Star Conflict is a space based-arcade-MMO-deathmatch-spaceship game. Think World of Tanks in space, with snippets of story and you honestly won’t be far off. It is clear that this game owes a huge debt to WoT, the similarities are in places, striking, but it mostly holds it’s own and manages to come across as a separate entity. This is no mean feat.
Read on after the cut to find out what I think.
You’ll spend a lot of your time in the hangar, where you amass your fleet (though you’re restricted to four ships at any one time), grind XP and credits to upgrade your ships, invest in new types and classes and buy different armaments and implants. There is a huge amount of customisation at play here and while the cosmetic side is largely superfluous, the actual mechanics and variations of ship and equipment type are staggering at times.
This though speaks to the biggest issue with Star Conflict; the depth of the deep end. You’re given practically zero instruction on what to do and more worryingly, how to do it; there just seems to be an assumed level of knowledge here that just won’t be present in new players. I’m sorry, an FAQ, albeit detailed, just doesn’t cut it.
I’d go as far to say that it’s the games biggest problem. In fact, if it weren’t for the already great community that seems to have popped up in the game, I’d have given up ages ago. To put it another way, I wasn’t even aware that you could simply undock your ship and explore space (and the interconnected systems) until somebody told me. In hindsight, there were hints to this in the ‘missions’ that sometimes pop up, but I sure as sheep-float, didn’t make that connection myself.
The meat of this game is the PvP, and luckily the combat itself is pretty good. The varying ship types handle differently and manoeuvring them around can be great fun. Many a time I’d avoided an incoming missile by flying through tightly packed asteroids, or by hiding behind a station. This is fun. The main issue with the combat comes again, from the lack of information: it’s unclear what weapon types do what, how different shield types work, or what the best fit-out may be.
There’s a deep system here, clearly evident in the different damage types and system combinations, but again the information required to exploit it is conspicuous by its absence. In fact, the utility for this in what is mostly a randomised match-making system is questionable: how can you plan your build if you don’t know what ships you’re going to face? This is not to say that the combat and flying are not fun, they are, it just undersells itself terribly.
There’s one other learning curve hidden here: ship roles. You are not going to be flying around dogfighting unless you’re in a small scout type ship. Don’t get me wrong, it’s possible in almost all types of craft, but more often than not you’ll have the support ships hiding at the back while the big guns find somewhere to park and snipe. I spent the first 20-odd matches getting my woolly-rear handed to myself until I’d figured it out. Once you do though, you start racking up the kills and the real ebb-and-flow of the combat really shows itself.
There is also a story mode, of sorts, though the story is pretty lacking. You can undock, fly around and farm on local pirates and other assorted baddies for XP and currency. This is a nice little idea for a quick time sink (as getting into PvP matches at present can take between 2 and 8 minutes on average), but again it suffers from lack of explanation.
Happily the monetisation aspect of the game, it being free to play after all, seems well balanced. There’s no real buy-to-win option that I could see, save for different types of ships, but as most need unlocking during levelling they’re generally only available for more experienced players anyway. You’ve got XP modifiers, re-spawn items and such, and of course the cosmetic side, but I think you could get a lot out of the game without paying any extra; whether this’ll hold true when most people are in good ships with high levels, I cannot comment.
It does generate good stories though and Star Conflict shines when you’re deep in a battle, alternating between defending and attacking control points, dog fighting through asteroid fields and racing to an allies aid. There are moments of pure joy in here, if you can get to them.
All in all it shows promise, though I think ultimately the lack of initial guidance may be the hiccup that prevents the game from really taking hold. Were I not reviewing the title, I’d have probably given up by now. Persevering on a title you’ve paid for is one thing, but on a F2P, it may be asking too much.
That said, it’s a solid game when you get into it and if you can get past the initial learning curve (and the community will help here), I think you’ll enjoy it. I’m just worried that the player base will not be strong enough to ensure a long-lived success.
The Verdict On Target
Platforms Available/Reviewed – PC
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