Space games tend to go big, letting you travel from one system to another while the planets do little more than provide a handy gravity well for a space station to orbit. The galaxy may be big and beautiful but the planets are generally decoration. Rodina isn’t having any of that, and while the scale may not be galactic, its solar system has four full-sized planets to explore and a few thousand asteroids to boot.
Rodina is also very early. As in, extra-super early. The features it has work as intended, barring a few bugs here and there, but while what it can do is good fun there are far more features planned, many of which aren’t even hinted at in its current state. Rodina is a platform to build up from, and while a solar system with explorable planets patrolled by enemy spaceships itching for a dogfight is a wonderful thing, the eventual goal is “Daggerall in space”. It’s got years of development to go before it can earn that title, but Rodina is off to a good start.
But enough talk of the future, because the current version is good fun in its own right. You wake up on an asteroid, seamlessly going from the title screen to movement when the menu disappears and you realize that the background isn’t just a random bit of space-scenery but your actual FPS view. With no memories and a serial number for a name, your only guidance is a single waypoint. Also, you can jump incredibly high for some reason. A bit of exploration reveals the waypoint to be a ship, with a message on its radio explaining that the colony vessel Rodina is going to be arriving in the system and it’s your job to make it safe for the thousands of people on the way. You set off into the void of space, where the reason for your incredible jumping ability instantly becomes clear – your new perspective shows the planet is actually a large asteroid with mass-appropriate gravity.
At the moment Rodina is little more than a series of waypoints where you pick up the scattered supplies of the advance force. You’ll also uncover background info on why you’re seemingly alone with an army of enemy ships and a series of scattered crates, barrels, and info-crystals marked on the planets’ surfaces. Each planet has a number of + signs distributed in semi-random fashion across its surface, some guarded and some not, and each one has ammo for the ship and crystals containing back-story to collect. The main plot is told in a series of radio transmissions between the advance force and the Rodina, and when you reach the last one the story stops with a “To Be Continued…” moment while the solar system remains open for exploration. There will still be dozens (hundreds?) of text pieces left to find, and it’s a lot of fun to piece together the back-story of the future’s history and the people who left home to become colonists. Plus you get to shoot through the alien barrage on the way there, which is always a good time.
Combat in Rodina is very arcade-y, and at the moment 100% focused on ship-to-ship dogfights. Four types of enemies currently populate the solar system, and while that doesn’t sound like much in the way of variety each enemy type is unique. The little popcorn guys fly in a swarm leaving green trails behind them, pinging you with popgun fire, while the bigger flower-shaped enemies throw out homing missiles. Spherical enemies let loose a barrage of blue firepower, and space stations send out swarms of missiles – as well as a deadly pink bolt if you’re unlucky enough to be caught in its range of fire. The enemies are fairly simple individually, but mix them together and you need high-speed hit & run tactics to survive. It isn’t made much easier by only being able to fight in two out of four ship speeds.
The huge distances in a real solar system are a problem, and while Rodina cheats a bit by its system not being quite so big as ours it’s still a huge place. Planets are actually planet-sized, with one that’s Earth-diameter and another 1.5 times that, while the sun is a bit smaller than our Sol. It takes almost six hours to get from New York City to Los Angeles, Apollo 11 took a little over 3 days to reach the moon, and Curiosity over 8 months to reach Mars. How do you go from being able to carefully maneuver a landing spot, to combat speed, to zipping from planet to planet? You use different gears, and your ship has four First gear is slow, although still faster than walking, and it’s a good way to avoid turning the gunship into a crater. Second gear is combat speed, and the last gear in which your guns will fire because in third you’d crash into your own bullets Cruising speed is fast, handy for getting from one side of a planet to another, although all three speeds are amplified once you’re out of a planet’s atmosphere. It’s noticeably faster to circumnavigate a planet above the atmosphere than in it, but even with that extra boost it wold take forever to get from planet to planet without fourth gear’s Limnal drive. 365,000 miles per second? Might as well be walking speed. You’ll need to slow down on planetary approach, though, because slamming into the upper atmosphere at that pace is a great way to set your ship on fire.
As you wander through the gunship you’ll see fire extinguishers on the walls, and while at first they seem like a nice bit of set-dec akin to the toilets in the living area, they’re actually vital to survival. There’s a small percentage chance that your ship will catch fire when taking damage, and whether it’s from enemy bullets, slamming into the ground, or friction from atmospheric entry, fire is trouble. In space fire control is a simple matter of changing to third gear and running away from combat, then disengaging from the controls to scramble about the ship’s interior with an extinguisher while trying to keep the damage contained. On a planet you need to set down safely while the alarms go off and the ship’s health slowly creeps lower. Fortunately, you can customize the ship’s interior any way you like, making it much easier to contain the fire’s spread by changing the maze-like initial layout. Walls, furniture, living areas, storage, and the command deck can be set up any way you like to make a ship that’s both effective and personalized.
Despite all this, Rodina is full of unrealized potential. Fighting aliens is a lot of fun, and the messages and history of the game world are interesting, but that’s almost all there is to Rodina at the moment – Fly to area, fight enemies, land and collect everything, repeat. Planets are endless terrain with no decorations, first-person isn’t used for much other than gathering scattered goodies and fighting fires on the ship, and the story ends just as it’s getting good. That will change with time, though. Current plans call for working on character-level skills first – such as hacking – and you’ll be able to board enemy ships in the future too. Planetary bases are in the works, and dealing with them should add some FPS action to complement the ship combat. Eventually, if Rodina does well enough, there will even be settlements and NPCs to interact with. The developer wish-list is huge, and if everything planned on comes together then, someday, Rodina will indeed be “Daggerfall in space.”
Right now, however, all this promise is built on a solid foundation. I loved the seamlessness of walking into the airlock from a planet’s surface, taking control of the ship as it switches to external view, flying out of the atmosphere and into space, and then targeting one of the many waypoints and firing up the Limnal drive to cross a life-sized solar system in about a minute. Rodina may have a long way to go to justify its enormous scope, but the fun combat and epic sense of scale are enough to give hope that the next few years of development will turn it into something truly incredible.