First Impressions: Battlestar Galactica Online

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First Impressions: Battlestar Galactica Online
There's a pretty universal rule among MMORPG players, although many of them are not aware of it: "Never, ever play a human, an elf, or the 'good side' unless you have no choice. Even then, improvise." I try to follow this rule to the letter. Even when I am asked to try out, preview, or generally mess around with the greatest new game in all of history, I try to avoid playing the good guys. So when I was asked if I could take a look at Battlestar Galactice Online by Bigpoint, I knew exactly what to do.

While I much prefer the older Cylon look and feel (bulkier, rounder ships), and while I did not find myself glued to the TV set to tune into the latter incarnation of the campy series, I did absolutely love how the newer writers and special-effects masters made the space dog-fighting look. It felt, well, real to me. Would I feel the same way about combat inside my browser? What about my character -- how would he feel while walking around inside a station or base?

Follow me past the cut to see what I found.

Before being pulled too far into the game, I had to make my Cylon avatar. Character creation was pretty standard, offering choices from obviously matching sets of heads, arms, torsos or legs. I was able to make a beat-up, scarred warrior and was off! Walking around stations is not what you might think -- yes, you do walk around limited areas of bases and ships, but you are alone. When I asked the developers about this, they said that for right now the inside areas will be solo-instanced, but they will pay attention to what the community calls for and adjust accordingly.

It was cool to walk up to characters from the series (even though I didn't follow it much) to receive missions or to buy equipment or ships, but it would be much cooler with a friend or two at your side. Let's face it, though, the shining star of this MMORPG is the dog-fighting (space dog-fighting) and the continual pursuit of the destruction of your enemies. At least, that's what I gathered.

"While I was escorted through a very basic series of tutorials, I kept seeing warnings pop up on my screen about different areas of space being attacked or under "heavy fighting." Forget tutorials, I am a Cylon!"

Players are given a starter ship from the series; I received a newbie Cylon ship that was shaped like a sort of crab claw. While I do remember this style of ship from the newer show, I was really hoping to get one of the old-fashioned saucer-shaped monsters from the '70s. That would have been awesome. Still, I wanted to see just how well this thing flew.

While I was escorted through a very basic series of tutorials, I kept seeing warnings pop up on my screen about different areas of space being attacked or under "heavy fighting." Forget tutorials, I am a Cylon! Unfortunately, I was not able to leap directly into the heaviest fighting, an ability that would have to develop over time. I was only only allowed to "jump" across a certain amount of space, measured by dots on the galaxy map. For example, I might only be able to jump across to the next system, but at later levels I would have the ability to cross greater distances. Still, I was soon thrust into battle with enemy players in their Vipers. Frankly, it was hard to shoot at them since I thought the Viper to be one of the coolest space ship designs from my youth, but I just reminded myself that there were humans inside.

Combat seemed simple and a little clunky at first. Remember that the game is running in your browser using the Unity engine, so take time to forgive it a bit. As I leveled up, learned new skills, and bought new ships, combat became not only much more smooth and dynamic but more strategic. Instead of needing to press a mouse-button every time I wanted to shoot my main guns, I found that they fired automatically. You lock onto a target and fly at it (or around it) while your auto guns send tracers across the dark sky. Items like missiles need to be fired individually, though, and abilities or triggered items like missile decoys are fired with a shortcut.

All of these different methods of combat led to an in-depth experience. I might lock on to one of my enemies, pursue him, break off to flip around, fire a missile, sling some space-bullets at him, shoot a missile decoy -- all while trying to stay out from in front of him. The developers made ships tough, even the basic ones, so combat lasted far longer than it might within your typical first-person shooter. Granted, you can become space-dust within seconds if you blindly fly into a mass of enemies, but with a little care, even newbie pilots like yours truly could seek and possibly destroy.

The variety of ships is nice, allowing players to pilot anything from a basic craft to a massive CM monster. Battles felt very balanced despite the fact that some players were in larger craft. Bigpoint seems to have taken a page from EVE Online's book by making larger craft slower and easier to hit but chock-full of deadly weapons and other electronic goodies. Missiles can literally be shot out of the sky, so even their existence added some element to gameplay. One particularly large battle I was in was filled with talk of "little guys, get the missiles!" That gritty stuff really gave the game some depth.

Outfitting your ship is pretty standard. You must meet the requirements of the item, and your ship must be able to hold them. You can upgrade individual items and tweak pretty much to your hearts content. I was given some cash-shop mula and so was able to try out almost anything, eventually deciding on a second-tier ship called a Marauder. I outfitted it with the best weapons I could afford, learned the best skills I could, and even leveled my character up using cash-shop experience packs. At that point, I pictured the glory I would receive as I took down the entirety of man.

Little did I know that player skill would always trump purchased goods. Yes, I did much better than before and was even able to take down several humans, but overall my enemy seemed to adjust accordingly. Instead of one on one battles, they would send two or three players. Down I would go.

"I loved the fact that fighting was not an instant-death sort of scenario. Even when I was outnumbered, I was able to last long enough to do some damage."

After my short time in Battlestar Galactica Online, I can say that the game is almost a board game. Some NPCs might spawn here and there, establish bases, and attempt to establish a foothold. Players come to their aid, while other players jump to kill them. I'm not sure what the goal is, but I think it has something to do with resources and mining. I can stick near safer space and mine asteroids, do some basic missions, or level my character. Or, of course, I can jump my way into battle, hoping to die with honor. I loved the fact that fighting was not an instant-death sort of scenario. Even when I was outnumbered, I was able to last long enough to do some damage. The play areas, similar to EVE Online's systems, are large enough that I was even able to escape from my enemies, repair, and come back to shoot them down. I'm sure it helped that I was afforded a nicer ship and setup.

While I did not find enough time to do many quests, I was told that the missions would lead players down paths into the lore of the universe: "The dramatic missions will define the game's overall storyline, enabling players to delve into mysteries of the Battlestar universe." Now that I've had my taste of combat, I definitely want to go back to check the missions out.

If you are looking for a fun space-shooter set in the Battlestar universe, look no further. I can only imagine how fun the game might be if I were a member of some large fleet or group of pilots. This game is begging for Saturday evenings filled with screams of "Get him off my tail!" over Ventrilo. While fullscreen is available, running the game within the browser didn't effect my experience at all -- Bigpoint sure is doing some pretty cool things with the technology.
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