Star Conflict is an action-based spaceship sim, published by Gaijin Entertainment, which has released titles such as War Thunder and IL-2 Sturmovik. Unlike games such as EVE Online, Star Conflict offers players the ability to directly control their spaceship, creating an engaging online space shooter not seen since the days of Freelancer. And the best part is that all of this comes in the form of a free-to-play title. But is it any good? Let’s find out.
Disclaimer: This review was prepared just prior to Patch 0.9.0, which has introduced a few changes which contradict parts of this review, such as the introduction of Tier-5 ships. Please bear this in mind.
The main aspect of the game is obviously the space combat. Matches are played through a lobby based system – with your hangar functioning as the lobby. Players are able to select up to three ships (four later on) to take into a mission and can team up as a squad with up to three other players. Queue times are generally under a minute, which speaks well for the activity level of the current player base.
Controlling your ship is straight forward – after just a couple of skirmishes you’ll know all the buttons like the back of your hand. The tier-based progression of the game ensures that players start with ships which have relatively few modules that can be activated, thus easing them into the game slowly. The downside of this system is that hardcore gamers will initially feel that the game is lacking a little in depth – as it isn’t immediately obvious that the game opens up massively as they progress into higher tiers.
In terms of progression, there are three factions in the game which the player has individual reputation levels with. In addition to this, each faction contains two sub factions – with whom players can sign contracts in order to gain ranks. Players are not bound to any of these and can freely swap without losing any of the reputation that was gained with the other factions.
Each faction has its own set of ships, which are laid out in a tree structure. Players unlock access to new ships by increasing their rank with the faction in question. Ships are divided in different tiers which each contain exactly 3 ranks. Therefore, ships unlocked at ranks 1 to 3 are part of Tier-1, ships unlocked at ranks 4 to 6 are part of Tier-2 and so on. Matchmaking is directly affected by this – and both individual players and squads get matched against people which similar ships equipped.
There currently are three different ship classes: Interceptors, Fighters and Frigates – each with three different roles which determine the special ability the ship has, as well as what modules can be equipped on it. These roles include recon, covert ops, ecm, command, gunship, tackler, engineer, guard and sniper/long-range. Each of these ships has a completely different role in combat and caters to different play styles.
In terms of the tier progression, the complexity and tactical depth of the game ramps up exponentially. To provide an example, Tier-1 ships can choose from 3 weapon types: Lasers, Plasma Throwers and Railguns. Each weapon provides a different damage type and each ship has different resistance types accordingly. As you would expect, Shields are weaker against EMP damage (Plasma) and Hulls are weaker against Kinetic damage (Railguns).
As soon as you hit Tier-2 this suddenly opens up. Each of the three weapon types now has 3 additional variants – which roughly speaking are short range/rapid fire, long-range/slow fire and assault/medium versions of each weapon type. In addition to this, you get weapon mods which allow you to alter the damage type of the weapon mid-combat. So suddenly your thermal laser can do EMP damage, just to give an example.
At Tier-3, heavy variants are added to each weapon type. These are slow-moving turret based weapons – packing a punch but struggling to track faster-moving ships such as interceptors. In addition to this, a number of additional weapon mods become available to Tier-3 ships, which allow you to increase the rate of fire, critical chance and much more.
As observant readers will have noticed, the above example of the tier-progression only touched upon the weapons of the ship. Add to this that the available missile types (you unlock combat drones, cruise missiles, mine fields, nukes and much more), a huge array of active modules, additional passive slots and hull modifiers and you will suddenly have a plethora of tactical choices in front of you.
All of this means that players can build a ship entirely around their own play style – and not feel pigeon holed into one specific build.
The game currently offers both PvP and PvE modes – though it is worth mentioning that the PvE side is very much in its infancy. There are about five different missions available and although they are very interesting – many players will feel they get old pretty quickly. This is however the case with any new game and new missions are added on a regular basis. As long as Gaijin don’t neglect this aspect of the game, it should be pretty interesting in the future.
As far as PvP goes – there is the expected Domination mode, as well as a number of variants on the usual modes you would expect. Beacon hunt is like Domination, but only has one beacon active at any given time – creating a fighting frenzy over each new beacon.
Detonation is an interesting mode where each side has 3 space stations – with an EMP bomb spawning in the middle of the map. Players are to pick up the bomb, fly to an enemy station and stay alive for about 5 seconds to ‘plant’ the bomb. This is much harder than it sounds when you take into account that people will be firing missiles, deploying minefields and using any other methods to take you down. To further spice things up, an additional EMP bomb spawns a little after the initial bomb – ensuring that pilots need to be pretty focused to prevent the enemy team from destroying their stations.
Last but not least is my personal favourite: Combat Reconnaissance. In this mode, one player on each time is assigned the role of captain and re-spawns are only active as long as your captain is alive. This creates a scenario where each time needs to be tactical about defending their captain whilst finding a way to take the opposing captain down.
Leader boards are present for both PvP and PvE modes – though these are solely based on Corporation rankings. It is therefore recommended that you join a corporation if you like the competitive aspect of gaming. In addition, there is a game mode called Sector Conquest – which allows corporations to take control of sectors on the map. However, at the time of writing this mode doesn’t really offer anything to make it worthwhile besides bragging rights with the community having high hopes for future development of this aspect.
Graphics and Sound
Star Conflict offers some surprisingly beautiful graphics for a free-to-play title. The spaceship models are among the most visually stunning creations in any space based title to date. I don’t say this lightly as I absolutely love any game which contains space ships – but the artists have done an amazing job here. Some of the models are utterly awesome.
This isn’t to say that Star Conflict is a graphical masterpiece, but it definitely holds its own. That said, the current game mainly consists of quick, action-packed combat skirmishes – where players have little time to sit and admire the scenery. Whilst graphically pleasing, I wouldn’t say that the backgrounds, objects and nebulae are the most beautiful. If the game ever adds an open world aspect, Gaijin has a bit of work to do to ensure that the game holds its own against games such as EVE or the X series.
Star Conflict features a decent score of music and sufficient sound effects. Most actions, be it firing weapons or activating modules, sound like you would expect. The explosions are satisfying – which is pretty important in a game where 20 things blow up every 3 seconds.
Unfortunately, I can’t say the same about the voice-overs. Some of them are outright atrocious and I am not sure what the Star Conflict designers were thinking when it comes to the random swearing. Chat might be censored to protect the sensitive eyes of younger players, but expect the sound clips to scream “die you arsehole” and lines of a similar nature. I’d suggest they tone that down a bit – as it makes the game seem less mature than it actually is.
Free to Play / Pay to Win
One of the biggest concerns in free to play games is the so called pay to win aspect that these often bring. This was in fact a personal concern of mine when I first launched Star Conflict – as I find games which are overly pay to win rather boring. It takes away from the achievement of hard work if you can simply bypass it by buying something which is instantly better. Luckily, Star Conflict has not gone down this route.
Yes, you can buy licenses (their form of subscription, though these do not auto-renew) to significantly speed up your credit income and reputation gain. You can also buy premium ships – which come with maxed out synergy levels and don’t require repairs. However, you can achieve a similar strength ship purely by playing and working for it and repairs aren’t that big of a deal. At least I found I was swimming in credits pretty quickly, though we do have a decent corporation to fly missions with.
In terms of loot/modules – the ones you buy are exactly the same stats as the blue mark III variants that can be obtained when you have enough reputation with each sub faction. Purple Experimental items, which can be obtained only by playing, are better than either of these – ensuring that there is no way to simply buy the best items in the game.
The only aspect of the game where using real money is a necessity is when starting a corporation. This costs a fairly hefty amount of gold standards – with further costs associated to creating a corporation tag or increasing the maximum roster size. This is something which this writer has personal experience with – with pretty much all money I spend on the game going directly into the formation and enhancement of a corporation.
One last thing worth mentioning is that Star Conflict actually offers a few ways to earn Gold Standards directly by playing, which not many free to play games do these days. You are rewarded for voting on polls, through various events and are offered the chance to win Gold Standards in tournaments and competitions.
Star Conflict is a very competent entry in the free-to-play market and offers fans of games such as Freelancer a chance to play with spaceships in a very satisfying manner. With a variety of game modes and competitive play – with just enough depth to keep you on your toes, Star Conflict is a rather brilliant action-shooter.
The game is fun to play, especially when enjoyed with a group of friends and provides enough goals and unlockables to keep players engaged for a good amount of time. Chances are that by the time you’ve unlocked and equipped the best ships in the game, that you’ve made enough friends to stay interested in the game for a decent amount of time.
With promised features on the horizon such as corporation wars, dreadnoughts, tier-5 ships and potentially an open-world aspect to the game, there is a lot to get excited about. Given that the game is still in open beta, I for one look forward to see where Gaijin is going to take us. All in all, Star Conflict offers great value for a free-to-play title and I’d wholeheartedly recommend you give it a try. Hell, I’d go as far as to say it’s even worth parting with some money. The basic £15 pack on Steam is great value for money.
So what are you waiting for? Go install the game already and come give us a shout in the game itself. I can be found in The WolfPack Corporation.