The wide world of MMORTS is filling up with games that put players onto a battlefield, into a fantasy land, even a post apocalyptic world, VEGA Conflict from Kixeye puts MMO players in the unforgiving vacuum of space. It’s a Flash-based and may be using some HTML support the game runs in browser which gives it a casual play-almost-anywhere air (although the devs might want to look into increasing its compatibility.) As an RTS space game, it has all the trappings needed to give any SciFi geek a lot of nostalgia.
VC sits firmly in the hardcare casual genre of hurry-up-and-wait RTS. Players are tasked between two separate parts of the game: one where a space station gets constructed that also mines the various needed elements in the game (from asteroids), and a second part where players launch battleships in order to pirate resources from NPCs–and eventually fight off other players.
Like many MMORTS, VC eventually turns into a direct conflict with other players. This is only exemplified in that starbase construction includes defenses and fleets can be tasked with protecting the base against attack. As players expand their empire, seek out more resources, and build heavier fleets, they become bigger targets for retribution. The end game in VC is one of dog-eat-dog.
I played through a few days of constructing a base, flying space piracy sortes, and even made a few nice ships. So let’s take a look at what Kixeye is bringing to the table.
Graphics and Sound: Browser-based game has simple graphics and fairly simple sounds
VEGA Conflict is a sprite-based game and as a result, this means the graphics can be simple but still detailed. You’ll see a nice amount of quality in buildings, ships, and even guns. There isn’t that much in the way of animations, but this is more or less a case of less-is-more. When it comes to buildings with guns, the little turrets can be seen swinging around (and sometimes they’re detailed enough to see what it is before a defense platform starts firing.)
There are more than 12 different ships to choose from, each of which have distinct looks from one another.
When it comes to space combat, the less-is-more detail can actually be extremely amusing. Maneuvering thrusters firing to move, rotate, or strafe through combat. The little flash of the thrusters as the ships went into motion was more than enough to bring them to life as they began to slide across the screen–not to mention that they felt like it had some inertia to them.
The music of this game is subtle and background but it’s not what makes this game atmospheric. Every building clicked on has clicks and whirrs, and in fact there’s a weird sort of rumble or squeak that you can hear while playing.
Someone in the development studio really liked Star Craft, because clicking on units will always elicit some sort of voice reply. “Frigate!” Or commanding to attack, “Salvo launched!” And flying in combat, with missiles and lasers searing in against the starry black, there will be screams and cries as units explode–expelling their crew into unforgiving, airless space.
During my play, I had some issues with Google Chrome: Namely, sounds would suddenly cut out (everything) until I did a mute-unmute of all sounds.
Gameplay: Become space pirates in a hardcore casual MMORTS game
In the grand fashion of the MMORTS, VEGA Conflict prepares players for a game of resource collection, troop construction, and space piracy. When I started, I was given a base at some nondescript planet, in the middle of a system, with VEGA miners flittering about, and enough asteroids to get me going.
My first tasks were to set up new buildings to harvest resources from the nearby asteroids, which sat in a large grid. It’s an easy enough task, although buildings must be placed within one square of one another in order to provide power; but any building type can do this. Fortunately, once one miner is placed next to an asteroid, every other miner is one square away (and therefore powered easily.) The three major resources happen to be minerals, helium-3, and zynthium (with a little antimatter on the side, which cannot be mined by beginners.)
Other buildings include research buildings for making better weapons, armor, shields, and even ships. A building called the Ship Factory enables making ships (takes some time) and one acts as a hangar and fleet manager–upgrading that enables launching heavier fleets (read: heaver means bigger, badder equipment like heavier armor and weapons.)
Mining happens slowly, and asteroids can be exhausted; so that means piracy.
Outside the base, there’s a planetary orbit to prey upon. The interesting effect here is that it’s not a side-scroll effect, instead the screen moves with a slight circular arc (as you gaze upon the longitude and latitude of the planetary sky.) In this space are other players fleets, but for beginners more importantly: VEGA miners. These miners run supply runs of the major resources from their raw operations to a refinery. When in transit, they can be attacked.
Supply caravans have levels on them and it’s a good idea to keep those in mind. Even at level 9, I get wiped out by the railgun toting level 7 caravans. However, with shields and armor it is a matter of rock-paper-scissors and sometimes overwhelming forces can also help.
So, even in the beginning, it makes sense to prey on the weak. I started running down low levelled VEGA caravans for extra resources. It helped me build up my station and my fleets a bit faster, and made for a good way to wait through the long upgrade period needed to get better equipment and buildings.
This is where the game will become extremely predictable and repetitive, however, but this is an MMORTS and most players will find this normal.
Freemium: Hurry-up-and-wait can be alleviated with cold hard cash
VEGA Conflict makes no notion of hiding its freemium aspects: as a hardcore casual, everything that can be done in the game takes time. And that time (anywhere from a few seconds to a day) can be swept away with the use of the freemium currency. In this way, the currency can be used to rapidly set up (or after the game is in full swing recover from attacks quickly.)
Players can also purchase resources with the freemium currency to make sure they can quickly rebuild (if they have more currency they could literally rebuild in a flash.)
As all players receive 7 days of protection from the get-go to avoid being attacked. Once that runs out, the freemium currency can be used to purchase more protection time. Good for rebuilding after a heavy loss; or for a vacation from the game.
Conclusion: MMORTS, PvP end-game, and an interesting community
VEGA Conflict is a space-based MMORTS and that’s exactly what you get.
After getting through much of the gameplay, there is a little bit of finesse needed for fighting VEGA miners–as well as other players–so there’s a fair amount of strategy can be put into play. This means that the user community is important, and while there’s a real amount of conflict (as per the title) there’s also a lot of people chatting.
One of the more fun experiences of playing the game was when players would call out major engagements. The chat UI allows players to post bookmarks for coordinates, and it’s possible to watch battles in progress, as a result major engagements become spectated bouts. This is especially true for major movers-and-shakers being taken on by challengers. Now that’s community.
Just because it’s amusing to me to know: VEGA Conflict will not run on my Samsung Google Chromebook. It comes close–it successfully launches–but it fails with a fatal error before the game actually gets going.
I’m not a hardcore-casual MMORTS player personally, but I’ve played quite a few of these games. VC does a great job of mixing up the experience from beginning to end, but it should be pointed out that this game is not turned-based, so people need to be prepared for live fire engagements and to see to their defenses when they’re not online.
Good hunting, VEGA pirate. You’ll need it once you leave that old gravity well and head to the big leagues.