Sunday, 26 August 2012

Dark Star One

More well known for their Patrician and Sacred Series, Ascaron's Dark Star One is their attempt to create a Space RPG.  It's a typical Elite clone, you can go around being a trader, a mercenary, smuggler or pirate. Systems are connected by hypergates which you exit from. It has interesting ideas but ultimately fails at being a good fun sandbox. As the only space sandbox game I played was Freelancer I'm going to make a number of comparisons. Many of the criticisms I have of the game is due to the lack of variety and sense of progression.

Let's go over the single point of innovation in the game:
An evolving ship like an RPG character - The idea of an evolving ship where rather than seling and buying a better ship you evolve your ship by finding special biomaterial and then actually choosing your upgrades like an RPG. It's cooler idea than the usual cash upgrades and you get higher armour, cargo space and other perks depending on how you grow your character.

You even get special powers you can employ such as EMP blasts or slowing down time again much like an RPG character.

Technically competent - Relatively solid combat controls and fairly easy to use interface. Those familiar with shooters will easily get the hang of it.

What went wrong with the game?
World starts off locked and you have to very slowly unlock it- These are the guys which created Sacred and boasted about having 70% of the world already unlocked when you start, so it's very surprisingly to see this game extremely restricted in this respect. You have to slowly play through the story missions to unlock more and more powerful hyperdrives which will eventually allow you to very slowly unlock the very large map.

Repetitive and limiting universe which lack variety- Overall the world is static and repetitive just like Freelancer was. Whereas Freelancer at least had a large connected world with a variety of factions, Darkstar One's factions remain largely in the background. This is made worse that every sector is too similar. There will always a trade station with some minor locations. For example a pirate base in the asteroid fields to the left and maybe a mining station on the right.

In games like Freelancer, various regions have different planets and sectors such as a mining sector, or a military sector heavily guarded by ships. You don't have really have that variety in this game aside from more or less police and bandits in a sector. Every single sector seems cookie-cutter with its placement.

Static interactions- Unlike the X-series you can't really affect the politics of the world to any real extent, you can't buy a fleet of ships or base or create a home base of any sorts. Every system you visit has a planet and a trade station. As far as I know, you can't even dock with research stations or have any meaningful interaction with anything but the trade stations where you offload goods.

Lack of weapons and equipment - There just isn't much equipment period. After about 3 hours of gameplay I unlocked three different areas, about 35% of the galaxy and I had only unlocked two kinds of laser cannons, three kinds of missiles and 2 kinds of turrets. The laser cannons and the turrets don't behave in any noticeably different way so they just shoot faster, or deal more damage.

In space shooters, part of the fun is experimenting and trying new weapons and combinations of equipment but there just isn't that many. Freelancer was better was in the variety area. There were different ships with different handling and weapons which felt different despite the maximum speed of every ship being the same.

Repetitive missions and quests - There are about ten or so types of quests that you find in other RPGs such as escort quests and bounty hunting quests. There are some interesting ones such as taking photos or spying but once you've done them you're pretty much stuck doing the same kinds of missions which usually involve blowing up several enemies when something goes wrong.

Overall, I am very surprised in the way that they've gone about creating a space sandbox game considering they also made Sacred and the Patrician/Port Royale series. It lacks variety, tactical depth, interesting regions or any real choices. I say spend your money to better something else like Sacred or Sid Meier's Pirate, Bully or Grand Theft Auto. At least you'll have a fairly large world to explore straight out of the box that has different areas and lots of different kinds of mini-games!

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