You might be familiar with Kixeye for many different reasons, but this week I am discussing one of the games from its line-up: VEGA Conflict, which is typical in many ways but can definitely be surprising when it needs to be. Many of my favorite MMOs are made up of mechanics we've seen before, but those mechanics are delivered so smartly that the end result is a game that is worth more than it should be. As far as browser-based MMORTS titles go -- and there are scores and scores of them -- VEGA Conflict is a fun and unique blend of strategy, city-building, and Gratuitous Space Battles. It implements none of its designs flawlessly, but the game is almost perfectly balanced between casual play and powergaming.
I did receive a wad of coins from the developer shortly after I spent 10 dollars on some myself, and those coins bought me resources and sped up development and building. It's not directly a sell of power and is typical for the genre, but some might find it distasteful. The community didn't seem to mind the model much.
You'll start your floating space-base while above a random planet. Each planet acts as a sort of neighborhood, and players can attack each other within that neighborhood or others after they have run out of newbie protection time. I shut my newbie protection time down early in order to test out PvP and quickly found out that the seven days of protection is very important and newbies should probably stay protected. If you run out of time or find the need to crawl back into protection for a while, you can always extend the time in return for some of your coins. In a very cool twist, a protective bubble gives you a break after you've received a certain amount of damage, giving you time to regain your fleet. Granted, once that time runs out, you are left adrift but cannot be damaged further. You still need to rebuild in order to start gaining resources again.
From what I can tell, this simple protection mechanic can help you get back on your virtual feet and prevents much "farming" -- that is, the practice of attacking an away player over and over and over. Farming is something that, to me, is simply mind-numbing and boring and can ruin a good game. The simple free protection matrix that pops over your floating city after you've been beaten to a pulp might not be "realistic" in some ways, but it does encourage attacking players to be more creative.
I spent a lot of my time looking for computer-controlled opponents that came in the form of trader fleets. These fleets popped out of NPC antimatter fields and other anomalies that peppered the map. There is even a lovely timer that tells you when a fleet might arrive, although the level of the fleet is not guaranteed. Although you might know the maximum level of the fleet, it appears that even lower-level fleets can descend upon you, leaving you with less-than-desirable targets. I found these lower-levels to be good practice and looked for them before I moved on to attacking player cities. I could also have joined massive, fleet-based attacks on other massive fleets but decided to hang back for now.
Watch live video from massivelytv on TwitchTV
Combat is silly fun. Unfortunately, you will only ever fight one player or NPC at a time, but I can imagine how incredible it would be to have even 2v2. Your fleet is maxed out at something like six craft, but between all of the different loadouts and ship types, there are countless ways to play. In a massive group attack, players break into pairs to fight. It's not ideal but works out for a total feeling of war.
I found it a ton of fun (and very useful) to observe other players' battles. If there is a particularly good battle or movement going on, a player can simply share the bookmark in the chat. I enjoyed just watching the chat for a good battle to roll in; I'd just click the link and watch the strategy play out. Some players prefer a sort of quicker, more agile fleet, while others fill their ranks out with a variety of craft and control each one across the map. The most common strategy seems to be to find a favorite type of craft and keep your fleet just outside of the other player's arc of fire.I've watched seemingly weaker fleets take down larger, more powerful ones down by moving and avoiding missiles or bullets. If you're good enough, you can actually avoid shots by flying to the side.
Attacking a base is something else altogether. When you attack someone's home, you might come across a protective fleet and have to deal with that first. Once you break through (or if the city you are attacking doesn't have a protective fleet), you start attacking the base proper. You have to watch for turrets that often have massive range and hurt... a lot. I found myself spending most of the time limit just attempting to maneuver into a better place only to find out that the player had built her base in such a way to prevent any gaps in protective fire.
Getting wiped out can hurt. I came back from moving to a new house in real life to find that I had been utterly destroyed and a protective bubble had gone up around my city. My fleets were destroyed, though I can repair them, and my city lost tons of resources. The game isn't so punishing as to leave you literally in tatters, so repairing is just a matter of time, or if you'd like, spending coins. I decided to use the protective period to repair, return, and hopefully, seek revenge.
VEGA Conflict is smart, fun, and just as good for hardcore players (according to the ones I met) as it is for more casual players. The influence of real cash is about as pronounced as it is in many browser-based MMORTS titles, meaning that it generally saves you time and not much more. If you're smart, find some friends, and pay attention to other players' battles, you'll have a blast and will actually live to fight another day.
Next week, I am looking at Ensemble Online, a very indie browser-based sandbox MMO. What will I find? If I knew that, I wouldn't be writing this column! Watch me play it live next Monday, the 16th of September, at 10:00 p.m. EDT, right here on our livestream channel!
Each week on Rise and Shiny, Beau chooses a different free-to-play, indie, or browser-based game and jumps in head-first. It might be amazing or it might be a dud, but either way, he'll deliver his new-player impressions to you. Drop him an email, comment, or tweet!