By Remko Molenaar (Proxzor)
A few weeks back I got to play around with a new RTS that has its focus on space warfare. Starfall Tactics is a free to play game specializing in tactical combat where you can battle it out against other players in real time. Packed together with an in-depth customization system for the space ship and you got yourself a fairly unique concept of a game. This really caught my attention and I was happy when I got to try out this second pre-alpha test.
I love space. I love the incredible unknown that is still a mystery to us, and I feel that it can be an amazing theme when it comes to games purely because we know so little about our galactic neighborhood, and even less about what is beyond. And I think with the right mind you can create an awesome and believable sci-fi setting that works well in any genre. The story in Starfall Tactics is a story that can be very well real in a few centuries. The Earth was dying, and instead of prolonging the inevitable a planet-wide evacuation was set in motion to start over elsewhere. But we do what humans do, and groups were made. Groups with different visions, different views on how life must be lived. And when an alien vessel crash landed on a planet that was right on the border of this contested region, a full blown war broke out. Meanwhile the poor people left on Earth didn’t just thrown in the towel and wait for the inevitable. Pushed on by the threat of sure extinction, they pushed their greatest minds to evolve their technology before setting off with a scorched earth vendetta against those that left them to die.
When you first start up the game you choose which of these factions to join. As you can tell from the story, there are three separate factions and even though you do not get locked in a faction when you pick one, the choice is still very important. Each faction has different technology, and this can be seen back in the spaceships and reflected in gameplay. The three factions you can pick from are Vanguard, Eclipse and Deprived. Each one of these faction’s technology both makes them unique, and overlays key negatives that hinder them. So for example, Vanguard ships are armored by default, but the downside to that is that they weigh more and are thus slower than the rest. Eclipse has energy shields but trade them off for an overall lower capacity. Finally the Deprived have a slow structure and armor regen but a weak structure overall to balance that. But as I said, once you pick a faction, you aren’t locked to them. You can still make a fleet for a different faction, but you have to unlock the others through progressing in gameplay. Therefore I should warn you to choose your first faction carefully, as getting a fully decked out fleet can take some time.
In Starfall Tactics there is an open world exploring type of game mode where you can take your fleet and explore the boundaries of your territories to discover new systems and planets. In the pre-alpha I checked this out for a few hours, but unfortunately not a lot of people were really into this type of game mode. It does provide you an engaging system to take over systems, play together with clans to have ownership of sectors, and you can play together to fight against pirates and other players. But otherwise it was just a skeleton of its planned implementation, though they’re certainly heading in an interesting direction. For now it’s really just a mini-game attached to the core concept.
Most of the players in pre-alpha were found in the conquest mode, the mode where you duke it out against another player or in a two versus two setting with your fleet. And this is where you fleet comes in that really makes it important what faction you have chosen. Not only should you play according to the bonuses and technology you were given, but since your spaceships also have their own customization, you really have to find the sweet spot of how your faction works in battle and utilize them that way. With that said, I completely failed this aspect, not only because I was new, but I was playing against people that already had hundreds of wins. And trust me, I take to new RTS titles like breathing, but the fundamentals of standard RTS games don’t 1:1 apply in Starfall Tactics.
The combat itself for starters takes much more skill than a top-down RTS normally expects of you. It matters in what angle your spaceship is facing, and where its shooting at. There seems to be plans to implement a more advanced system soon where it matters where exactly a ship can be hit, and where it can do more damage, but I didn’t see this function as of yet.
In conquest you start out on opposite sides of a decent sized map. Both in the middle and in opposite corners you can find capture points. Each capture point gives you more power to spawn in ships, and thus the more points you own, the stronger your fleet gets over time. The game is lacking a bit in elements to reward players for economic micromanagement in the early game though. You start out with a few ships that you can warp in, and you’ll build from there. If you are careless with the starting ships and lose most of your fleet like I tended to do, crawling back into the game from a rough start is no easy task.
The early game is nearly everything unless you have a key strategy set to spring into action in late game. This comes down to the ships you’ve customized and what they are capable of. Of course knowing what they do and seeing how they do in action is a constant trial and mostly error process that will ensure no player is just going to pick up and learn Starfall Tactics overnight. Doing so will unlock more technologies to give you even more strategies to test, sending ADD gamers straight into an endless blackhole of possibilities. What made me sad was not having a VS AI mode, which is in development but not ready. Sometimes you might come up with an amazing strategy only to have it obliterated by a higher than normal skilled opponent that makes you second guess your idea. Having that standard strength AI to test things on would do wonders to resolve this. Granted there is survival mode, where you have to fight of wave after wave of warped in spaceships. While its fun, it in no way reflects the skills you’ll need to succeed in conquest.
Starfall Tactics shows a lot of potential, but right now its too early to tell how its all going to pan out. The basic fundamentals are set in place, and that alone is better implemented than most space shooters on the market. The faction and fleet system can be intimidating at first, but its right at the sweet spot where it doesn’t matter what you pick. The sheer time required to unlock the others though could use some tweaking. Both the conquest and survival mode were well done, albeit a bit brutal for new players. Once the game is more widely available and elos even out, that shouldn’t be the case. As of right now, if you like space themed RTS games it is definitely a game to keep an eye on. But I wouldn’t get involved with it unless you are vested in giving feedback to the development team as its still a long way from polished and complete.