Thursday, March 17, 2016

StarForge - 20/20 hours

StarForge is not a finished game. It relies too much on procedural generation, and the challenges of navigating the environment and fighting random monsters simply aren't engaging enough to sustain an entire game. There's not enough variety, not enough reward for exploration, and not enough crafting recipes.

But none of that is StarForge's fatal flaw. No, the real dealbreaker for me was that when the time came for me to start building my fortress, I discovered that when the various blocks are stacked, they look terrible. It was a combination of the colors and textures. Most of the more expensive and durable blocks were some variety of metallic-grey, which wound up looking too dark when part of a tall stack. The steel blocks had a rivet pattern that might have been home in a steampunk construction, but weren't what I was going for, at all. And the monolithium blocks have this in-built circuitry which could possibly look cool and science-fictiony, but gave an ugly asymmetry when tiled in a large square.

As a result, I wasn't able to come up with a building plan that met my aesthetic standards and subsequently lost interest in the building portion of the game (I might have been able to salvage something by using corner pieces to give my constructions interesting shapes, but they were such a pain in the ass to orient that I more or less noped out of that idea before it could take root).

What I wound up doing with the last three hours or so was starting up a new file on an "infinite" world and seeing how far I could walk away from the spawn point without dying. Pretty far, it turned out. By the time I was finished, the map's central tower was nothing more than a dim light in the distance.

It was a decent enough experience as far as virtual nature-walks go, and some of the terrain did look pretty awe-inspiring, though it quickly became apparent that the five basic biomes you get on a more typical, area-limited game, are the extent of StarForge's bag of tricks.

I have no regrets playing this game, but I can say with confidence that I have no intent of every playing it again. It's not as dire a game as the Steam store page reviews would make it out to be, but what strengths it has are due almost entirely to the survival-crafting genre. Once I got my framerate issue sorted out, it was a well-implemented virtual park - and nothing else. And that's the biggest thing going against StarForge. There's nothing this game does that other games in the genre don't do as well or better (even the tree-chopping - I recently learned that Medieval Engineers is similarly modeled), and it never quite reaches a point where its elements work together to make it more than the sum of its parts.

I think if StarForge were the only game of its genre, I would be quite happy with what it has to offer. I like the core gameplay elements of exploring a virtual park, hoarding raw materials, and building stuff out of bricks. It's just the game's bad luck that I have so many other options at my disposal.

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