No one’s left. Everything is gone. The Light is burning.
Space RTS games are in a funny position — on the one hand, I think I speak for the majority of fans when I say it’s hard to beat beloved classics like Homeworld and Red Alert which haven’t truly aged. On the other hand, I’d be lying if I said we didn’t want developers to at least try to improve upon that greatness. So when I stumbled upon Stellar Warfare wandering around Steam one night, I was obviously intrigued, so I headed over to the developer’s Patreon page to learn more.
Currently in development by Dutch team Tense Games, Stellar Warfare is in closed alpha featuring a functioning multiplayer mode and a semi-functioning single player mode. The developer stated they’re open to working with publishers, but for the time being they’re doing this all on their own. With a lively community already rallying around the developer (who livestreams their progress on their Twitch channel), it would seem Stellar Warfare is shaping up to be well-played and well-loved.
The premise behind Stellar Warfare is a lonely one: it would seem a chaotic event called “The Light” was the catalyst that caused a devastating reckoning in the form of a galactic civil war. Few people remember what life was like before The Light happened, but scattered relics that prove someone was here before remain in the form of scrap metal and other free-floaing resources. As the dust settles, skirmishes still break out from time to time amidst the lawlessness. Only the strongest will be able to survive, stabilize, and expand to see society return to peaceful times.
Those of us who have played Homeworld and Red Alert will be familiar with the controls. WASD moves the camera around, QE moves the view up and down (remember, space is 3D), and the scroll wheel will zoom in and out. Use the left click to interact with specific ships and facilities, and use the left click to tell your fleet which enemy ships to attack. One feature I really enjoyed was following specific ships by way of the F key — I know the point of the game is to battle other ships and all, but something about just watching the harvesters go and fro was super satisfying.
Stellar Warfare’s economy is a careful balance between power, metal, and population. All three are needed for building, maintaining, and crewing ships and facilities, so it’s imperative to get these pockets of industry up and running before attackers approach. Fans of getting right into the fray will be happy about this simplified economy, as there isn’t a lot to juggle while you’re trying to wreak havoc on thine enemies, but for those seeking depth in resource chains you’ll be left wanting. As the focus is supposed to be on, well, stellar warfare, however, I think this route is far more appropriate and balanced out quite nicely. Just make sure your power, metal, and habitation facilities up and running as soon as possible so you can get your fleet built up in no time.
Speaking of your fleet, Stellar Warfare features a separate customization section where you’re able make up to five personalized ships to duke it out on the battlefield. Although the ships’ overall build remains the same no matter what you do to it, you can change up the weapon choices and color (to an extent). The options available are actually fairly broad despite looking limited at first glance when you think about how all the ships work together as a fleet; for example, I built two separate whales of a ship with the same build but different uses: one for heavy hitting and one for fast hitting — both heavily armored and ready to absorb all damage as speedy corvettes zipped around performing hit and runs. I really appreciated the range of weapons available for customization, as those choices translated directly to the battlefield.
Back on the battlefield, Stellar Warfare again mesmerizes. Although the singleplayer is lovingly referred to as “broken” by the developer (it is in alpha, after all), it was a joy to watch as my ships crashed and burned under enemy fire. I could feel my dopamine receptors going off as I watched the dazzling array of beams unfold onscreen despite the level of destruction those lights meant for my people. Coupled with an atmospheric soundtrack that emphasizes the vastness of space, Stellar Warfare is absolutely pleasing to the senses, and I’m eager to get back into it for the pretty lights alone. And did I mention the celestial bodies just hanging out in the background? Gorgeous.
In between the asteroids, players will discover loot scattered on the field in the form of crystals, which drop more information about the storyline, and crates which will yield weapon bonuses. Be sure to pick these up when you see them, as they can be used in the next round to beef up your ships to make bigger and better fleets. Since crystals tend to be found around random scrap it does make some sense that they can disseminate information in the same way that digging up an arrowhead can tell us of our historic past, but I do find myself wanting to when it comes to how Stellar Warfare conveys lore. Again, I’m chalking it up to it’s alpha state, but lore and even the tutorial live in text format on the main menu, which leaves a little to be desired.
Although Stellar Warfare is only in closed alpha, it’s already an engaging experience that space RTS fans are bound to enjoy. I’m optimistic that the incredibly active community will help the speedy developer shape the title to be the best it possibly can be, which is going to be critical considering its genre. It seems Tense Games is focused on taking the best of exalted classics and tweaking small things here and there to perfect an already well-crafted experience, and since this comes from a place of pure love for what made said games great, it’s entirely possible they’ll be able to pull it off. If you’re interested in trying out Stellar Warfare for yourself, check out the developer’s Patreon for more information.