I’ve had Starborne open nearly every waking minute over the last ten weeks – and even during many of the sleeping ones. It is absolutely bizarre how engrossed and engaged I have been with this game. A big part of that has to do with the coronavirus and the amount of time I’ve been at home. That certainly allowed me the time and means to be in game at all hours of every day. Write a little bit here; check my fleets. Write a little bit there; queues are up, let’s go! I managed it despite my family’s annoyance and constant urging that I log off that game already and come speak with real humans. I simply couldn’t be pulled away.
Now, I find myself here at the end of the campaign. In Starborne, servers are spun up for limited time campaigns in which several alliances are able to claim victories. Server 4, which I played on, is ending later this week. So I wanted to take this moment to look at the ups and downs of this type of gameplay as well as look to the future of this title.
The action starts slow but ramps quickly
The gameplay in Starborne is almost entirely queue-driven. My first look at the game explained it as well, but I’ll give you a short summary: Players send fleets on special combat or collection actions, construct new fleets or buildings at a station, or build new stations and outposts. At the beginning of a server, you have only a single station, so there really aren’t a whole lot of actions you can take. You use the build cards and follow the achievements to get that first station started up as quickly as possible, but ultimately there’s not much more to do.
As you play, though, you’ll earn experience points and gain levels just as in any MMO. Every 10 levels, you can strike out and build another station. Running two, three, four, or even five stations isn’t much different from just a single station. You have all the same actions of course, but by that stage you’ll have also designed each one with different specialties. You will have your labor producing stations for operating fleets, large resource-collecting stations, and even military-driven ones.
But once you enter the later stages of the game, you’ll suddenly find yourself with so much to do that by the time you’ve scheduled all your actions, you’re only 15 minutes away from the first one completing. I mean, you can’t log off when it’s only 15 minutes away, right? We’ll just sit here for 15 minutes to do that one then log off. But around the time that one completes, another is near completion. So you wait until it ends, and then you see another is almost complete, and… well, the vicious cycle repeats. It really plays on that fear of missing out and falling behind aspect of your emotions and psyche.
Sure, you don’t have to have perfectly running queues at all times, but if you want to be competitive, you kind of do. Not to mention, once you’ve joined an alliance, which in Starborne is just a guild with up to 15 members, you really need to start working on your coordination and building stations the right way.
Join an alliance and form coalitions quickly to be competitive
It was clearly evident that this wasn’t a campaign designed around solo play. Sure, you can get away with it, and you might even have a good time doing it. In fact, I noticed a player in the starter zone with a nice big section controlled by several of her stations. If she’d wanted to destroy any starter station, she’d have likely rolled over it, as long as she didn’t upset an alliance too much. But the real action and meat of the gameplay comes from interactions with your alliance and going to war with others. If you want a piece of one of the three win conditions, you are going to have to get in with a strong, active group of players.
Now, I got exceptionally lucky in my alliance choices. My first alliance made some smart, quick moves early and due to a little joint operation with a much larger alliance, so I was able to make the switch into that alliance as my original one deteriorated. I had not played the game prior to joining this open beta, so their guidance and help was instrumental in my gameplay experience.
There are a few perks provided to alliances that an individual doesn’t get, although there’s nothing stopping a solo player from creating an alliance on his own. (But the amount of resources required building one of the alliance structures is so large I doubt a single player could successfully maintain one alone.)
The primary features offered are alliance stations and forward operating bases, or FOBs. The FOBs are absolutely essential for any alliance choosing to be competitive. With it, an alliance can load up dozens of fleets from its members and then jump it to a location, preferably one near some enemies to destroy.
While it isn’t a formal feature of the game, coalitions of alliances naturally form as well. I think this is largely due to the multiple win conditions available on the server. While it is possible for a single alliance to win more than just one of the three options, it would be tough to do. So instead, alliances will join forces and support each other. My alliance worked towards winning the Dyson sphere while another alliance chose to capture the most mechanisms (just unique hexes in NPC territory).
We had a few large fights, and it was doubtful for a while, but it appears we are going to be pulling away with a victory. It is still a close race, though – the server ends later this week.
Where Starborne goes from here
Over the course of just a couple months, the developers at Solid Clouds have continued to make huge strides in improving the game. They made changes that improved the game’s performance, added useful features, and – my favorite – have introduced servers with alternative rulesets, one of which was a 4-hour server. That’s right: They cranked up the speed of queues and everything else to cram 70 days’ worth of action into four hours of intense space mayhem.
While the game wasn’t flawless (we suffered from some excruciating bugs), there is a clear direction and path forward for the team. It appears to have a passion for their game and the drive to move it forward while trying out all kinds of crazy ideas. I really love seeing that. I have no doubt that Starborne will only continue to improve and become an even more robust game.
However, as much as I enjoyed my time on server 4 and in Starborne, I think I’ll be taking a break from it for a while. Perhaps when the studio spins up another wild server or one that fits my more solo and small-group-oriented style, I’ll jump back in. That isn’t a knock on the game or the server’s ruleset. I simply found that I became far too addicted to play another server right after this one. But I’m sure I’ll return again: Starborne has carved its place in my mind as the MMORTS for me.
With that, I hope that many others have found Starborne as well. If so, did any of you play through one of the completed servers? Did you find that it struck the right mix of resource and time management or did it miss the mark? Let me know below!