EA SCOUT the last line of defense for buying on Steam's Early Access
by Michael Stallworth
previewed on PC
Take the helm of your own starship
Iceberg Interactive’s Starpoint Gemini series puts players at the helm of their very own starship and allows them to explore the vast reaches of space. Starpoint Gemini: Warlords will be the latest installment in the series and Iceberg recently made an early access portion of the game available on Steam. Is Starpoint Gemini: Warlords a universe full of endless possibility or more of a cold dark void where no one can hear you scream? At this point it’s a bit of both.
From a brilliant prologue to drab reality
Warlords is a space sim that will almost certainly remind players of games such as Rebel Galaxy or Elite Dangerous. The game begins with the story mode’s prologue missions. These story missions are brilliantly executed: they give you a taste of the massive starship battles and galactic conflict that make the game so appealing. After the prologue missions are completed you are dropped into the game’s free roam mode with a low level gunship. You are able to customize your ship’s armaments as well as purchase new ships - around 20 of which are available at this point. Once you’ve outfitted the ship to your liking, you can head out and complete a variety of the game’s “Freelance missions” to accumulate money which can be used to buy better ships and upgrades for your space station base. Using the word “variety” is a bit of a misnomer, as there are many types of missions in the game including; search and destroy, freighter escort, repair missions, base assault and salvage missions. I know this may sound like the player is being given a lot of choices in how they want to play the game, but all of these missions basically break down into three categories: combat missions, resource missions and delivery missions.
The search and destroy and base assault missions are nearly identical; search and destroy consists of killing some space pirate or enemy combatant, while the base assault missions have you attacking a stationary stronghold that is surrounded by a number of defense turrets. While these missions sound different enough on paper, they play out the exact same way: you fly to a waypoint and shoot at the target until it blows up. Playing on the default medium difficulty I found that neither of these mission types require any sort of strategy or even skill on the player’s part, even in the base assault missions where the enemies are more numerous there’s never a reason to pay any attention to the defensive turrets that surround your target. It’s simply easier to go straight at the target and let your ship’s shields take the punishment until the target is destroyed. Even when playing with the most basic ship the enemy turrets never come close to dealing any significant damage before you’re able to destroy your target and zip away.
Just as frustrating is the lack of any sort of progression with the “Freelance Missions”. Each one is a carbon copy of the last except that your enemy or enemies are now higher level. At one point, on a search and destroy mission, I was heading to the waypoint that marked my target’s location, but when I got there, a crew member told me that there was no sign of the target. I was then given the option to either conduct a long range scan of the area or give up the mission. Not being a quitter, I conducted the scan which gave me another waypoint to head towards. When I arrived it was the same as the last, no target but another waypoint to move towards. I followed this trail of waypoint breadcrumbs three more times and by this point my interest was peaked. Was I being led into some kind of ambush, was my employer double crossing me or was I just a cog in some grand conspiracy? My enthusiasm left me like oxygen rushing out of a blown airlock as I arrived at the final waypoint to find my target ship alone, hostile and easily defeated just like all the previous missions.These extra steps feel entirely arbitrary and only serve to pad out the length of the mission, but in a game filled with lengthy and often uneventful travel I’m having trouble figuring it out why they felt the need to include them.
The salvage and mining missions are all just resource collection missions in different forms. You fly to an area, collect resources from the asteroid or space junk, then sell it at your base or on the nearby planet. I was hoping that these missions would introduce an economic aspect to the game, where certain resources would be worth more depending on where you sold them, but I never found any significant difference in the amount of money gained at one merchant versus another.
The freighter escort and delivery missions are essentially a series of fetch quests. The escort missions all boil down to following a group of freighters who will be attacked at some point on the way to their destination. But, as with the base assault missions, there’s never a reason to pay any attention to the attacking ships. The freighters keep moving when the ambush begins and the attacking ships only target your ship, so it’s easier to just act as a bullet shield until the freighters reach their target destination. The delivery missions are even less imaginative, literally consisting of going from point A to point B. That’s it. There’s no one chasing you, there are never any complications. A time limit for the delivery missions is eventually introduced but they are so long that they never add a sense of challenge or urgency.
I know it sounds like I’m being pretty hard on Starpoint Gemini: Warlords, but it’s coming from a place of love. I’m like a tough dad who’s only being critical because I see so much potential in this game. As critical as I’ve been, I really enjoyed playing Warlords and I am still playing it now. The game looks beautiful and the actual combat mechanics are a lot of fun, they just get used the same way over and over again. The few main story missions that are available to play are really engaging and do a great job of making you feel like you are a part of a galactic conflict. I just wish this feeling translated into the rest of the game. If you’ve always dreamed of taking the helm of your own starship, Starpoint Gemini: Warlords may be the game to eventually scratch that itch, but at this point I think it would be better to hold off on buying the early access and see how it develops.
The game has potential, but we're not ready to jump in with both feet. If the game interests you, look, but don't touch - yet.