This is going to be a bit stream-of-consciousness I’m afraid.
First fight - the first map is very visually cluttered. The asteroids, lens flare, layers, fighters, missiles and everything - I really can’t see what’s going on and I can’t help but want the cleaner and quieter battle of the first game. There’s so much going on - there is not even the illusion of control (ie. I cannot tell if the orders I issued are being followed), or spotting mistakes and how to correct them next time.
I might not mind this in later maps - but in the first one you come across - it’s a bit much early on. I would have preferred a smaller map with fewer visual elements, and build up to the spectacle of the battle in the asteroid field.
I accidentally highlight a few ships during the battle and floating menus open up which I cannot close because the ‘x’ to close them is moving around too quickly.
I can’t see the fighters at all. I can only see gunships when they fire disruption missiles. Perhaps I need to outfit all my fighters with flashing lights, so I can track where they are.
When I start to design ships the following things occur to me:
The first game had some issues with registering single key presses with multiple letters in the ship’s name and this one does it too. Is it mmmeeeeee?
The ship’s name box also has a strange misalignment of the cursor - it’s tricky to see which letters you are adding and which you are deleting. Only backspace works - not delete.
Some of the hardpoints overlap each other and it’s sometimes difficult to pick up the icon in one and drag it elsewhere.
I like the firing arcs - but I think perhaps there need to be fewer universal mounts - to make ship movement and orientation - and thus turning speed more useful.
I don’t immediately clock that fighters need fuel tanks. Perhaps there needs to be a little user comforting around the greyed out save box - perhaps a small checklist which ticks when you add a component a blank when you haven’t and it was optional and a cross when there isn’t one and it’s obligatory? I have no idea how long the fuel will last.
Some of the ship components are a mystery what they do. The cut and paste descriptions need refinement and differentiation for clarity.
Fighters and gunships seem hard. I tried the old classic “one engine, one rocket/missile launcher” - speed as survival trick that worked well in GSB1 and watched as my fighters went in single file into the maw of the enemy and were chewed up. I would love it if they grouped together first before flying off. My heavy torpedo gunships seemed to run out of fuel twenty feet from the carrier. In the end I played some dogfighters as escorts to dreadnoughts and sometimes gunships as escorts to add cheap close range firepower.
One of the early dreadnought designs has a +85% armour boost. Wow! I load it with shields, heavy armour and my favourite multi-warhead missiles and go to town.
After two missions I had enough honour to have unlocked everything. Lining up a small number of these +85% armour dreadnoughts with buckets of missiles and some fighter escorts demolishes most fleets. I try tinkering with orders, but it makes little odds which order I destroy the enemy in. The only map it didn’t work on was that with loads of lightning guns. That prompted me to put a few destroyers in with shield enhancers and some more AA missiles and anti-missile beams. Time, and human ingenuity will tell whether there are some interesting fleet design options out there. Once I’d stocked up on these big bad boys there seemed little incentive to vary a successful formula.
There are lots of counters to missiles, though - but the fleets built for the missions do not seem to have employed them. Perhaps one or two maps would need to act as a test of over-stocking missiles?
I went back and started experimenting with frigates. They were never really useful in GSB1 and I wondered if I could find a niche for them. It took me a few tries until I found a balance of speed and defense enough to survive the battle - which is a good start, because now I can tweak the paltry weapon load-out to try and do more than annoy the enemy’s ships. I haven’t yet found a role for them - but I’m sure there’s time. They seem a bit prone to bumping into friendly ships, though.
So - I’ve completed the missions in short order and I have enjoyed myself. It has not been challenging - but that’s OK for now because it’s a beta and balancing systems this complex is an art which takes time.
I love the sound design and the music.
I notice that if I delete some ship designs, and then try and reload a mission with a deployment that uses those designs listed, the game crashes. I have to recreate a ship with the name of the missing one and then it loads fine. I’ll have to put that one in bugs.
Back to the first mission again - this time trying destroyers with propulsion beams pushing a gun platforms - and trying to find designs of gunships that fit in a role. Maybe going through the achievements list and seeing different ways to arm myself.
Cruisers? Didn’t need think about or seem to need them. I’ll be back and add more once I get my teeth into the design balances a bit more.
I wonder if there is a way of coding a cinematic camera which zooms to a main ship (frigate+) which is taking the most damage at the time - or dishing out the most damage at the time?
A shaky first impression with too much going on - but it stands up to repeated plays and has grown on me.
Next time: New races and some new tactics.