As a former Eve Online player any news of another Spaceship based MMO was of great interest. Enter Gaijin Entertainment (mostly known for their other free to play game ‘War Thunder’) with their attempt to grab a slice of the market with ‘Star Conflict’. To try and compete with the goliath that is Eve, which since its launch it has throroughly cornered the market, is brave. So does Star Conflict pass the test and stand out from the competion? I spent the last few weeks finding out…
When I first launched the game, I was given a choice of 3 factions (you can change alignment in game) each of which had different tech and bonuses available. I picked the Empire, and I was in! And things looked promising! The graphics are exceptional even on the lowest settings and the ship designs are excellent too. Each ship class and variety look like they really could exist and be fit for their intended purpose. Even the sound effects were excellent and seemed just right. So things were looking up!
I decided then to take on the tutorial missions first to learn the basic mechanics and again was pleasantly surprised. There is no gamepad or joystick support, it’s keyboard and mouse only, but that never feels like a problem due to the way the controls work. The way the game deals with ship handling is simple but also distinctive compared to other space combat games. Aiming is controlled by the mouse, with directional thrust relying on the keyboard. After getting used to the control scheme I found myself liking it for the most part, but at times it was a little counter-intuitive for me… but that may be due to being used to more traditional space combat games where the ships handle more like aircraft with momentum also playing a major part, whereas in this you have much more precise control. You can change speed and direction rapidly allowing for high-speed combat manoeuvres in 3 dimensions when using the lighter ships whilst the hulking frigates feel suitably lumbering, but still maintaining the same feeling of control.
The tutorial was very short and covered only the basics, leaving the player to figure out pretty much everything else, and there’s a lot to work out. Not much is explained and unless you speak Russian there’s not much information available online either.
There’s a selection of missions available to the player at any time, each offering rewards – And here I found the first warning sign of the dreaded pay to win: If you pay for a license you get a larger reward along with many other rewards! Licenses can only be bought with a second in-game currency that can only be acquired by either trading in a massive amount of normal in-game currency, or by paying real money. And it isn’t cheap either – To buy a month long license you will need to pay around 10 Dollars, which is near enough the same as an Eve Online subscription… But in Eve, you get a whole lot more game for your money! There are also several DLC packages you can buy too which can rack up the cost even more!
When you choose to head out into the world you are given 3 main choices, aside from special events. PVP, PVE and the open-world portion of the game. To be honest, the PVE is disappointing, and the PVP is dire! Every time I chose to play these modes I had to wait at least 5 minutes to find a server and the games seldom lasted that long before they were over and you have to wait all over again! The maps used were very small indeed, even with just 3/4 players on each side which seemed the norm, with all the obstacles clustered in the middle and empty space all around the outside and the gameplay itself was poor.
In PVE you join 3 or so other players to defeat a series of AI enemies, which did not seem all that well programmed, leading up to a final battle against a supposedly powerful ‘boss’ ship… The first I faced was so terrifyingly powerful I sat stationary well within range and just kept shooting till we finished it off, only occasionally turning slightly to deal with smaller enemy ships. At no point did they even breach my shields!
PVP showed one of the biggest problems with the game – Balance. There are 3 basic ship classes: Frigates, Interceptors and Fighters which each have their own specific purposes in combat – Frigates are slow in comparison to the others but are heavily armed and armoured, Interceptors are lightning fast and manoeuvrable but very delicate, and Fighters are your standard all-rounder ships. In theory. Certain weapon types and ship classes are so powerful and common that they will destroy the most well-armoured frigate in an instant. The differences in range between weapons are hardly noticeable, meaning Interceptors are so fast they cannot be touched whilst being able to close the range to a frigate set up for range in a fraction of a second, and the maps being as small as they all make the issue worse. Don’t go in expecting thrilling dogfights either, as due to the way the controls work combat can often become almost stationary with strafing in and out of cover being the strategy of choice.
The matchmaking is based on what tier your ships are, skill does not seem to be a factor as utter newcomers are thrown in against masters of the game which is not a fun experience! The tier system also reveals the worst face of some free to play games – Pay to win. If you don’t have a license and the bonus money that comes with it progression becomes impossibly slow, you will start to struggle with money by the time you reach tier 3/4, all meaning you have to choose between spending real money or facing hours of tedious grinding.
So it all came down to the open world aspect – Surely the most important part of any MMO! But once again there was disappointment waiting. I set out into the world to find the sectors to be once again small. A handful of NPC ships patrol around, and even fewer players are to be seen! There were only ever a handful of players in any sector and the chat was practically dead… You can PVP in the open world apparently, but the few people around were just flying back and forth from missions. The missions were fairly dull too – Go to Sector X, shoot Y amount of pirates, return home (there’s no autopilot that I’ve seen either so be prepared for plenty of boring flying back and forth – this was the only time I was glad of the small sectors!). This was made all the more annoying though by the friendly NPCs who were very eager to shoot any pirate vessels in sight, even your mission specific ones, meaning you could spend minutes looking for one little ship only to see it blown apart just as you do find it! After just a short time going back and forth, plus doing sector specific bonus missions (no different from regular missions really), I started to get very bored indeed!
When It comes down to it all, this is a game that has so much missed potential. If the balance was fixed and the hidden pay walls removed then the PVP/PVE could be a great space based alternative to War Thunder. The MMO aspect of the game, however, has so little depth and substance that it is not worth playing at all sadly in its current form.