• Star Trader Frontiers review by Rick Moscatello

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    Is turn-based sandbox RPG a thing? Because it should be a thing.

    Star Trader Frontiers is not exactly like any game I’ve played, though it’s done a fine job of taking great ideas from other games and using them to make something special.

    You can guess from the name that this is a sci-fi game. You take the role of a Star Trader, in a wide open universe. It’s tough to figure out where to start describing this game, but it definitely is a role playing game. Your character can gain levels and skills in up to 3 “classes,” such as smuggler, sniper, or navigator, among a couple dozen other classes (there are many updates, and classes get added from time to time). You even get to play “dress up,” wearing various armors and weaponry (no class restrictions on these, though naturally you’ll pick weapons that work well with your class skills). If your character dies, it’s game over, unless you want to load up from an earlier save (the game is “somewhat” roguelike in that it discourages you from saving often, but it’s a personal choice how you want do it).

    In addition to leveling your character, you also have similarly triple-classed officers which also gain levels and skills, as well as wearing armor and equipment. You even have a crew (24 or more) who also gain levels in a single class…if you like leveling up characters, this is totally the game for you.

    You also get a ship, a bit loaded down with weaponry in my opinion, but you have plenty of room for customization, and can even buy more ships with some more options. Truth be told, it seems really hard to put together a decent cargo ship so you can make real money from trade, a little disappointing considering the word “trader” is in the name.

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    Once you’re ready, you’re plopped down in the middle of a universe heavily populated with factions. You have a reputation with each faction, and if you let it get too low, you risk outright execution if they catch you (and don’t blow up your ship in the process).

    You can make a little money trading, and every planet/system is specialized. So, you can go to the industrial system to grab various consumer goods, then go to a population system to sell them, where you can pick up “biowaste” to take to a farm system, and so on.

    The big money and way to improve reputation is from missions, which you can get from contacts. These will have you whizzing all over the universe, on a ridiculous array of possibilities, from transporting ambassadors to tracking down pirates to blockading systems…I do the game a disservice even trying to list them all.

    There is a very limited tutorial and beginner mission to get you started, though I suspect nothing would really do a good job of explaining everything. Mercifully, you can hit the “navigate” button after selecting a mission and it’ll point your ship in the right direction. You can just keep doing that until you figure out the rest of the game.

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    Eventually, you’ll get into combat, and this part of the game is easily the weakest link. The space combat pits your ship against another (always 1 on 1), and it won’t take long until you’ve more skills from your crew than you can possibly use in a battle. One lucky shot can end it all, although losses usually aren’t fatal.

    Space encounters are such a drag, really. Apparently in space, everyone wants to kill you. I grant that pirates should be hostile, but even merchants and spy vessels are only too happy to take shots at you. When you encounter something in space, it is guaranteed not to help you in any way. Seriously, even if you run away from a pirate, they will hurt your reputation. I really wish there was at least a chance of something good from these “chance” encounters, which occur on almost every trip.

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    The “man to man” combat pits 4 of your guys (not necessarily your captain) against 4 bad guys. It’s amusing enough, although combats are very quick (4 rounds, tops, often faster), meaning you don’t have to put too much effort into developing your characters before you’re as good as you’ll ever be in combat.

    Despite my issues with the combat, the sheer depth of this game is incredible. Your “contacts” include princes, smugglers, consorts, wardens, spies, retired xeno hunters…and many can do more than that, such as provide access to the black market (great for selling illegal items), reduced prices for various services, improve your trade/command options, sell better equipment, arrange introductions to other contacts, and a few other useful things.

    The game does come with some “built-in” campaign missions which are more involved than the many random missions (which, honestly, don’t feel nearly as random as other sandbox games). Even if you don’t partake in these missions, they still impact the universe (such as a plague that runs more wild if you do nothing to stop it), and they do a great job of making the universe feel even more alive than it already does. That said, the game seems to peter out a bit when the missions aren’t running but…that just means it’s time to start over with a different character.

    While “science fiction, turn based, sandbox RPG” might not be everyone’s cup of tea, there’s an incredible amount of play value here, and Star Trader Frontiers is well worth your gaming dollar.

    Overall Rating: 91
    This article was originally published in forum thread: Star Trader Frontiers review by Rick Moscatello started by Doom View original post