The Jadd Baran are threatening the inner worlds once again, so we’re calling upon you, captain. Your carrier crew is prepared and ready, they’ve been drilling for this ceaselessly for months—and your pilots have been champing at the bit to try out their new Genide fighters that are shiny and ready in the hangars. You undock and jump into the system; immediately accosted by another capital ship. The fighters launch—your guns return fire—the EM shields flare with St. Elmo’s fire aurora as Tesla weapons buzz…

At it’s heart Black Prophecy Tactics: Nexus Conflict is a game about commanding a carrier, jumping into combat, and blowing people out of the sky. Gamigo has done an excellent job of brining a new capital ship combat game into the market; but I think that it could and will get better. Right now it feels really bare bones (forgive them, it’s a beta test) but after enjoying the fighter version of the game Black Prophecy that there’s a lot of narrative that can be written into it.

The combat system is passable and for anyone who is a fan of Battlestar Galactica will enjoy the idea of carrier combat. It has strong elements of watching damage to systems, controlling energy levels, and tracking targets. There’s also a skill system and enough differences in weapons versus different types of armor and shields that you might be thinking about loadouts before jumping into battle.

Instead of starting with the graphics, let’s jump directly into how the gameplay works.

Gameplay: More like carrier/mothership combat than capital ships outright

At first I was excited to have another game that provides the experience of flying a capital ship rather than a fighter in deep space combat. The closest to this that we’ve gotten in the MMO community so far has been Star Trek Online (starships are capital ships.) However, this feels a lot more like piloting a very heavy fighter with the mouse, launching my fighters, and then pounding on the other guy. In short this is more like carrier combat.

Black Prophecy Tactics is still in beta, so there’s a few things that will most likely change before the game is launched, so I’m going to avoid speaking about the details.

Missions are caught by launching into a region and then following instructions. Often there’s other capital ships in the theater of conflict and it’s your job to expose their interiors to hard vacuum. Upon jumping in, I’d launch my fighters, lock onto the nearest target, and tell them to go to work. Other than that, I would also set my guns on them.

Useful things about this approach is that I can not just set a target (you cannot attack a ship not currently targeted) and I can also pick a distance I can orbit it. This is good because if I’m shooting at someone but don’t want to sit still. The first weapons I got were a Tesla gun (lightning bolts) and laser turrets. There’s also rail guns, missiles, some sort of heavy-beam weapon, all of them have different power consumption, range, and deploy different damage types; some are good against shields, some of them are good against armor. (Of course, you can get armor and shield enhancements to strengthen them against particular types of damage.)

To make the game feel more like I’m commanding a ship, though, I think that there will need to be a lot more hotkeys and macros for different commands. Either that or brighter context menus and methods to have several things happen at once. Right now, I’ve been burnt out too much on EVE Online and would rather see something that makes me feel like a commander.

All weapons have ammunition. They need to be loaded in order to fire and have a limited magazine; fortunately, they reload when they run out during combat. Ammunition can also give bonuses to damage when used with the proper weapon type; also fortunately, the +0 benefit ammunition for most of the starting weapons is free. I used up a lot of it.

There are three tiers of ships: corvettes, cruisers, and carriers. Each one is larger, has more carrying-capacity for weapons, hangars for fighters, and room for enhancements to engines, shields, armor, targeting systems. All of this equipment is also limited by my ability to use it (i.e. skill levels) and there’s a skill-up system designed around gaining skill points from experience in battle. Ships themselves must be learned (and skilled up) before they can be used.

During combat, I discovered that it became a question of watching my energy levels between firing my weapons and keeping my shields up—once I’m taking damage to my armor, I know I’m in trouble.  Of course, running out of power in a heavy multi-on-one firefight can be very dangerous because that also means I cannot refresh my shields (or fire for that matter.) So tactically, I ended up relying on my fighters a great deal of the time.

Sound and Graphics: No-frills, basic space combat sim MMO with space backgrounds… could be better

This is a science fiction space MMO. Expect star-filled vistas speckled with tiny glittering motes, planets, nebulas, space ships, and space stations… and explosions. Don’t forget the explosions.

The game is in beta, so the ships in Black Prophecy Tactics are somewhat limited. They’re also basically grey-bodied, steel-and-carbonwhisker chassis rendered into shiny-blocky models. So far, the three different ships that I’ve seen are reasonably boring; however, they are absolutely science fiction spacecraft and look the part. Zoomed way in, there’s some interesting detail visible—but as we keep getting warned, this is a beta and they might not look like that post-launch.

Much of a battle depends on situational awareness and that means quick rendering of the camera swinging and panning—and it did that just fine.

All of the weapons also have their own effects and there’s even an indication when a target takes a hit (or a miss) with numbers of various colors popping off the target like other games. Even at great distances, the fighters show up and their shots look like red streaks flickering through space. Tesla shots are like zapping lightning bolts (with sound), lasers are like gatling beams (often missing), and there’s a few others with interesting SFX.

The sounds are all over the place. Right now it speaks in what sounds like German (although likely will speak in English) and there’s a great deal of beeping from the UI to denote the triggering of an automatic effect. The Tesla gun sounds a lot like zapping electricity, and the laser gatlings make a rattling thunder when they fire; of course, taking fire also makes a thudding sound against shields, and a clang noise when it’s ripping through my hull armor.

I believe I recall the sound of engines as well when they were at full roar.

Currently, sounds are somewhat limited to the sorts of things that you’d expect from space engagements. There’s a lot of spaces that sound could be built into from radio chatter, to commands on the ship, to words of warning when an enemy has locked on. That’s not to say that they’re not sufficient for gameplay; but I think that they game could do with a lot more inputs telling me what’s going on in a fight (for example, sometimes I didn’t know my shields were gone except for the change in the damage sound.)

Freemium: It’s probably going to have a shop for basics and sundry but it’s not commercial yet

It’s hard to gauge at this part of the game’s development what’s going to happen with the free-to-play aspects; but judging by its namesake Black Prophecy the space-fighter game, chances are we’ll be seeing a virtual item shop containing services and items fitting to the game. I expect that it’ll be running from a microtransaction currency permitting the purchase of services that expand cargo holds, increase experience and skill gain speeds.

Maybe they’ll have spraypaint and etching for the ships! You should be the first to own a hot-pink carrier… No? Yeah, I doubt they’ll be doing that either; but it would make for a much more interesting game.

There will probably be crafting bits sold, premium packs containing higher level items (that can be obtained through game play or bought with credits—but it’ll be slow going.) Hopefully they won’t be selling weapons, upgrades, or elements that cannot be obtained in game; but I can see some use for high value fighters and bombers that would be difficult or rare to come across for beginners to get a jump.

This game does have strong PvP aspects, so it’s a little too easy for item impropriety to have the tint of pay-to-win.

Conclusion: I want another carrier-class capital ship combat game and Black Prophecy is a good place to do it

I have a soft spot for science fiction games and especially for games that let me micromanage (or just manage) a tactical view—and I love carriers. I like the idea of commanding a small fleet, even if they’re my fighter screen, and I do enjoy watching my energy levels so that I can choose between weapons fire and high-energy defenses. Of course, a missile or two doesn’t hurt things. I’m happy as long as things are exploding.

Black Prophecy Tactics does all of these things in spades.

Also looking at its namesake, predecessor, Gamigo will probably be writing in a nice amount of story to drive the initial plot—at least for those of us who aren’t looking forward to vast PvP fleet battles—and that means that there’s a lot of reasons to like where this game can go. As a beta test, I’m seeing the scaffolding for a game that can grow into something extremely reasonable.

As I mentioned, there’s also a thriving PvP going on even in the beta (there’s 20 people online and they’re still at each other’s throats, go figure.) I think this is a fairly good sign about how well the game will do for the population who want to play the game for missions and those who come in to duke it out against players of similar skill.

It’s a big universe out there.