy class interview where we learned about their upcoming 4X MMO Empire of the Eclipse. We continued our voyage where few iOS gamers have gone before by diving into a preview build today. It’s pretty clear that the diehard 4X fan has much to look forward to here!

When you fire up Empire, the very first thing it does is hit you like a Mack truck with its sheer depth. Starting off with a solar system and one home colony at your disposal, your task is to bootstrap a galactic empire and reach a completion goal during the time your game subscription lasts. To that end you’ll have to establish an underlying manufacturing industry and build the ships needed to explore the cosmos, terraform and colonize new planets, and – if you’re particularly gutsy – obliterate the outposts of your competitors in the game’s massively multiplayer galaxy.

A strategy game at heart, Empire has to be approached methodically and the first orders of business will probably look very similar for each player. It’s important not to start out by maniacally splurging on fighter craft, which have little use in the safety of your base solar system. Instead, the backbone of your early fleet are mining vessels that draw resources from inhospitable planets and colony ships needed to settle habitable planets so your population can get busy working in new shipyards. You’ll also want to create a few probes and send them to find new solar systems in the darkened space around your starting location. Meanwhile, it’s important to make sure research operations are ticking away in background so you’ll have the necessary technology to create the things you need once your resources are up to snuff.

The thing that really impresses me about Empire is its multi-tier navigation system. A galaxy is an awfully big place, so Empire lets the player get around on three levels: the server-wide galaxy, sectors that group solar systems into a grid, and the solar systems where planets can be mined and settled. Provided a vessel is capable of long distance travel, you can send it to a far-flung destination simply by switching your viewing plane while you’re giving it orders. It’s a great way of balancing user friendliness with the vast feel of outer space.

Once you get rolling, advanced craft and expanded production facilities take minutes or even hours to build, making Empire the kind of game you check into and manage for around an hour per day, gradually molding your empire toward your end goal. Each player’s win condition depends on the specialty the player chooses for his or her civilization at the outset. A Trader civilization has to mine a certain amount of resources while a Warrior culture has to invade and destroy a certain number of competitor home worlds — no easy task. Science-heavy Researchers have to destroy suns, which sounds awfully fun.

Empire of the Eclipse should warp into the App Store on May 24 and requires a monthly subscription of $1.99. Here’s the ZarkSoft website, Facebook page, and Twitter account, as well as their YouTube channel so you can begin poring over the tutorials while you wait for release day. Study hard now and you’ll have won half the battle against your soon-to-be galactic rivals!