Ok, so I bought this game over the weekend and haven't really been able to put it down. Why?, I will try to explain...
I am not familiar with the franchise or any games of this particular genre. I am also aware of the appauling state this game was released in and the plethora of negative reviews and dissapointed fans this game has racked up since release. I have not experienced the bugs to the extent of those that purchased the game on release, so I don't share the same experience. But as a modern gamer I can certainly relate to the extreme dissapointment that these fans have experienced in games like Rome 2.
But at the end of the day, I felt compelled to write a review, probably because of my contrarian nature in which I felt that this game in it's current state is not represented properly.
It's a real gem! The work the devs have put into revitalising this game has to be commended, albeit a year too late.. But the very fact that they are still fully supporting and working on the game vigorously shows commitment, which is a worthy trait in a developer in this day and age.
Ok, now for my review.
You start off as a sort of space vagabond who comes across a ship which apparently has quite a history, and affectionately called the 'Albion Skunk'. Your copilot, a sexy space babe who coincidentally has some high up connections and political ties stumbles into your ship and accompanies you throughout the game.
Ok that's more or less it for story. The rest is a sort of political/ factional scenario whose narrative has been built up over previous games. Think Star Trek/ Star Wars/ LOTR/Game Of Thrones typical factional allegiances and disputes and you'll come somewhat close. In other words it perpetuates the racial typecasting and stereotypes we have all come to know and love in todays society.
The thing I love about spaceships is the freedom of movement in 3d space. In my opinion it can't be fully realised with just a mouse and keyboard. I use a G13 in which the thumbstick controls my steering, and the x/y strafe movement is controlled by the WSAD keys on the G13. Gun aiming and general browsing through my ships peripherals is done with the mouse. Throttle is controlled by the rollerball on the mouse. This enables a deeper control which unwittingly adds another layer of immersion to the game. Again, coming from a background not familiar with these type of games it's all the more a savouring experience for me. Last game I played like this was perhaps 'Descent 3' way back when...
You really feel that you are a pilot and develop a bond with your ship. Every upgrade you purchase for your ship, be it engine type or shield type, you tailor towards your play style. The variety of upgrades to the ship specifically is somewhat lacking. But bare with it, as there are other dimensions and upgrades beyond mere shield/ weapon/ engine types.
Enter the drones.. Ok these wonderful little companions come in two flavors: URV (perhaps not the correct term for what these vehicles actually do in this game but thats what they call them) which you launch and they more or less go about doing their thing, and ROV drones which you personally control through a VR helmet from within your ship. There are Assassin drones, Shield drones, Hacking drones, Combat drones, Worker drones (for your cap ships or freighters).
Wanna be a space pirate? Load up a few Trojan drones, upgrade your scanning tech, skirt to the edge of the sector/ asteroid belt or mining colony/ or just near a faction you want to weaken or don't like, wait for freighters to loot, scan the cargo, send in your drone from a distance, hack the cargo doors on the ship so the freighter drops its loot. Have your freighter parked up nearby with a stack of collector drones, pickup the goods, sell them to your favored faction.
Want to be a raider? Load up a crew of space Vets, hire engineers/ captains/ marines, asssault an enemy frigate, board and hijack disabled vessels. Sell them off to your favored faction or add them to your personal fleet.
Want to be a trader? Scan stations and chatup NPC's for discounts and commisions, install trade agents onboard every station so you can keep up to date with buy and sell offers and bids. Build up a database of trade offers and identify defecits in supply and demand. Get yourself a freighter and automate trade between stations, buying low and selling high, cornering the market and running your competitors into the ground.
This sort of playstyle sits so well with me. It plays into the faction synergies and economics of the game so perfectly and way better than any other game out there currently, it's almost a revolution in this genre.
Granted, the stations and jobs are rather generic and so are the NPC's which I hope the dev's improve upon, but it doesn't matter so much because of the METAGAME. The jobs themselves come in a variety which have been improved upon in recent patches. You can do taxi missions, station protection missions, special envoy missions, sabotage enemy billboard missions, and new relic and treasure hunt missions to name just a few.
Then there is the station/ fleet and empire building part of the game. WOW, this is immense. You build your corporate empire in which ever manner you see fit. You can build your own stations, construct your own wares, hiring your own staff, who through quite sophisticated AI manage themselves. You can assign budgets, delegate pilots and ships like freighters to managers who will then go on to use those resources you assigned them to defend themselves if attacked or to go and buy a resource they need from a station. The staff themselves have statistics and attributes that can be improved upon through recently added seminars.. Can you begin to fathom the scope of this game?
Beautiful, albeit a bit generic in terms of stations and NPC's. The different space locals are quite impressive, be it near a sun where you can see the Solar gunk being ejected from the surface, or destroyed planets and moons, all make for different regions in space, and does not make it feel like you are in empty space all of the time.
Make sure your rig is sufficient to crank up anti aliasing or you'll be in jaggy town deluxe due to many structures popping up in the emptyness of space. Allot of outlines and silhouettes, so aliasing becomes a necessity. I run the game on full ultra settings with 4x anti aliasing and SSAO set to low. A trick I found to most games and this one in particular is that if you turn AA up turn AF down or off. Do this through your card settings and set the game to control af settings as it has none. This increases performance in many games at the expense of sharper textures which is sort of fixed by increasing AA in itself.
But yeah the ships look fabulous, and new ones have been added since release, so thats a positive thing. Theres rows of traffic near stations, queues to get onto the interstellar highways. Combat feels good, with pretty explosions and effects. Not an amazing array of different weapon types like some games but enough to keep it fresh looking.
What this game attempts and somewhat pulls off is commendable. This game does combat and battles well, but that's not what it is. Information is so valuable in this game. You find yourself pulling up in a sector, looking at the radar and analysing ships and cargo, what they're carrying, which faction they belong too, what class ships are accompanying, what kind of armament they are sporting etc.. Either just to get a trade or power picture or sussing out who's carrying a juicy payload worth robbing. All through your ships onboard computer. It generally touches base with everything you'd want in an open universe exploration game with an almost limitless scope, and now it seems in this stage to be in a working state. If you like these sort of games, wait for the next sale and buy it with no second thoughts.