Developer: Maverick Games
Publisher: Maverick Games
Tested on: PC
Stellar Tactics – Preview
Stellar tactics is an sci-fi RPG featuring open world space exploration and a turn-based ground combat system. The game is currently in its pre-alpha stage, and is available for early access via steam. Stellar Tactics is an indie game published and developed my Maverick games, and is actively being worked on by its developers.
The story of Stellar Tactics is pretty intriguing. As you start the game you learn your team of four persons is a security team in cryo-sleep which only gets awoken in emergency situations. You are aboard a ship called the Dauntless, which contains the last hope of humanity, the only survivors of a terrible sickness called Phage. You quickly discover a scientist aboard the Dauntless has been experimenting with Phage, which caused the disease to spread through the cryo-pods of the survivors, turning them into zombies. After you defeat the evil scientist who infected the survivors with his experimental Phage, you enter cryo-sleep again in an escape pod as you leave the dauntless. Meanwhile, the remaining cryo-modules on the Dauntless are shot into space after the ship enters emergency self-destruct mode.
You awake 700 years later. Humanity has by now colonized a star system for the last 500 years, but the bad news is: Phage is infecting this system too, and it mutated. You are the only survivor of your team (you can choose which team member survives) but you’ll meet some of the NPCs you met at the Dauntless, who join your team. After that, you got to get to the ship of these doctors in order to investigate and hopefully eradicate the Phage, however, you have to fight through mysterious ruins of an ancient alien civilization first, before meeting scavengers who made away with the FTL drive of your ship. The last mission you get in this pre-alpha stage is to acquire a new FTL drive. For this you’ll need to travel around the system you are currently in and battle your way through a map on another planet.
The graphics of the game are adequate, but in this stage they are still pretty simple. The maps are rather big, and having the same textures on the whole map makes walking around and exploring feel a bit repetitive. The character creation presents you with rather funny looking faces with weird textures you can choose between, these are probably free, standard textures, yielding quite a silly result. Many objects like the ship and the space stations are default free models you see in many games. The inventory and ship screens are very simple. However, there are some nice details, like how changing armor not only changes your stats, but actually changes the outfit that character wears while running around. The animations are simple, but smooth. The graphics are being updated as the development of the game continues, and the most recent update introduced some great looking new models for space stations.
Apart from a cool dub-step track for the title screen there’s so far no spectacular music in the game. The game itself has a looping ambient like sound, which you won’t notice after playing a while. All actions of your characters have sounds, and after a critical hit or after leveling up the character will say a line. Enemies make sounds when hit, and after critical hits. The story of the game as told by the NPCs are dialogue you’ll need to click through, and is not narrated as of yet.
Stellar Tactics is a tactical turn based combat game with RPG elements, but also featuring free space exploration. Starting the game, you immediately get to build your squad. First you get to choose the looks of your character and your base stats; strength, agility, intelligence, etc. There are no classes and dozens of skills to choose from. You can choose to distribute points between weapon skills, support skills and space ship skills. At the very beginning of the game you’ll mostly have no idea what the numbers and the skills mean during game play, beside that your character apparently is really shitty at what he/she does, even if you amass points in one trait. However, soon you’ll discover that using a skill lets you level it up too, which makes it more attractive to stick with one type of main weapon per character. As a character levels up, you can assign points in the stats & skills list, just like during the start of the game. In order to do some damage it is pretty important to specialize your characters.
The inventory screen is where you manage the gear of your squad and all the stuff you collect during your travels. The inventory is a bit confusing at first, it would be handy if selecting an item would make the appropriate gear slot light up. Things like weapon extensions drop from the start, but appear to be unusable at the beginning of the game. You’ll collect a lot of useless gear and vendor trash while looting enemies and chests. You’ll encounter the first vendor pretty far into the game, and since the vendor trash items don’t stack, you will need to delete items in your inventory quite often. Occasionally you’ll get personal assistant units from NPCs, crates, enemies or corpses, telling interesting parts of the story. These are being saved in your mission log.
The game has a lot of huge maps to explore, but does as of yet not have a mini-map. There are no way points toward objectives, so figuring out where exactly you need to go in the map is rather challenging, and pointers like ‘north-west’, as given by the NPC’s, mean nothing since you can freely rotate the map around without a compass indication. There are loot crates scattered around the maps, usually containing vendor trash. You can explore the entire map as you enter the area by mousing through them and spot the loot crates, but there is no fog of war. You won’t spot enemies before you get into line of sight.
The game enters combat mode as soon as your squad encounters an enemy, and you will be able to command each member of your squad separately, spending action points for movement, attacks, crouching and heals. You can make use of tactics to position your characters and kite enemies, but there are no mechanics for using cover so far, apart from running around objects. by holding ‘alt’ you will be able to select which body part you want to hit, with an indicator telling how big your chance to hit is. Hitting different body parts will grant different effects, like ‘hobbled’ for hitting legs (movement will cost double AP). If one of your squad members reaches zero HP during the fight, he will faint and not be usable anymore during the fight. After the fight the character will regain consciousness, and all squad members will regain HP over time.
Combat takes a lot of time and feels rather slow; it takes quite a while to chew through the HP of even a single enemy. Combat is not very diverse, so it feels boring and repetitive after a while. Usually you use your action points to get into position, attack as often as you can with your main weapon (usually twice), use remaining action points on the side arm attack (usually once), and change character. Sometimes you use a health pack or grenade, and that’s about it. Since the maps are rather big and you encounter enemies quite often, it takes a lot of time to explore and play through each map. Most of the time you’ll encounter three enemies at the time, except for boss fights, which usually confront you with a lot of enemies next to the boss. The boss fights are really challenging and can be rather frustrating.
Finally, after you acquire a space ship, you can use the ship on sub-light speeds to explore the system you are in, scan planets and discover objectives. Space exploration has no 3D movement, you stay on a XY plane. The ship has an interface which looks like the inventory of your squad, where you can assign squad members to different positions in the ship based on their skills, like pilot, weapons and mining. You can use the ship to travel to asteroid fields and mine them using a laser, you can sell the ores to vendors on space stations to get money for better gear. You can do whatever you want before you use your ship to reach the mission areas on different planets.
It feels like there’s a lot of potential in this game: at the moment it has its flaws, but even in pre-alpha stage it has an interesting story, good mechanics and very few bugs. The developer is pretty busy with the game and there are regular updates with much new stuff added and many bug fixes. We’d really like to see the combat to be improved so it feels less repetitive than it does now, and the maps to be either smaller or offer more diversity. However, the story of the game is nice, and the combination of turn-based combat and free space exploration is interesting. This game certainly is already pretty decent in it’s current pre-alpha state, and we’d like to see what the future brings.