MMOs aren’t just high fantasy fighting games anymore. Innovative games like Star Conflict challenge the very definition of MMOs. They don’t have to consist of a team-based competition like Overwatch or a fantasy realm like World of Warcraft. Star Conflict proves an MMO can combine peaceful crafting and space exploration with vicious PvP fights and still be successful.
The story to Star Conflict is simple. It’s been thousands of years since humans left Earth, and that time has seen numerous battles and conflicts. The galaxy currently finds itself divided between star empires and various mercenary groups with no allegiance to any specific planet. As humanity continues to explore, it stumbles upon Sector 1337, a dead zone. There are signs of former battles and conflicts by the aliens that once lived there. Factions are now fighting for control of this area, and you get to decide which side you’re on. Or if you want to be on any side at all.
Like many MMOs, the focus of Star Conflict is largely centered around a PvP, or player versus player, element. Rather than interacting with game-created characters, you’ll mostly team with or fight against other players connected via the Steam network. Where PvP can go terribly wrong is when you find yourself matched against someone who can hopelessly outgun you. When you’re at an early level, you don’t stand a chance against someone who’s been leveling for weeks. To combat this, Star Conflict implements a level range cap. You can only interact with other players who are in the same level range as you. This makes it difficult when you’re at the first step of a new level range, but it’s less frustrating.
There are a few PvE missions available, as well as a story mode that was released in 2014. In this “open space” mode, you can warp around the universe by way of strategically placed gates. You need to have your ship specifically modified to visit several of them. Currently, there are nine open space missions available that involve fighting NPCs instead of other players.
Another huge draw of this space-based MMO is its open world concept. Where you go and what you do is entirely up to you and how far you’re willing to explore the depths of space. You can join factions, align yourself with mercenaries or save falling cities. Craft your own ship, custom-built by you to accommodate the way you want to play. You aren’t shoe-horned into one specific path in this game, which gives it a huge draw.
It can take a moment to get used to the controls in Star Conflict, but that’s not necessarily a bad thing. A lot of games along this style have restricted movement, either by way of forced quest line tracking or bulky movement of your ship. But here you’re an ace pilot, elite, the best of the best. You know your ship because you built it, and it shows in the range of motion available to you.
At the end of each conflict you’re taken to a base page where you can view everything from your achievements to your available ships and missions. This is also where you can enter to find a group for PvE experiences or craft ships in your workshop. Each level brings you more options for ships, money, materials and world access as well as additional modules for current ships on deck. While many of these customizations are free, some are only made available to you by way of their purchase in the game currency system.
It’s worth noting that through the years changes have been made to Star Conflict, and not all of them are popular. Several players accuse the game of switching to what has been mockingly dubbed as a “pay to win” format, or P2W. The accusation is that it’s nearly impossible to win at a great number of the major battles in the game without making content purchases. Obviously the goal of a free-to-play game is to make money by way of in-game buys, but a combination of that not being the case early in the game’s release and accusations that the items available for purchase are impossible to compete against in a purely free mode has lost Star Conflict some players.
But the game does remain completely free to play at the Steam store. There are no monthly subscriptions or purchase price for the game. There are in-game purchase options, but they aren’t necessary to actually play the game itself despite the P2W complaints. If you’re someone who’s in it to grind in skirmishes and rack up your PVP ratings, you may have to invest in some in-game purchases to go up against battleships and other loot box items. But if you’re content to fly through space and shoot at bad guys as a way to let off steam, doing it for free isn’t the worst way to relieve your stress.