Fleet Battles Beta is a Good Start Towards the Return of Star Control: Origins

The universe is deep and extends out forever, filled with endless aliens and the ships they pilot to explore its infinite possibilities.  No two races think the same so, therefore, no two races build the same either, and the array of tools and weapons they use to survive in a hostile and unforgiving environment is endlessly varied.  Every ship design has its strengths and weaknesses, and when they band together in combat their powers and abilities can complement each other in surprising ways.  Admittedly, they can only fight one at a time, but defeat just means a new chance at bringing in a more effective ship to pound the enemy into a flaming hulk of wreckage.  Star Control: Origins has launched its beta with the Fleet Battles as its focus, and with it you can build your own alien armada to take on the universe.

Star Control has been dormant since the 90s but now there are two games in the works.  The one from the original creators is still a long ways off, but Stardock’s Star Control: Origins launched its beta over the weekend to give players the chance to crack its ship building system wide open.  While the main game is going to be a star-spanning adventure where Earth’s first interstellar ship journeys out into the universe to see what and who it can find, the beta is focused specifically on combat.  Put together an armada of ships from a selection of pre-built ones or dip into the creator to roll your own, then test them against the AI and online unranked fights before putting your skills up for judgement in ranked matches.  It’s early and fairly bare bones, but then again that’s the point.   The beta in its current form is being released specifically for fan feedback, seeing what works, what could use updating, and if there are any crazy-overpowered builds people can discover.  World Maker is coming this winter, while the major update that lets you build a universe will come out an unscheduled period after that, but right now the beta is all about testing the basics.

The basics, of course, involve ships blasting each other to pieces in an arena surrounded by asteroids and with the gravity well of a planet making an extra hazard on the screen.  Each player creates an armada up to fourteen ships in size, although to fill in all the slots they’d need to fill it in with only the smallest fighters available.  In the current build there are eleven different pre-built ships, each ranked by a point value, and you can build your collection up to 100 points in strength.  Once you’ve filled your roster it’s time to fight, selecting one ship at a time to take on whatever your opponent has chosen.  Knowing each craft’s skills is vital to winning, but that’s made harder if you go up against an opponent who’s used the ship-building system to design a unique fighter.  Each of the eleven pre-built ships play completely differently from each other, with weapons ranging from a black hole gun, an energy-sapping bolt that stops the ship dead in its tracks, beam weapons and lasers, and a good selection of secondary weapons that play off the effects of the primary.  The energy-depletion bolt, for example, comes from a ship that also lets loose tiny little fighters that can board and damage the enemy, but they aren’t particularly fast so the primary gun has to stop the enemy first.  It doesn’t help that the fighters are also your crew, which is what acts as ship hit points, so every one sent out is a risk.

Not every ship is quite that tactical, though, with most just requiring a bit of strategy to get the best use from them.  The Fleet Battles are still primarily a pure action affair, as they should be, but a good player is one who can adapt to a range of different abilities and change them on the fly as necessary when the old ones get shot down.  Of course, you could just populate your armada with a small handful of favorites, but a more diverse armada is much more fun to fight with.

While Star Control: Origins is off to a promising start, it’s important to remember that this is the very first beta and there’s a long way to go before it’s in top shape.  There’s only the one arena, for example, and unlike the original games it doesn’t wrap around.  The planet’s gravity is also fairly weak, and when you crash into it the ship bounces off in a weird way.  Gun impacts feel weak and I’ve run into a weird bug where the two different types of shots switch which button fires them.  And for right now that’s fine.  The arena is scheduled for a nice upgrade that lets you choose its size or revert to the classic wrap-around style, feedback on planet behavior is being listened to, gun impact is being worked on, and bugs will get squished.  The beta is only available for those who pre-order the game, and at an initial launch price of $29.99 (which will go up over time) this is specifically for fans who want to both start playing now and want to help shape the game as it progresses.  It’s more a pre-order bonus than anything more formal like an Early Access release.

Star Control has been gone for far too long and, while it’s not back yet, the Star Control: Origins beta is a good start towards its return.  There are still a few million steps left to walk down the road before this tactical arcade space combat game turns into something worthy of its namesake, but the journey has kicked off nicely and seems to have realistic promises of updates to come.  While it’s PC-only for the forseeable future, the plans also include not just Mac and Linux versions, but also PS4, Switch and Xbox One editions too.  It’s going to be a good long while before it gets there, of course, but for now the beta has started and lays down the groundwork for the epic space adventures to come.