So today, I have to admit that I promised a review that I am unable to deliver on. I promised to review the Polaris system and setting, and at the time I fully intended to deliver on that promise. As it stands, however, I am going to have to break it. Why?
Polaris, when I bought into the Kickstarter, looked like it was perfectly in my lane as far as games go; the vibe that was being pitched was sci-fi with a seasoning of horror and weirdness. It turns out that it reads much more as science-fantasy that happens to be set on an improbably drowned and destroyed Earth. This by itself isn’t a crime; I’m a fan of Numenera, after all, which is pretty much distilled science-fantasy.
I cannot, however, manage to dig up interest during the opening chapters of the core books. It fails to hook me at all; for all the material it feels like someone was writing up their personal campaign notes and forgot that most of us will have absolutely no context to fit those notes into. We get hints of some grand mystery as part of an introduction story, and then a relatively dry recitation of history that would likely have been better off as a timeline chart, and then we get world info dropped on us with no reason yet delivered to care about any of it.
The chapter on civilizations of the deep starts off, with no clear reason, on a description of how sovereign states are formed in the drowned world humanity inhabits. Very few campaigns will ever find this information of use; it mostly serves to remind us that humanity is well and truly doomed, with references to the Polaris Effect, tithes to Cult of the Trident, and the mysterious degenerating disease that’s making everyone infertile over time. Yes, the game repeatedly and constantly references the value of fertile individuals and, in some cases, goes out of the way to paint a bleak picture of sexual slavery. Ostensibly, this is to provide a heroic backdrop for resistance to these terrible acts, but it comes off as absolutely creepy in the recurring references.
The info on the nations themselves is interesting enough at the national level, with mentions of movers and shakers in the nation’s zone of control, but then they get to the level of individual cities and it just gets bland. The city descriptions read as if they came out of an economic handbook, mixed with a side of dry hints at plot hooks. This is where my attempt to read through to give a proper review ended, as I kept finding my mind wandering off while trying to read about how this-or-that settlement is almost exactly like the one before it, save for different connections, a different mineral resource, and whether or not it has some horribly inhumane situation that might work as a plot hook.
I skipped elsewhere and tried reading more, this time about the surface world; this is where the claim of it being sci-fi completely gives way, with a special “molecular steel” that resists the warping, mutating, and corrosive nature of the surface world, giant energy cyclones, creatures that come out of a Godzilla movie, and a civilization of incredibly intelligent yet barbaric creatures that apparently somehow live in cities around the planet’s core.
As such, I cannot give Polaris a proper review; I cannot comment on how good or bad the game system is, and for all I know the rest of the world info is a shining jewel. I can’t make myself read that far to find out, however. Polaris, it turns out, is not a game for me, and that saddens me because I wanted to like it.
If you’d like to see for yourself if it might appeal to you, you can find it here. I wish the fans of it well, but I’m going to go off to read Blue Planet v2 instead; the intro chapter for it is everything that Polaris needed but didn’t have, for me. Best of luck to everyone, and happy gaming!