Stars Without Number – An Early Look at Starborne: Sovereign Space09 Nov 2017 0
When I was a teenager, I was engrossed with a game called Hyperiums. It was (and still is) a free online browser based game about interstellar empires and great alliances. EVE Online is often joked as being ‘spread-sheets in space’, but Hyperiums was literally a spread-sheet, by and large.
There aren’t many images to be found via a Google search and the main site is sadly not very forthcoming, but since it’s free to sign up and join a game I recommend you go give it a look anyway. It’s changed a bit since I last played, but you’ll see what I mean – your planets are 2D stat sheets. You have planets, lists of troops, fleets, research, etc. It’s a game that tried to do much with very little.
The key to Hyperiums was that it was designed as an MMO – you spawned in with a single-planet, and eventually the game would randomly spawn you another one, but the main way to grow was to conquer other players. To do that, it’d probably be wise to group up and form alliances, and those alliances would need to find some way of co-existing (or not). Wars were common, and basically Hyperiums offered a large-scale subterfuge-esque experience before Subterfuge was ever a concept.
Starborne: Sovereign Space bills itself as a “grand-strategy space 4X” game where the big selling point is that it’s also a multiplayer game played out in real-time. They don’t use the term ‘MMO’, but the capacity for a single server must be a thousand or so players, if not more. You spawn into the Galaxy map in control of a single space-station, with all of the players concentrated along one of seven spiral arms. The rest of the map is populated with powerful NPCs and ‘Strategic Points’ that you need to capture in order to “win” the game. Game sessions can last months.
You need to build buildings at your station in order to level it up and unlock other features, and stations can generally specialise in Military, Domain or Industrial areas. There are resource nodes on the map to exploit, and when you develop enough you can plonk down new stations and other free-standing outposts to grow your empire.
If you’re getting the same sense of deja vu I did, don’t worry – it feels very similar to the game I used to play. This isn’t really a single-player game, and players are incentivised quite quickly to join up in alliances for protection. Alliances can also have formal treaties with each other and form loose confederations. It’s not easy to take out a player – the game has different ship tiers, with the most powerful ships needing a particular loot drop item in order to unlock the building that allows you to build them.
Loot Drops – this is the biggest question mark I have of this game so far. In Hyperiums the business model was simple – it was free. If you wanted to donate, you could, but from what I remember there was no ‘premium’ service and no IAPs. Starborne is trying to capture current gaming trends in its design and has turned to loot. In the early days, especially when you & everyone around you is protected by the system, all you can really do is "quest".
You use your scouts to find mission nodes, and then you send the requisite amount of ships to complete those missions. Everything takes time – building, moving, so on and so forth; it’s the principle way of controlling the game flow. When you complete a mission, you get a crate which provides you with cards. These cards can be fitted to either your stations, or your fleets, and provide buffs on everything from resource production, to speed, to firepower. Some are permanent, some last only for a certain amount of time before they are discarded.
At the moment, you can buy "Commander Packs". Everyone testing the Alpha gets some free ones tied to their account (most are saving them for launch because once opened, the contents can’t be carried over to a new server. The pack itself, though, is tied to your account, so that can persist). The cards range from boringly OK to quite powerful (like the one that unlocks the stronger ship types) so it’ll be a question of seeing just how far you can get by splurging out on these packs.
That’s not to say this is your only avenue of getting rare drops – the crates themselves always come with their built-in drop chance, and the stronger missions you do, the better type of cache you get. You can also work for achievements – completing certain gameplay milestones that net you resources, cards and sometimes even ships.
Like Hyperiums before it, Starborne by design is an incredibly social experience. Having your friends join you certainly couldn’t hurt – I remember introducing a real-life friend to the game, and we both joined the same alliance – a rather prominent one (at the time) called the 1st Commandos. We’d talk about it at work a lot, but the main thing I remember was that he dobbed me in to the alliance leader for something I’d said offline. I can’t remember what I’d said, but I got into a lot of trouble, although I managed to smooth things over. Gavin said he was doing "espionage", but really, he was just being a troll.
Regardless, this is really not something you should try and do alone. Even if you join an alliance, make sure it’s an active one that has a lot of conversation and direction. For the purposes of this article, I joined an alliance in my local space, but they didn’t talk much or offer much advice on what to do, so a lot of my time with the game was a bit directionless and dull.
Starborne: Sovereign Space is currently doing a Closed Alpha test that will finish in January. Keep an eye on the main website for future tests you can be part of. At the time of writing, no information on release date is known.