Stellar Impact is an online real-time space strategy game developed by Tindalos Interactive, an independent video games studio based in Paris. Stellar Impact’s genre can be even further narrowed to Dota (or Action RTS), a very specific real-time strategy sub-genre where emphasis is given to action, team-play and less emphasis is given to building units and on collecting resources.
To put it simply Stellar Impact puts you in the role of a spaceship captain. Your objective is to side with other players and conquer your enemy through a death match, while navigating through asteroids, gas and plasma fields (these environments affect your navigation by the way).
Stellar Impact is more about tactics but contains also some strategy elements, so it is an RTS. It also has some RPG elements (skills and levels). Each player commands only 1 ship. Some bonuses eventually activate some companion ships that help you in battle. It’s not really a MMO since there is no persistent universe. Stellar Impact is an online multiplayer game (pvp only though) where people setup occasional or regular games. Games also have a clear beginning and end, so it’s definitely not like WoW or EVE at all in that respect.
There are two playing modes in Stellar Impact: Conquest and Battlefield.
In Conquest mode you team-up with fellow online players in a battle for domination with the destruction of your opponent’s base as the final goal.
In Battlefield mode the first team to eliminate all adversaries three times, or to hold an objective for at least 120 seconds, wins.
Stellar Impact offers 5 different spaceship classes. The player is allowed to choose from a Corvette, Frigate, Destroyer, Cruiser or a Dreadnought class ship. Nothing new here, these are your classic ship classes to be found in many space games. There is no unlock system or progression requirement of any kind though, so, you can play with all 5 ships classes at any time from day 1 if you want.
I find this freedom to choose any ship from the start a bit simplistic. To make it more fun and engaging I would have preferred that an unlock system of some kind would have been provided so that you could command bigger ships as soon as you gained more experience points, but I understand that it would limit game freedom, and being this game more action-oriented I guess this was an understandable design decision to make.
Your main interaction with the game is made by steering your ship, capture objectives, target your enemies, fire and destroy them as many times as you can (players re-spawn each time they die). To steer around you need to adjust your throttle (stop, mid or full). To do this you use the keyboard keys W (for more throttle) and S (for less).
To change directions you can use the keyboard keys A and D or you can use the mouse right-click button. To lock a target you use the mouse left-button and to shoot you hit space. Using the keyboard to continuously adjust speed and fire, while at the same time use both mouse buttons to change directions and lock enemies can feel a bit overwhelming and awkward at first, but after a couple of games you get used to it pretty quick. Controls are not that bad as some people are advocating. After a couple of games you will do just fine.
In addition to the pure tactical gameplay elements Stellar Impact also offers some nice strategic elements that make the game very interesting in my opinion.
The game features interest points scattered through the game map. These interest points are called objectives. These provide additional bonuses to the party that owns them.
There are Singularities, that if a research center is built there (is owned) produces additional technology points for your team. If you build an outpost on a Vortex your team gains the ability to teleport to other outposts. On crystal sites you can build a refinery. With refineries you can summon more escort ships to aid you in battle (these little ships are pretty handy to have around). If you colonize planets you gain access to more command points. Deciding which objectives to claim and when is a major strategy element of the game.
All these refinery, outpost, research centers and colonies are pretty abstract concepts though. You don’t actually give orders to build anything. Structures are “built” if you sit right next to the objectives for enough time for them to be “activated”. Escort units are spawned automatically into the game.
Technology points are necessary to increase the rate of research. When you reach a critical research amount you are allowed to unlock additional skill levels during battle. Examples of these skill levels include more fire power, more shield strength, more armor, radar upgrade, among many others (and I mean a lot many). Command points are also necessary to upgrade your skills.
These 2 dimensions (technology and command points) and the objectives capturing goal help keep the game more interesting instead of relying solely on tactics, since you have to balance things carefully and decide the right thing to do next. You have to be very quick sometimes on making these decisions, something that may create a bit of anxiety or lead to a random-choice decision by the player. This quick-decision making requirement may not appeal to everyone.
Some players will decide to invest more on capturing objectives, others will decide more on engaging other players head-on and quickly gain territory. It’s up to the team to communicate and to eventually give specific roles to certain players.
Skill system, Equipment and Personnel slots
In addition to real-time tactics and strategy elements Stellar Impact also offers some RPG elements to the player; a somewhat complex skill system.
You can choose 4 skills to use on each of your 5 different ship classes during battle (skills ranging from attack, defense, maneuvering and others). You can change these skills at any time you’re at the hangar (main menu). In addition to choosing skills you can also decide to reward your personnel with eventual medals you win from battle. You can choose to invest on your navigators, on your gunners, your engineers or your scientists. Giving your personnel medals unlocks passive skills, which have a permanent effect.
An example of a Scientist passive skill is “Escort ships flying with the ship have armed rockets“, an example of a Gunner passive skill is “The speed of projectiles is increased by 5 units per second“. The passive skills possibilities are the same for all ship classes. In contrast, non-passive skills are more specific to each ship class. All ship classes can still use the same non-passive skills but each class specializes in one field more than others.
It’s key to note that each time you gain enough experience points your ship class levels up. That new level provides an additional skill upgrade level you can apply in-game. A higher level also allows the recovery of better equipment after battle. So, if you have a Cruiser of level 2 (MK II) it means that you can only upgrade your bonuses and skills in battle to a maximum of 2.
Graphics and Sound
Graphics are nice, as you can judge from the screenshot below, nothing too fancy but with sufficient detail. Spaceships rendering is good.
Music is present during battles but it’s nothing too memorable, but it is adequate. Sounds are basic. Your spaceship firing sounds remind you of naval ships cannons, when you’re zooming-in closely. In “nominal zoom” view sounds are a bit poor. Overall, music, sound and graphics are ok but just don’t expect too much from them.
When Stellar Impact was first released (in Aug 22, 2011) it allowed you to play only 10 multiplayer matches for free. After that point you would need to buy a subscription for about 10€ (approx $14 at the time of this review). Tindalos Interactive, in a patch released the day I wrote this review changed this. Now players can play indefinitely for free but the catch is that they are limited to the first skill level for all ship classes. This means that when a player reaches the maximum experience for level 1 he cannot upgrade that ship class with skills greater than 1.
Tindalos was probably noticing the short amount of players (I never saw more than 10 players in the game lobby) so I guess letting players play for a longer time while limiting benefits is more interesting than limiting the player to 10 matches. Let’s see if that works better.
There is one lacking aspect in Stellar Impact that must be stressed out. It does not provide single-player gameplay. There are no AI opponents, so you cannot generate maps to play by yourself against the computer. This means that you must rely completely on other players showing up in order to play.
In the meantime, if you don’t find anybody else around to play, and if you still want to give it a try, you can create your own games, although they are only for practice and so, they are not true single-player games. However they can be used to get a taste of the game since you can target turrets and escort ships (and they do react and fire back).
We may or may not agree with this lack of single-player gameplay decision but this is Tindalos’ business strategy, although a risky one in my opinion. If enough people “buy” into the game they get themselves a ticket, if not they probably need to revise the plan and provide something for people to do in the meantime.
I find Stellar Impact quite solid and fun to play. You can feel that the game really has a sufficient to good production value. This is not due to a specific mechanic or a detail in my opinion but to the overall gaming experience that the game succeeds in providing.
Action RTS is not my ball park but I did enjoy the adrenaline of playing 4 games. It’s really intense! The objectives, skills, technology points and command points provide a satisfying layer of strategy that helps to provide a strong gaming experience.
Controls can take a while to master but are definitely not a show stopper, far from it. You get used to them pretty quickly.
As a downside (hopefully temporary) there are not that many players to be found in the game lobby ready to play at the time of this review, but I’m convinced many will come since the game quality really deserves it.
The somewhat complex skill system, the personnel passive skills, the number of ships and its skills should be more than enough to satisfy you and keep you entertained. Not to mention the fun and deep tactical aspect of the game. For instance you can dodge missiles by maneuvering correctly, so there seems to be sufficient depth there also.
Stellar Impact may not be for everyone however. If you’re into real-time tactics games or if you enjoyed titles like Defense of the Ancients, Dota 2 or Demigod and you like the Sci-Fi theme then this is your next game. If on the other hand you’re more of a hardcore space strategy gamer that likes more complex strategy elements (like building units and planning your structures carefully) or if you’re a Sci-Fi TBS fan, then you could still enjoy Stellar Impact but it’s not guaranteed. If you enjoy playing online multiplayer games and you’re more into RTS then you should enjoy Stellar Impact. If you’re a casual gamer then I guess you should give it a try, maybe you discover action RTS to be your thing, who knows.
Anyway, and in overall, I recommend all Sci-Fi gaming fans to try Stellar Impact out. It’s free to play till a certain level, so you’ve nothing to lose. The game deserves, at least, the time you take to download and try it out.
– Enough strategy elements to satisfy your RTS needs
– Somewhat complex skill system should be enough to satisfy your RPG needs
– Intense and fun to play
– Free trial
– No single-player gameplay to practice when no one is around
– Tutorial is poor (not well organized and confusing)
– Freedom to choose any ship class is a simplistic design decision
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