Nexus 5X review: Reach for the stars

A fresh take on a familiar genre.


Whatboy Games had my attention with Nexus 5X when I sent a fleet of squids into battle against an army of advanced warships – and the squids won. It kept my attention when I realized just how deep its strategy went and how smart its streamlined systems are. Nexus 5X is a fresh and fun take on a genre that doesn’t change very often, which is enough to make up for its slightly stale solo player offerings.

Galaxy brain

A Nexus 5X victory conditions screen

On a broad level, Nexus 5X functions much the same as other grand strategy games. You start with nothing, accumulate territory, spend resources, and eventually take over the world – well, galaxy, in this case. It’s all the usual stuff at a glance, but things get more interesting after the first few turns of a match. Whatboy Games added a system similar to action points in games like Divinity Original Sin 2 or Valkyria Chronicles, where the number and type of actions you take depends on how much Support you have. Support comes from happy people on planets you control, with the caveat that the process of controlling planets makes people very unhappy.

The result is a balancing act between new planet acquisitions to bolster your resources and spacing your invasions so you don’t end up with half a dozen planets hating you all at once. Even when you have plenty of support, Nexus 5X makes you think carefully about planning big moves. It’s all well and good to think you’ll just shift 10 fleets to the other side of the galaxy and start a war, but if you spend too much support in one go, you might strategize yourself into a corner when it comes time to replenish a fleet or build a new construction project.

A Nexus 5X screen showing construction options

That’s before even considering other granular details that force you to develop smarter plans, like hyperlanes – the paths between planets – and limitations on how many fleets you can have orbiting one planet at a time. It’s easy to mess up big time and ruin a good plan, but the satisfaction of successfully executing a scheme is worth the trouble. There’s also an undo feature that lets you roll back any action in one turn.

Then there’s the Edict system and its small dash of roguelite flavor. Edicts let you research new technology or build on a planet, which is pretty standard stuff in the genre. The difference in Nexus 5X is that you only get a few edicts each turn. You might need new tech and want to start new research, but end up with exploration and construction edicts that turn. It sounds like a minor inconvenience, but a bad edict pull combined with planning mishaps can turn into a serious resource management problem.

Combat is Nexus 5X’s most by-the-books component. You get three basic ship types that have a rock-paper-scissors relationship to each other, and you might uncover a unique fleet or two depending on how lucky you are while exploring. Ships enter battle when they clash over planets, you can add new ships to a damaged fleet by docking for a few turns, and that’s about as involved as it gets. 

I’d have liked to see something a bit more inventive, given how Whatboy handles some of the genre’s other features, but it works. The cycle of battles and rests has a satisfying rhythm, and it’s easy to understand, despite the attempts of a muddled series of icons that show up during encounters and indicates who-knows-what. I never figured it out, but as long as their ships exploded and mine didn’t, I figured I was doing fine.

Take a guess

A Nexus 5X combat encounter, with a large destroyer facing off against several smaller craft

Construction and research are a bit more mixed than some of Nexus 5X’s other features. You can construct dozens of features on any planet you own – some that increase munitions, for example, or some that develop a planet’s culture – which creates opportunities to get really deep into micromanagement as you create a complex network of societies. Research is also complex and rewarding, with multiple technology tiers to pick from and a give-and-take system where choosing one option bars you from another in the same category.

Making smart choices here is important, of course, so it’s a little annoying that the interface is vague and difficult to parse at times. It took me a while to figure out what all the extra buildings that new research unlocked were and how and where they came into play, and the same was true for some of the additional features of advanced construction projects. The good thing about Nexus 5X is that you can make it as deep as you want or just skate by with a solid plan and as little thought as possible – but I still like to know what I’m getting and how it works.

Fabulous factions

A Nexus 5X menu screen showing a leader choosing espionage options

Speaking of thought, Whatboy did some interesting things with Nexus 5X’s factions. Leaders in 4X games always have strengths and weaknesses, but whatever influence those features have on your playstyle typically fades away by the middle of a campaign. Nexus 5X is different from the start. The first story mission follows the leader of a faction dedicated to research and technology, so you get a boost in all matters research and a perk that gives you a free, ranged ship type that makes exploration easier. You also get leader perks that scale with the amount and type of technology your civilization has – and no diplomacy bonuses. 

The result was a tech-heavy playthrough that strained my resources, but rewarded me with an impressive array of buffs and stuff once I figured out a good plan. I didn’t have another run like it until I played as the same faction leader again, which, given the dozens of Civilization matches I’ve played where nearly every empire works the same way every time, was a welcome and refreshing change of pace.

The downside is that Nexus 5X can get a bit stale for solo players. Every map has anomalies you can explore to potentially find resources or, in the best scenarios, rare technology or unique ships. Most of them just repeat a handful of basic instances, such as salvaging scrap, which is useful, but not exactly exciting or interesting. It makes me appreciate the kind of bespoke encounters you get in Age of Wonders 4, the little surprises or moments that make campaigns feel fresh.

There’s not really much else to shake up each match other than how you build and plan, especially once you’re familiar with how all the faction leaders work. Nexus 5X relies pretty heavily on multiplayer and the unpredictability of your human opponents to maintain interest, which is great if you have friends to play with – not so much if you’re wanting a richer solo experience.

That’s not to say Nexus 5X is bad for single players. It’s just the kind of game that gets a little tiresome if you play more than one match in a sitting. Perhaps future expansions could help fix this, but for now, Nexus 5X is definitely best played with other people.

The publisher provided the copy of Nexus 5X used for this review. Nexus 5X leaves early access on PC via Steam on April 18, 2024.

Contributing Editor

Josh is a freelance writer and reporter who specializes in guides, reviews, and whatever else he can convince someone to commission. You may have seen him on NPR, IGN, Polygon, or VG 24/7 or on Twitter, shouting about Trails. When he isn’t working, you’ll likely find him outside with his Belgian Malinois and Australian Shepherd or curled up with an RPG of some description.

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Review for
Nexus 5X
  • Deep, but never overwhelming
  • Fresh take on established genre features
  • Strong range of factions that shape how you play
  • Interface is sometimes vague and difficult to parse
  • Gets a bit stale quickly for solo players
  • Combat is less inventive than everything else
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