Updated Thu, Jul 18, 2013 by Sardu
Can Star Conflict fill the void for space combat junkies? We recently warped into the open beta and discovered a neat little gem of a game that’s worth a closer look.
Many moons ago, one of my most anticipated in-development MMOs was a little game called Jumpgate Evolution. I had the opportunity to play JGE at a few industry events before its unfortunate demise, and the realization that the game would probably never see the light of day definitely left a certain void that, for a while after, I found myself desperate to fill.
I had grand hopes that Black Prophecy just might fit the bill. It’s a beautiful game to be sure, but it also pulls a one-two combo move on you by first dangling a Tortage-style carrot before you, quickly followed by a bait and switch that led you into the deep end of a decidedly unbalanced open PvP pool.
It’s been a long time since that point, and my inner space combat junkie has largely drifted along, hoping that eventually I’d find a game to scratch that particular MMO gamer itch.
To that end, I recently spent a good chunk of time playing the open beta of a game called Star Conflict. Developed by Star Gem, a new company to the MMO scene (though reportedly founded in 2011 by veterans of the game industry), Stat Conflict is reminiscent of what you’d get if you took apart one of your Hawken mechs, and reassembled it into a vessel worthy of space combat.
Before I dive too far into my first impressions, it’s worth noting that Star Conflict will be seeing a major update early next week that will bring new systems online. This build will be the 0.9 deployment, with the full release scheduled for sometime this fall.
As with any beta phase, it’s somewhat a given that certain systems will be tweaked, ships and modules balanced, and the moment to moment gameplay polished prior to the final launch build going live. Still, even at this stage in the beta, Star Conflict is a very stable, and more importantly fun game straight out of the gates, though there is definitely a minor learning curve in terms of understanding the various ship types, the roles they fulfil, advancement systems, and the assortment of modules you can equip your ship with to provide various passive and active in-combat benefits.
At its core, Star Conflict is very much a free-to-play lobby shooter experience, albeit with a much different setting and broader list of core gameplay options than you’ll find in a game like Hawken or even MechWarrior Online, though some of the setup is somewhat reminiscent of those two titles. While the core focus is on some fairly intense PvP dogfight scenarios, it also offers some decidedly difficult PvE missions, and more advancement options than you can shake a stick at.
You’ll start off by selecting one of three main factions, though this decision will primarily impact your starting ship and general background. Otherwise, you’ll be free to advance with and represent any of the three factions.
For example, even though I started out with the Jericho faction, I quickly discovered that I had the option to fight for the Empire or Federation instead. Your primary means of advancement will be linked to these factions, with faction gain being somewhat of an equivalent to advancing in character levels. Hitting a new rank within a given faction will unlock new ships that you can purchase and use in PvP or PvE missions, and also helps unlock new tiers in the Implant tree for that faction.
Following a brief tutorial that goes over the basics, diving into combat from your hanger is as simple as hitting the glowing Launch button at the bottom of the screen. From here you’ll be able to choose between playing PvP or PvE missions.
I’ve played through some of the PvE missions, but so far have largely focused on PvP where the dogfights can often keep you on the edge of your seat. When you choose to queue for a match, you’ll be shown the territorial control map which gives you some idea of which of the three factions are kicking the most space booty that day.
There are a few distinct game modes in PvP that – over time – definitely lend themselves to the idea of becoming proficient in more than one combat role (you can slot up to 3 different active ships and then choose between them at the start of a given match). The most common modes I’ve come across so far include:
Combat Recon – These matches typically take place in dense asteroid fields which can put your piloting skills to the test, and are essentially a team deathmatch. Each team will have a captain selected at random, and as long as your captain is still alive your team can continue to respawn. So the goal is to take out the opposing captain to prevent respawns, and then mercilessly wipe out the rest of the team.
Domination – This is a three-point conquest mode, and has been one of my favorites so far. Why? I’m one of those wacky gamers that sees the value in proper point defense, so this mode allows me to capture one of the beacons for my team, and then do everything in my power to prevent it from being flipped by the enemy. So unlike Combat Recon missions where you always have a moving target and combat can break out pretty much anywhere on the map, Domination gives more focal points for conflict.
Beacon Hunt – Not to be confused with the bacon hunt I’m sure many of you embark upon for breakfast. Similar to Domination mode, your goal here is to capture and hold beacons for your team, only in this case it’s a progressive point capture. The dogfights can be pretty intense here, as the map plays out like a cosmic tug-of-war.
Upon completion of a given match you’ll see the overall rankings, with the victors getting to scan the region in search of extra prizes. Most of the time it will net you some extra currency to spend on new ships and upgrades, but occasionally you’ll get lucky and can unlock a rare module that can be fitted in any of your ships.
Between matches you’ll spend some time tinkering and tweaking things in your hanger, and will also want to make sure you repair your ship and restock any missiles you may have consumed during the previous match. You also have the option to have both of these things occur automatically between matches which is great if you’re like me and would probably otherwise forget to.
Overall I’ve been having a lot of fun with Star Conflict, and really dig the fact that ship control feels very comfortable using the default mouse and keyboard controls which isn’t always the case with space combat sims. So far I’ve managed to progress into Tier 3 with my chosen faction, but there are loads of other variables I’m eager to fiddle with next week when the next major client update rolls out. Once it does, I’ll be diving back into the cockpit and providing some follow up impressions, discuss more of the game’s advancement systems, and weigh in on the million dollar question for any free-to-play game: do the premium options make Star Conflict a pay-to-win game, or do they simply inject more variety into the mix?
In the meantime, I’d definitely encourage you to check Star Conflict out for yourself. You can sign up for a free account and download the game client over on the official Star Conflict website. If you decide to give it a whirl, be sure to drop a comment and let us know what you think!