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Starfarer Preview

By on March 16th, 2012 5:09 am


Starfarer is most probably already fairly known by the space and sci-fi gaming community. I had an eye on it for quite some time now but was waiting for the best opportunity to do a more meaningful preview.

A week ago Fractal Softworks has released a new major alpha build where, among balancing and tweaks, they finally added campaign elements (the game’s central gameplay mode). So, because of that, I thought this was a good timing to do a Starfarer preview.

Never heard of it, what is Starfarer?

Starfarer is a space game that features elements from many genres. It has almost something for everybody. It has RPG elements (perhaps the most important piece), lots of action, adventure and some strategy elements. The game offers two distinct single-player gameplay modes: scenarios and campaign (there’s no multiplayer!).

Scenarios are space-combat instances with a very strong emphasis on tactical gameplay. You can choose from 11 different scenarios for now (remember that the game is still in alpha) and you can also choose to play a random scenario that generates different battles every time you play it. Tactical scenarios are almost a game in itself, and if there weren’t a campaign mode I wouldn’t be too unsatisfied with the game.


The campaign mode offers an open-world environment. You start humble, with only one light-sized ship, minimum crew and equipment and then you start from there grinding your way through the starmap, fighting pirates, buying new gear, ships and hiring new personnel and so forth. However, at this point, that’s pretty much it in for the campaign mode at alpha 0.51a. So, the RPG / adventure campaign mode is still very much work in progress with some screens yet inaccessible, no in-game help or tutorials (poor accessibility overall still).

Campaign promised features for the gold version include:

  • Play your own character who gains experiences and upgrades skills
  • Hire officers to give skill bonuses, pilot auxiliary ships, and oversee your operations
  • Explore the sector for knowledge and profit
  • Trade goods, run mining operations, build industries — and defend your interests
  • Become involved in factional politics

Sounds good.

Some first look impressions

The first thing you notice while playing is how gorgeous the game looks, and sounds. Ship’s rendering is quite good actually (although bad at full-zoom). Starmap objects rendering like stars and planets is also very good. The game plays smoothly and is quite easy to pickup after you go through the two available tutorials.


I love the game’s tactical aspect. Part of the reason for that is that the game allows you to have a more interventional style or more of an “admiral’s chair” perspective if you want (use tactical screen only if you like, as shown above). What this means is that you can decide to override orders for any type of ship in your fleet and take personal command of everything in the main map or decide to put yourself in the admiral’s shoes and manage the battle’s situation from a higher level perspective. There is a ship automation option to help you through if you decide to go the “admiral” approach.

However, if you decide to take personal command of your ships you must have a certain amount of command points available in order to override your ships’ assignments, command points which can be increased if you capture certain space stations. And this is perhaps the most significant strategic aspect of the game, to decide if it’s better to secure these stations earlier or to engage more aggressively at a tactical level. There seems to be other strategy elements in Starfarer, like deciding if you want to invest more on your ship, your fleet, personnel or if you decide to secure outposts or rich planets, although I didn’t experience these kinds of decisions yet, in fact I don’t know if that’s present in the game or not at this point.

The game’s quality and production value is high. You can see that there are lots of interesting details to experience like finite ammo, weapons auto-firing mechanics, the ability to switch command from one ship to another (and you can even see yourself in a shuttle moving to the new command ship). Weapons diversity is also very interesting. There’s a good mix of weapons types, some better for shields others for hulls and even others specialized against armor. There’s also another interesting feature which makes your ship overload if it takes too much damage while having shields raised. You can decide to lower shields or hit a special “flux venting” option to dissipate this flux. While in flux you can’t fire or raise shields until you recover.

Controls take a while to master but with time you’ll get there and be able to play very fluidly.

Bottom line

Starfarer shows a lot of potential and already provides great gameplay and many fun elements for an alpha build! The game’s tactical aspect is very mature already but the campaign mode feels like much work in progress still (although it looks promising).

The game offers a diversified array of experiences to players. It features a very enjoyable and complex tactical component, a promising RPG campaign system and some adventure and strategy elements also.

Fractal Softworks has its game through an alpha funding scheme. You can pre-order Starfarer for Windows PC, Mac or Linux in the game’s official website for $10 (FS have announced that the final price will be $19.95). If you wish to play the latest build for your OS just head over to this page.

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  1. Kyle Rees says:

    It is funny you previewed this game, because I was planning on doing it as well. I have been pleasantly surprised by the pace at which Alex has picked up development.

    When I first read his features page last year May, it mentioned that Starfarer would have some colony and resource management combined with tactical combat. I immediately preordered, and to my dismay at that time he only had the tactical missions. Basically it was Gratuitious Space Battles that you can control.

    One thing I really appreciate from Alex is his attention to detail in tactical combat, which is really fun in itself. However, that is not my main interest, even though it was really fun.

    Some including myself have voiced concerned over the lack of the colony and resource features on the forums, and Alex has responded. The campaign potion has been fleshed out, where you can navigate the map and interact with different factions and earn experience and credits to buy more gear.

    The options for Character and Outpost are greyed out at the moment, however the future looks good for Starfarer. So good in fact, I am drinking my second energy drink today because I stayed up till 2am in the morning knowing my son would wake me up 5 hours later. LOL!

    • Adam Solo says:

      Hehe, nothing stops you from doing your own preview. Perhaps you could do more of an AAR type of article or a close look on the campaign mode, or something else. Just some thoughts.

      Yea, tactical combat is really top notch. The “colony and resource management” options you talk about, maybe they will be part of the campaign at some point. I also didn’t find anything like that yet while playing build 0.51a.

      I also found missions’ gameplay to be quite adictive. If the campaign is as good as the tactical missions then we have a seriously great game here on the making.

  2. NickWest says:

    I’ve been playing this like crazy. That a game can be this much fun in alpha says a lot for how great it’s going to be. The core mechanics of ships fighting is truly excellent, as the rest of the game comes together it will only get better. The best one sentence explanation for it would be “Mount and Blade in space”.

  3. war-vet says:

    @Adam, Greetings from the Middle East! I checked out your Starfarer preview and was SOLD. I even pre-ordered based on the good things you said about this game. I have played the pre-order build a little and must say it has GREAT potential. Looking forward to the complete product!

    • Adam Solo says:

      Yea, Starfarer is definitely something special. Looks like it will be a great one. Enjoy!
      Good fortune to you war-vet! Stay cool. Have a great weak.

  4. Adam Solo says:

    alpha 0.52a is out.

    What’s in it:

    – Accidents
    – Music!
    – Greatly improved ship and commander AI
    – Significant ship and weapon balance changes
    – Lots of UI improvements
    – Bugfixes

    All the details here.

  5. Keith Turner says:

    Patch 0.53a has been released. Notes taken from the most recent blog post:

    “What’s new:

    Ship systems – each ship gets an active ability – flares, burn drive, a combat teleporter – and many more
    Phase cloaking – three new ships that use the cloak as a primary defensive system
    New mission featuring phase ships
    Tons of AI improvements, new modding features, and bugfixes”

    Word is that the next major patch will move on to adding content to the campaign/sandbox gameplay.

  6. Cem says:

    I Just bought it and played a bit. It’s the game we miss it for a long time. Carriers, admirals, fighters, fleets, strategic locations to fight for, resources, rpg elements, ship modifications, crews..

    If the producers can publish it without big bugs, it will be the indie game of the year.

  7. Trevor Jones says:

    I have downloaded the preview/demo, and installed it. However when I want to play it, it asks for the code sent me in a confirmation E-Mail I haven’t had. What do I do now?

    Kind regards

    Trevor Jones aka Kalischild

    • SQW says:

      When you made the purchase, you would have been asked to provide an email address. Go to your inbox or junk mail and search for it which will contain the said code. As far as I’m aware, there’s no FREE demo for Starfarer/Starsector.

  8. Happy Corner says:

    I saw this game a while back, was intrigued by it, managed to forget about it, and only recently thought “Okay, there was that space RPG/strategy/open world type game that looked potentially interesting. ARGH, dammit, what the hell was it called?”

    Thank you, Space Sector.

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