Well, It’s Just All About You, Isn’t It, in The Last Federation: Betrayed Hope

Conceptually, Betrayed Hope is one of the smartest expansions ever made to a game, because it doesn’t just make the game in question bigger or deeper or better. Rather, it responds directly to what was potentially psychologically unsatisfying about the base game, namely Arcen Games’ The Last Federation.

To wit: The Last Federation is a game about forging an everlasting megalithic space-empire—ruled by you, the player, in shadow government semi-secret, as the last of the otherwise thoroughly murdered Hydral race. Eight planets, each drawn with a daunting degree or political and cultural specificity, have to learn to get along (or else to wipe each other out in a beneficial manner) if the galaxy is ever to achieve Pax Hydrala.

Just about everyone I know who’s had a hard time getting into the game has had one of two complaints. Either they’ve gotten impatient with the arcane diplomatic machinations of their subject peoples, or they’ve wanted the lastness of their last federation to face some definitive test from an external, unyielding aggressor. Betrayed Hope addresses itself to both of these desires.

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First, for those who’ve wanted to flip over the Chess board of diplomacy and walk away, there’s Betrayal Mode. Here the player-Hydral says fuck it to finagling the “incredible barbarism” of the other species, and elects to wipe them all out. “Everyone is your enemy, even if they don’t know it yet,” the game assures you. There’s still plenty of sneakiness and sleight of hand involved in depopulating every planet, mind you, but the goal is blunter, bleaker, and more total. In Betrayal, you play as an existential threat, single-minded and terrible.

On the flip side of that coin, Invasion Mode sees your stable, well-established Federation facing an existential threat: the Obscura, who are not so much the Reapers from Mass Effect as what the Reapers should have been in Mass Effect. They’re “alien in every way.” They cannot be communicated with, much less reasoned with. They’re powerful. They’re relentless. Their intent is inscrutable, yet clearly and enormously destructive—and like a semi-omniscient Commander Shepard, your Hydral has to try and rally short-sighted allies against a beyond-grave threat whose gravity they don’t, can’t, fully comprehend.

Betrayed Hope doesn’t make The Last Federation more straightforward, less demanding, or easier to digest. Nor does it blithely add more of the same. Instead, it provides new ways in—urgent new scenarios that leave the game’s central appeal intact while also twisting or inverting its central goals. It’s definitely worth a look for the base game’s devotees, and also for its skeptics.

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