In today’s world, where everyone is rushing around never having the time to sink your teeth into a long game, don’t you sometimes just want something you can jump into for ten minutes and be on your way? Usually reserved for the likes of Call of Duty, Zeal Game Studios give us Starvoid, breaking Real-Time Strategy tradition and letting you jump in for as long or as little as you want and have a good time.
I mentioned Call of Duty in the opening paragraph as it’s pertinent to the design teams focus. I was lucky enough to have a play session with lead designer Rasmus Davidsson where he mentioned the idea for the game itself came about when him and his team wanted to play an RTS, but ended up on Call of Duty because of the jump-in nature of it, and it was decided that Strategy games needed a suitable equivalent; the idea being to make it more accessible but still maintaining the whole strategy thing.
What we now have is a sort of mish-mash of styles, with games in my experience lasting anywhere from a couple of minutes to full length wars. The basic idea is that there’s no base building as you may expect, there’s no resource gathering to get your units or research, it’s all done as and when you need it with you taking direct control of the leader, known here as the Commander, and spawning units as you go. If you let one of your units die there is a brief cooldown period before that unit can be summoned again and a long minute without support can be the difference between you capturing an objective or getting killed.
Your Commander is your main unit and as such you are given a choice of which kind you would like to be, with options for stealth, support, defence or all-out assault. These can lend themselves to detailed strategies if you feel the need, or you can chance your luck on spawning your biggest and baddest units, selecting them all and attacking everything in sight in the hope that you win. That’s the beauty of the whole thing; you can it play as simply or as complex as you desire, unlike, for example, a MOBA game where you’ll be cursed for all you’re worth by your teammates if you don’t play exactly as you are expected to.
Getting started does take some getting used to and this is a flaw which is reportedly being worked on right now. The game is online only at the moment, with no offline bot support for training or even just finding out what the hell you’re supposed to do. My first few games were effectively me running aimlessly around the map with a few units I had spawned, capturing an objective or two, dying then rinsing and repeating; I had no idea what my actual goal was or how to play properly. However, the game’s laid back nature works to its benefit and it didn’t take long to pick up on things and work out what I was doing.
One major problem is the size of the on-screen interface. There are tooltips displayed on-screen as you play to help you get the hang of things, but they are so small you’ll end up closing them and working things out for yourself - and most likely die in the process. This is another work-in-progress issue, as there’s promise of an easier to read UI in the future, but as of writing it’s still a problem. The same small icons and text are also applied to your skills and buffs meaning it’s difficult to tell what you’re getting when you go out of your way to capture a bonus and your first few games will be simply testing skills to see what they do and how they are useful.
It’s most definitely not all bad however, as once you are into the swing of things games are exhilarating and fast paced as they were intended to be, with constant wars over choke points and objectives. You’ll never be left wanting something to do, as from the moment you spawn you can get straight into the battle spawning units as you run and if you die you respawn immediately and can charge straight back into battle. This isn’t as bad as it sounds, the instant respawn may leave you thinking there’s no point in dying but the size of the maps and the constant need to be in different locations means that dying will inconvenience you. The large maps also mean you never have to worry about killing someone, barely surviving, then have them run right back to finish you off.
Right from the off players are given access to pre-built classes, here referred to as ‘Contracts’, and these feature higher level items and gear than you would have access to should you choose to create your own Contract. This is where things get a little more complex; if you want to put serious time into the game you can create up to four custom Contracts, choosing base things like your Commander type, which units you can spawn and your weapons. All units can be fitted with two bonuses, you can unlock and change weapons, can give Commander’s up to three bonuses and generally get down and dirty creating your perfect character. Still, the pre-made ones serve as excellent introductions to the capabilities of any given Commander and the units they can spawn.
Ranking up is a fairly quick process and as you kill foes, take objectives and win games you will earn spoils, which can then be spent in the in-game shop allowing you to purchase new units, weapons and bonuses as you progress and create ever more powerful custom Contracts to really tailor the experience. The shop also has numerous items that can be bought for real money, but the DLC thus far is only allowing you to buy spoils,as you may expect, and extra Commanders. These purchasable characters are only alternatives to existing Commanders, and thus aren’t designed to give those who spend real currency an in-game advantage.
The game modes on offer are small in number, as are the available maps to play on for now; with Sabotage, Team Deathmatch and Battle modes all available to play on the three maps given. The maps are interesting and well laid out for each game-mode, but there needs to be more and perhaps different maps specific to a game-mode for it any given mode to really have a chance of standing out. As is, the only mode that really does something out of the ordinary is Sabotage, an excellent mode where each player starts with a set number of bombs, and the objective is to bomb objective points on the opposing team’s side. Simple, right? Well you can earn more bombs by killing your foes, stockpiling bombs to put a bigger dent in their resources, the question is: do you want to risk amassing a fortune of bombs only to risk getting killed and losing them all, thereby giving the person who killed you the chance to use those bombs he just took from you on your own base? It’s a very tense game mode which I never had a bad time playing, it was constantly engaging and led me to use slightly better tactics than my usual of selecting everything and right clicking until enemies fell over.
The other modes fit perfectly into the fast-paced model the team were after with Team Deathmatch being exactly as you would expect, a barrage of players summoning their best units and just going all out to kill the other team as much as possible. Battle mode is a little different, with the focus being on capturing nodes on the map. The crux is you can’t run to any you like as they are ordered to keep things on-the-go, as it were. You can’t run from point to point from one end of the map to the other; you first capture the nodes closest to your spawn, then meet the enemy in the middle to capture another node and if you win there, try and push to their spawn to capture their nodes and capturing them all will win your team the game.
As a strategy game there isn’t much strategy to be found, save for in Sabotage. It’s a mess of people clamouring for kills and objectives for the most part and I couldn’t see myself playing it for hours on end as I would, say, Civilization, or others may do with League of Legends. What I have done and will continue to do is jump on for a few games here and there, have a blast with it then switch it off; which is exactly what the team were going for. As a jump-in jump-out kind of game, it works perfectly: connecting to games is a breeze through the launcher/home screen and I never came across any bugs to speak of. With some tweaks to the UI and perhaps adding an offline mode for those wishing to try out new Commanders without fear of being destroyed in a live game, Starvoid could be one that keeps you coming back for just another quick game or two.
- Unashamedly fast paced; and better for it
- Addictive 'one more match' quality
- Room for tinkering and strategy should you so desire
- No offline mode to speak of
- Badly sized UI makes for difficult reading
- Could do with more variety in maps and game modes