Warning: This thread will contain spoilers concerning the narrative and gameflow of Star Control Origins.
So after all of these years waiting, Star Control Origins has released. I've been an avid fan of the franchise ever since I first played Ur-Quan Masters, it's one of the many games I put on my list of serious inspirations as an indie developer myself. To see a new take on the game is something I never expected to see for the longest time. Having just finished the game after a 30+ hour binge on it I have a few thoughts on the game. I'm going to be as honest about my thoughts and ideas on the release, but regardless on how it may or may not sound I do greatly appreciate the team's work on the game and I'm genuinely looking forward to upcoming news on this title.
(Oh and as another warning for folks, this is gonna get pretty spoilerific)
Star Control : Origins - The Good
- The dialogue is up to snuff and really holds a candle to Star Control 2. Certain species really shine (The Tywom, the Drenkend, the Overmind and parts of the Phamysht). It's a real testament to holding the feeling and vibe where a game can be comical and still have a sense of foreboding thrown into the mix.
- The aliens are a lot more bizarre and diverse than expected. I'm not a big fan of the designs of the Scryve and the Phamysht myself but the Mu'Kay amongst some of the other species have some really decent designwork going on a good attention to colour palettes that make them visually pop on screen. Talking to sapient bioweapons and actually allying with a Borg-like hive actually paints this game as being far darker than it's inspiration; the Captain allies with unsavory types and it's a lot less morally clear in parts, speaking on that...
- The overarching tone of genetic manipulation is one that's really intriguing and gets me more excited to see if the story is going to be continued. It's clear from talking with the Measured that the Scryve have done a lot more to the species than just subjegate them and it also explains very well why the Mu'Kay are the closest to Human analogues in the universe; The Scryve have manipulated the Tywom into becoming what they are right now, and the same goes for every subjegated species they have. There also seems to be allusions to the Drenkend being Wass clones (Wassan being a planet in their system), I've yet to find all the Llani records but it's pretty obvious the remenants of them belong in the Measured and heaven knows what they did to the other vassal species they owned. It makes me wonder how innocent the Tywom really are, how trustworthy are the Mu'Kay really. The only race I know the motivations of clearly is the Overmind, and that brings a kind of unknown excitement at seeing the un-modified Origins of each species (manipulative charismatic Tywom, brave and noble Wass, etc). It's pretty obvious that there's more that can be explored from this universe and it helps that these species are darker despite being comical in nature. Get's the creative juices really flowing.
- Ruins and additional lore, the Aoowl and all of these other species waiting to be rediscovered. A lot of the strengths of this game so far are in the world it's trying to build and finding hints to things beyond or even seeing the fleeing, smaller species of the universe adds a lot more depth to the lore than in UQM. There's a lot more going on ambient to the Scryve menace and it helps to feel that throughout all the interactions with these smaller, disconected species.
Star Control : Origins - The Rough
- The climax of the game is lackluster, and definitely misses a lot of punch it really needed. Shutting the door sounds like a cool concept but going up to de-oderize a random metal object floating in the sky with little else going on except for the Xrakki battle fleets felt very rough and underpolished. I wasn't a huge fan of the "allies swoop in" moment because I didn't have to work extensively hard for that unlike the Yehat and Pkunk. I've a feeling if I got all the records for the Measured that they might have joined the fray too but the conga-line of communications cheering me on felt a bit too on the nose especially considering the final battle.
- The final battle was a huge joke. It's the same pattern and AI as the Xrakki fleets but stationary. The reason why the Sa-Matra stands out more to me (despite actually not being that good of a final boss) was because of the surprise nature of it. It put me on edge when I first fought it and reinforced that notion of being weak and helpless. I felt that when the Scryve got to my homeworld and oncemore when I had 4 fleets of Xrakki barrelling towards my allies, but all of this literally got turned into a moot point because of a huge issue with the game itself...
- The balance of ships is completely out of whack and there's no reason to swap from ship to ship if you have a preference. There's no chess match going on like the VUX being especially weak to the Umgah or the Utwig being destroyed by the Chenjesu, you can plow through the game without much issue. And then there's the Mu'Kay. The Mu'Kay's secondary ability, an ink blotch which deals damage and remains on the battlefield permanently unless destroyed, is single-handedly the most broken ability in the entire game. Once I realized how it worked I just ran rings around the defensive perimetres of the Xrakki placing down ink and watched them dance their way to self-destruction chasing me through them. It was even more disheartening when the final boss itself is the same fight, but wasn't even able to move away from the clouds themselves. I parked my ship on the edge of the arena and watched the game just end. It was really anti-climatic and kind of spoiled the final act for me in a great way.
- The false leads in this game really mess the flow. I spent 30+ hours in the game, but a good 20 of those were spent scanning every system to see if there were key items I needed. the joke was on me, everything key in this game is told to you very directly. I'm playing the game clutching onto the Unbreakable Mirror and Carbon Rod expecting them to come in handy for a questline or a story element not realizing that these items are completely unused for the final conflict. It made me sort of regret scanning system after system painfully going through each planet manually to pick them up, as I thought there was more going on what with the giant NotJeff ship sitting parked in a system to the far right.
- the UI for selling materials needs some work. Having a group of items that you can't break down to sell really hurts the experience when you're running low on space because you're rationing stuff such as Neutonium or Francium. Sell All as a button only really works if you have the option to ration certain materials in the event of needing them, so it felt pretty rough having half my inventory filled up with exotic resources I dared not to sell because I might need them for some Lexite vending machine later on.
- Lander segments are very inconsequential and whilst I understand that these parts aren't meant to be a focus it doesn't detract from the general notion of how these ended up playing. Go to planet, zoom around, park X distance away from enemy and just plink at them with the stun gun. There's no gun upgrades I know of to speed up the process, the enemy can't really hit me because I outrange them and it sort of turns into a mindless grindfest because there's not much going on in the scope of gameplay here. You land, you pick stuff up, you leave. The ruins really made up for this but it didn't change the fact that lander segments really bog down the overall experience because of how unfun it is fighting critters. Drones will often stay stationary, and if you can just sit out of range of most enemies then the tension of survival is lost entirely. I got the giant Yuggoth worth 8000 purely by sitting at a safe distance plinking it. I can't stress it enough, sitting at a safe range plinking at something isn't a whole lot of engagement unless you're aiming at specific body parts on a moving target, sniping etc.
- More a personal note than anything else, the Scryve don't do much for me as villains. I like how they aren't as co-ordinated nor unified as the Ur-Quan Kzer Za and Kohr Ah, but they also don't have that much in the way of motivation... Unless we'll find that out later. I do appreciate how the colonies have no idea what's really going on and the Legates are doing their own thing, and I think the idea of them not being able to reproduce anymore is an insanely cool concept for this world and really does paint them in a more understandable light. I just found them somewhat naive in their own understanding of themselves in comparrison to the horrifying "Halt what you do is wrong! Why do you do this thing?" Monologue. Again though, personal take, and they are clearly doing stuff to the races beyond the surface which makes me interested in seeing more of this.
- The game feels devoid of gameplay for portions of the experience, and this is a very surreal thing to say as it in effect is literally Star Control 2. You land on planets, you shoot stuff, you sell stuff, you upgrade and you ship battle. You talk to quirky aliens and that's pretty much the label on the box. The problem I think with this is that when you have 3 core gameplay mechanics that don't shift or evolve over time, the game gets more stale as the length increases. I felt this even in the original UQM, after a while you're not doing much more than jumping from planet to planet searching for X item hidden in a clue somewhere you missed or forgot or you're using your dominant strategy ship (Greegrox and Mu'Kay in my case) to plow through battles. The game feels like it needs another gameplay slice, a layer that expounds on the game flow to add something more modern to the game.
- Colonies are totally pointless from what I've seen and it's a shame because it's the best concept Star Control (REDACTION_NOTNOTFOUND) 3 brought to the table. It'd also help on the mineral farm situation.
Star Control : Origins - Verdict
Painful as this may be to say, it really feels like the game needs more content beyond plowing through astral neighbourhoods nicking all their stuff. It's opening and middle acts are really good, you've got a lot of tension and exploration. The reveals are awesome, the Overmind going "sod it, I'll ally with you" was such a pleasant and unexpected spin that I really, really appreciated having an AI hivemind be an ally for a change. I really enjoyed the Pinthi and their arc and sorrow they felt from their existence before. I really liked how the Drenkend, for all the treatment they get for being idiots in game, are fully aware of the horrifying situation they're in and are probably the most down to earth species considering their situation.
But I can literally sit there pouring ink into the cosmos and watch entire eldritch fleets destroy themselves on that. I'm either a bear on the wallstreet clearing as much stock as I possibly can before the value crashes or I have to hoarde the entire stash of resources like a crazed survivalist in a dark, scary jungle. I think a lot of problems with the makeup of this sub-genre of 4X is that when you have all the upgrades or your favourite ships unlocked you're playing for the dialogue and writing and not because the experience has evolved or changed. Any expansions or additional content that only feeds that desire will make the gameplay feel more stretched than before, because it's that dialogue that people really enjoy with this.
My verdict right now as far as Star Control Origins stands is a 7/10. I was humming about a 6/10 but a game hasn't made me literally laugh out loud on multiple occasions like this so it deserves the extra point on that alone. But gameplay wise there's a lot that needs to be tweaked and tuned up, and probably a bit more to add if I'm truthfully honest. The febreeze ending of the current storyline didn't feel rewarding with the Mu'Kay as they are.
Ok so let's play game designer for a bit here. If my superior was thrown into a furnace, what changes and additions would I make? Mmmm....
Star Control : Origins - Brainstorming Ideas
- Mu'Kay's ink blotch has a fixed duration of 3 or 5 seconds as opposed to being persistent throughout it's life-cycle. As a result it's battery recharge rate is increased.
- Greegrox heal is reduced by 2 crew points, speed of microbolts is reduced slightly and hitboxes for the Greegrox is increased slightly.
- Add a scrollbar for determining how much you want to sell of each commodity, so you can sell quantities instead of just sell all.
- Flag visited systems with a small red ring around them on the starmap, or have a toggle button to show systems you have been to and systems you haven't. Ontop of this, add another ring or a flashing toggle to show systems you've visited but haven't yet cleared resources or relics on.
- A larger invulnerability time between hailing/combat and the next encounter. Flying in Phamysht space is painful because once you're done talking to the home planet you're set upon by 3 ships all at once. At low framerates, you can hit A to confirm fight and end up talking to the homeworld instantly afterwards, resulting in unneccessary fights happening and being locked in place for longer.
- A separate ring to show you how far you can travel and make a return trip fuel wise. Maybe a dashed grey circle inside of the main one.
- Colour-coding "quest items". Useless or joke items are flagged with a darker grey text, plot crucial items are in white, optional items are green, etc.
- Final boss warps around the map at regular intervals, releasing 24 or so spread bullets on arriving at new space. Maybe also allow his shield pieces to move in formations the Battle Fleets do not.
- Have enemies being hit by blaster fire react to it and attack the enemy, or try to manuever to chase them as opposed to just sitting there taking it. there is a critter that does this which looks like a tusked wolf, but more enemies need to be aggressive when being attacked.
- Have a way to transfer crew from the Vindicator to the other ships, there's no reason to get crew bays at the moment unless you want to plow in Vindicator first.
- Generally bump up the AI so they don't keep circling the asteroid field getting whacked.
- Adding some additional upgrades to the lander blasters would help spice up some things. A tri-shot or mine variants would help in situations where there are many enemies on you or you're running tail. They don't have to be complicated, just enough to add to the landers themselves.
Additional Content/The Fun Stuff
Naturally all of the stuff below is food for thought, if not from official updates then in the way of mods, etc, but as it stands this is just material to add to the game beyond "include the Noste" and "Add X Race here". Talking more gameplay elements than anything else.
Right so SCO introduces this guest system where you have 5 party members that can join you who give you advice as you go through the game. This is pretty rad, but I wish it was used more. What I also wish was more involved and developed are the ruins and other areas you find on planets. The idea of actually having some kind of control with your away missions harkens more to Star Trek's redshirts, but also wouldn't require a whole lot of additional retooling of the systems. Here goes the pitch.
you arrive at a set of ancient Ruins, but these are particularly advanced and expansive. They're also particularly dangerous, it may take several days to excavate them. As your team goes deeper they uncover traps and treasures, maybe a laser grid turns on, maybe a piece of cool technology. As they progress deeper and deeper, their chances of being utterly destroyed go up, but the rewards can increase. Eventually they either meet their doom, escape with what they have to try again another time, or they get to the end to get the real treasure out of it.
How the advisors work into this is that they can provide basic stats to help your team's chances of success against these challenges. Need to activate an ancient device in the temple? Make sure you have your Mu'Kay scientist on your team of advisors to walk them through, giving them a bonus to these rolls. It's really simple, and can interfact with the system that's in place, but adds some more depth to the flow of these missions, as well as adding a bit of diversity to the gameplay itself.
You can have stats such as these;
First-Aid (treatment of diseases, injuries, and otherwise saving crewmembers who would perish on these missions on a successful roll)
Engineering (using devices, computers, the works)
Translation (translating ancient languages, communication etc)
Combat (fighting monsters or other creatures on these away missions).
You could have as many or as few of these stats as you wanted, the better the stat score total, the more likely they'd survive or succeed that task in these away missions. Wouldn't need anything more done to the system beyond a set of integer values being set up for the advisors and a series of dialogue chains in ruins that require rolls (say 1d10 is default, and the scores go along the lines of "Activate the ancient robot! (Science: 6 or more needed) / Leave the robot and continue through the ruins".
Ok, so this is kind of in the game, in that starbases unlock new parts for you. Part of this is more having elements of choice with where you want to develop, i.e "Do we use this Trandal technology to develop the blueprints to a new craft or should we use this to improve our hyperdrive thrusters?" There's actually a choice like this already in the game, from the Overmind. Having events like these crop up every time you go back to Star Control on acquiring a new race milestone to the effect of "we can retro-fit this tech to do X or Y, which will it be Captain?" adds another element of choice to the game that expands it beyond dialogue options. Having ways to permanently boost certain units of your fleet would be pretty cool as well, beyond basic modules to the Vindicator.
Seems like this was planned or may be planned already, but since you can expand the pressence of humanity in the solar system, perhaps these colonies should contribute RU to Star Control every month in game? That way, the player has a reason for expanding out and developing humanity beyond where it begins; setting locations for colonies also helps get minerals you have a hard time obtaining. Flag a planet that's suitable for colonizing and they'll get on it with enough resources and the likes. Maybe even have the pressence of colonies change the aliens in the area, maybe they get hostile, or want to trade and start up an alliance because you've moved in.
Straight up taking the space combat and having it happen in atmosphere above the planet, rather than bouncing off the planet, you're literally scrolling above said planet fighting the enemy ship in the process. Just a neat little difference, can have environmental effects too such as the thunderstorms and volcanoes on planets. It's a re-use of assets in a way that adds some difference of kind and feeling to the game's combat.
Ontop of colony management, if enemies push and pressure the player's space you can set up garrison defenses to fight and ward enemies off, Star Control 1 style. Just go to the colony, transfer whatever ships you need to their garrison in space and when the system gets attacked you get control of these ships. fly, fight, do whatever it takes to defend the colony. Could expand this to include invading other systems but that's probably better left for the Vindicator.
This honestly about covers it for ideas of additions. I know that new races and storylines with the modding system will be a thing that goes on for SCO, and I'm honestly excited to see what happens. These elements I've suggested above are just a few ideas on adding to the game but not requiring a whole new system for elements, just a bit of diversity to boost up the gameplay some more.
Star Control : Origins - Closing Statements
I've honestly really enjoyed playing this despite how I experienced the closing act, but what makes me more excited than anything else is to see this be a living, breathing project.
I was involved a few times on the Project 6014 and other mods for UQM, none of them came to light. I worked on the Fjorn, a kind of Knightly race of crusaders dashing about the place trying to be goodie-twoshoes but making a mess of things, amongst a few other ideas for races, so the idea of mods and adding races to this that have a meaningful place really is exciting and interesting for me. Right now the game stands as a bit of a skeleton, but I suspect much like the Vindicator it'll evolve and improve over time. I do hope that the modding capabilties support more than just ships and strings of dialogue but also allows for some basic scripting elements and adding fully modeled, voice acted aliens to the mix. It's great to see a Star Control game again, especially one that's alive. I really gotta hand it to Stardock's team though, they definitely captured the spirit of UQM/SC2 so well that it's uncanny to think about. It's just that SC2 is a 20-30 year old game. It needs some additional love and some new mechanics thrown into the mix. Give it a blast of fresh, new goodness to clear away some of the stale elements and you got yourself a damn fresh and fine game.
It's genuinely been a blast though, thank you for the experience and I'm really looking forward to seeing where this is taken in the future. Cheers!