Star Traders: Frontiers is a procedurally-generated strategy game that mixes turn-based strategy with the popularity of the open-ended space genre. Setting you loose in a hostile galaxy as you, to paraphrase another title, burn your own path.
Recently entering Early Access, Star Traders: Frontiers lets you choose from a variety of classes, from trader to bounty hunter and lets you customise your appearance before thrusting you in to space with an initial mission to spur you on. Surfacing the impression of a Star Trek-like voyage into the stars as you and your crew set off into the black.
Star Traders is a 2D game, viewed from above and is a turn-based experience with a heavy leaning on statistics and dice rolls. Travelling around the galaxy illustrates this handily as going from A to B populates the log window in the lower right, showing that even that simple act can fail! This pervades every aspect of the game, from space and crew combat through to espionage and beyond. Lady Luck can be fickle but as you improve your crew you can offset things to be more in your favour.
Alongside the main storyline the game is extremely open-ended and as the name suggests, you can trade between systems as well as engage in exploration, piracy, smuggling and more including the obligatory space trucking. Some aspects like blockading a system or partaking in espionage engage a simple card-based system, with a variety of win-loss conditions.
Space combat initiates a simple turn-based system where you issue movement and combat orders as you try to out damage the opponent. Initially this doesn’t house much complexity but can become more involved as your crew level up and specialise, gaining new options. This also rings true for the crew combat that initiates once you attempt to board an enemy craft. The system in use here feels very reminiscent of that in Darkest Dungeon but with less fear of the dark. With attacks able to hit specific locations and party positioning being very important.
The planets (and space stations) you visit have a variety of services, from a Spice Hall where you can send weary crew for some R&R to the market and medical facilities. At each location you can look for work, buy and sell goods, upgrade your ship, recruit crew members and more. Each system has factions within it and working for one or affecting them via combat or your other actions can result in certain facilities or even whole stations being unavailable.
How factions can potentially play off one another provides the possibility of some interesting emergent storytelling as your actions cause Butterfly Effect-style repercussions as missions adapt to the current state of the world. This does bring up the one major flaw with the game as it stands that will hopefully improve as it nears release.
The user interface is initially very confusing and doesn’t signpost where to go very well. A simple example is that there is an alerts panel at the top of the screen showing things to be aware of that might need action. When your crew can level up there is a notification there but nothing on the screen seems to show where to do this, clicking on the alert itself doesn’t take you anywhere and you actually need to click the Status button, then Crew, then the Crew Member before using the options there.
That’s three layers deep from the main screen. And while this makes sense once you know where it is, it’s initially confusing and there are times when you feel you can (or should be able to) do something, you just don’t know where that would be located. This is true of information in general, the game doesn’t do a great job of communicating how and what you can accomplish but this could all change before release.
The developers are very active with updates and since entering Early Access have updated every few days, notably they’ve recently started adding tooltips across important screens whilst fixing up bugs and adding new elements so there is every chance this kind of thing will be less of an issue when it launches out of Early Access.
Star Traders: Frontiers is an interesting game with a lot of potential, the amount of things you can do could make it something you could lose a lot of time to. The world and potential strategy options of the game are interesting and are worth keeping an eye on. If they can polish up the rough edges this could be something special.