All’s fair in space and electronic warfare
I think I speak for a lot of space RTS fans when I say we’ve been chasing that “Homeworld high” ever since the first one blew our minds over 20 years ago. A phenomenal story, beautiful aesthetics, cinematic music, and engaging mechanics left us craving more, our hunger never sated. And while there are plenty of games out there that recreate epic space battles well, few really do much to recapture that magic felt long ago; even fewer do much to really add to the genre, setting themselves apart from all the others that have been inspired by the massively impactful classic. Still, suckers for the precedent that was set two decades ago, we download anything that even remotely resembles Homeworld, hoping for a truly new gem. As far as NEBULOUS: Fleet Command is concerned, I think we’ve struck diamond.
Currently in development for PC by Eridanus Industries, NEBULOUS: Fleet Command is a battle-focused space RTS that feels like Homeworld meets retro naval RTS Fleet Command; fitting, considering the dev behind the game is “a Navy officer making a game about space navies.” Perhaps its Steam page describes the game best: “Take command of your hand-tailored fleet of space warships and use realistic radar, electronic warfare, advanced movement controls in 3D space, and precision targeting to outmaneuver and outwit your opponents in a simulation-heavy tactical space game like no other.”
Although NEBULOUS: Fleet Command is still very much in development, it’s already in a playable and fun state. As it stands, there’s are several working modes, including a campaign mode (mostly filled with tutorial stuff at the moment), skirmish mode, multiplayer mode, and a fleet editor. The first three modes feature mostly the same general gameplay familiar to the space RTS genre, as you will be up against other fleets while they unleash a bullet hell upon you; unlike said games, there’s no economy to manage here. That’s right, there’s no ship/fleet building, meaning the ships you start off with are what you have for the rest of the game. I really love this approach, as it absolutely ups the realism — in space, no one can manufacture ships at an impossible speed to turn the tide of war.
Another awesomely different facet about NEBULOUS: Fleet Command is mostly found within the fleet editor, as it gets pretty in-depth in a fresh and interesting way. Players can create their own ships by choosing from available hull types, such as a corvette, frigate, or destroyer, which all have a variety of stats to consider, such as mass, armor thickness, and crew vulnerability. Players can then choose different components, from different weapon types like energy, missiles, projectiles, or point defense to other necessary things like sensors and electronic warfare technology like jammers. The hulls themselves have different areas on which you can mount the various components, so customizing your ships down to their very blueprints becomes a strategy in and of itself. This will come into play during the battles, where the individual components of each ship are shown in the bottom right corner of the screen, their status indicating functional or damaged by color.
When it comes to jumping into NEBULOUS: Fleet Command’s gameplay, I strongly recommend starting off with the tutorial, even if you’re a veteran of the genre. There are so many moving parts that are involved when it comes to the battles that things can quickly get overwhelming if you don’t know the controls — specifically the hotkeys. Battles are slow and graceful until they are suddenly not; as the ships slowly migrate towards each other on the battlefield, a rain of hellfire is exchanged from either side. If both parties are smart, they’ll jam the sensors to prevent either side from locking on to their fleets, forcing a burn-through sweep to see any effect. If you’re just starting out, chances are you’ll just choose a ship to lead and charge directly at the other side, unleashing a fury of missiles and projectiles as you go.
Regardless of your strategy, the fleets will eventually converge, then slowly pass through each other; each side can then take stock of the damage sustained in the first “collision” before regrouping, rescanning, and refocusing their efforts back on the enemy fleet. The steady, elegant pacing of the ships resume, a hailstorm of missiles and burner trails filling up the screen. I’ll be the first to admit I’m not great at the game, but I won’t deny how utterly mesmerized I was by its slow — yet hurried — chaotic beauty. It didn’t matter if I won or lost, I’d just sit and watch the missiles fly and the burner trails dance across empty space, the colors giving my brain that sweet, sweet serotonin. It was glorious.
Although NEBULOUS: Fleet Command is still in development, it has a working multiplayer mode and an active Discord community, so if this game is even remotely interesting to you, it’s already got quite a following willing to play a round or two with you. If you’re looking to get your hands on it before it releases on Steam, check out the developer’s Patreon, where a $10 per month pledge will get your name in the credits and access to the alpha builds. As it stands, gameplay tends to cycle through three different skirmish modes that play out beautifully on screen, but I wager it will become even more tactically involved as time goes on. I personally can’t wait.
Wishlist NEBULOUS: Fleet Command on Steam today!