The world of open world space games is a tricky one to get noticed in, especially when sequels to well established franchises start getting announced. So you need a hook -- Avorion has a couple such hooks. You start off with a mining drone and a dream: build a ship that will get you to the centre of the galaxy. Also, you can take your mates along.
The story is that, a few hundred years ago an event occurred which made hyperspace travel more difficult, especially when it comes to getting close to the centre of the galaxy. The rifts which hamper spacefaring have spread throughout the galaxy and can be found in other places, just like a violent alien race known as Xsotan. Oh, and the game name comes from this mysterious rare metal called avorion, which the Xsotan build their ships out of.
As I mentioned, you start off with just a mining drone with a seemingly infinite capacity for holding metal ore. Each galaxy is generated from a string, so there are many millions of variations available as you build a ship and begin exploring. The tutorial needs a little work, as I feel it leaves some things out, such as proper piloting and combat. I left my ship alone so that I could mine in the drone, and it was almost destroyed by the time I realised that the new uptempo music was because it was being shot by a couple of pirates… Tip: the mining laser on your drone can damage enemy ships, but you should just run. So long as you have your drone, you keep your ore and progress through the galaxy.
On the subject of mining, you can make money and gain materials with mining, destroying other ships, or buying it. There are mission boards at every station which give you a limited time to complete them, so you had best already know where to buy some power cores!
Cooperative play is a big selling point for Avorion, mentioned multiple times on the Steam store and video. Unfortunately at the moment, it’s not very obvious how you get into a coop game. Most games have a lobby that allows you to join games, but at this stage you have to manually join a friend’s game through the Steam friend’s list, or have them invite you the same way. When you’ve joined someone in a co-op galaxy, if the host loses connection everyone is kicked out. This of course means that you can’t go into your friend’s galaxy if they aren’t online and hosting -- so they can be gathering resources and travelling while you’re stuck where you last logged off.
Once you’re in the game together, it certainly shows promise. You can help build a friend’s ship no matter how far you are from them, so long as you’re in the same sector as them. This takes materials from them, and there’s no way of knowing how much money or metal they have -- so it’s a good idea in concept, but needs refining. They can be flying somewhere to get crew, while you’re building new crew quarters onto them. However, you can’t repair or build for about 30 seconds after taking damage, so it’s not as useful in firefights as it could be -- and with good reason, as it stops your faction winning battles purely because someone is 40km away spamming the Repair function.
The main feature that I wasn’t expecting was the crew requirement. You have to dock at stations and hire them to man your weapons, engines, mining laser… you need loads of crew members, and more as your ship grows, or you build/buy a bigger ship. Worst of all, the crew have to be kept happy with plenty of crew quarters and regular wages. It’s something that makes sense, even if it’s rarely done in space sims, and thankfully you can set it to automatically pay them.
While piloting around space you need to keep an eye on a lot of things. Your momentum is affected by your mass, so if you have a load of engines on the rear, you’ll need thrusters on the front in order to slow down. Each turret you attach requires a certain number of specific crew, and you can only add a finite amount of which depends on the size of your vessel.
Of course, if you have the right amount of cash and materials, you can buy a ship that is fully crewed from certain ports. So long as you’re in good relations with their faction. You get in their good graces by mining and selling ore to them, buying things or completing missions. Of course, you can also kill aliens and pirates, but killing pirates isn’t a good idea should they be the faction you want to align yourself with.
You can armour your ship, as well as eventually attach shields, so your fourth or fifth ship will be pretty awesome. The trick is getting everything balanced, and the plentiful iron makes balance difficult. As you get closer to the centre of the galaxy you find other materials to build from, so then you need to balance the number of engines (and size of them) with the available crew -- and that with the crew quarters, which adds mass… It can be a juggling act, so it’s nice that there are prompts when your ship requires something.
The main issue with the game for me is when you lose a ship without ejecting into your drone, you’re sent back to your home sector. It wouldn’t be an issue, if the home sector wasn’t the one you started the game in. This is going to be addressed at a later time, so for now it’s just a minor grievance. There are also the usual Early Access crashing to desktop at random, but again it’s still early in its release.
If you’re looking for a space game to play with your friends, and in for the long haul, then I can recommend Avorion in its current state. The fanbase has been busy creating guides for newcomers, and the updates have been thick and fast. The price is subjective, just remember that only you can decide whether it’s worth the price for the fun you’ll have. I have clocked more than one hour per pound so far, and will return many times before full release. If only to keep trying to craft a Borg cube...