I discovered Halcyon 6: Starbase Commander at about the same time as everyone else, which is to say that I learned about it when it was released. My reaction upon starting it up was... excited.
30 minutes into Halycon 6: Starbase Commander, and I LOVE IT. It's like it was made just for me. pic.twitter.com/XVqkQgzHoD— Kat Bailey (@The_Katbot) September 9, 2016
What I found was a game that wove together many of my very favorite game elements: Turn-based combat, RPG elements, base-building, and strategy; all with an attractive pixel art look. My hope as I played the first few hours was that I had found one of my favorite games of the year. The reality turned out to be somewhat more complicated.
In Halcyon 6, you are one of the last remaining Federation commanders following a catastrophic attack by a rather nasty race called the Chruul - spacefaring monsters from beyond our dimension. You wind up taking refuge on an ancient starbase, which becomes your starting point as you try to build up a new fleet and take the fight to the Chruul. Your task is to train up officers and gather resources from friendly colonies, all while building up your base and researching new technology.
There's actually quite a bit to manage from the start, but Halcyon 6 does a good job of taking you through the basics of building a spaceship, excavating new areas of your base, and researching new technology. Between the tutorials, targeted quests, and story beats, there's never much question of what you should be doing next, only how you should go about it. Most of the time you are inundated with information as your tasks are completed, your officers promoted, and your colonies call out for help.
Once you get a decent fleet up and running, you spend the bulk of your time going out on sorties and dealing with the Chruul, pirates, and other problems. The turn-based space combat is reminiscent of an RPG: Each ship in your fleet has a variety of attacks that can inflict different status effects, which can in turn be exploited for extra damage by follow-up strikes from your other ships. You can also buff or heal your own ships, as well as inflict debuffs on your opponent.
This is where I share my first major caveat about Halcyon 6: The combat gets kind of repetitive after a while. Fleet composition offers some depth, but there really needs to be another layer to the strategy - and more ships, too. Halcyon 6 is sorely missing some kind of loot component; and even with additional tiers to unlock, there's really only six ships to choose from. The net result is that Halcyon 6 offers little in the way of meaningful customization, which in turn makes the combat feel like a bit of grind.
Heightening the sense that you're on a real grind is the fact that you have to manually collect resources from the various facilities that you find. Resources can also be obtained by building up your base, defeating enemies, and completing quests, but at some point you'll need to make the rounds with one of your fleets and pick up your tribute. Later in the game, you will likely have at least one fleet completely dedicated to resource collection while another fleet handles combat, which makes for a lot of clicking.
Resources are incredibly important in Halcyon 6. Though relatively plentiful early on, you have to be careful how you spend them because you need every last bit of material in the second act. It's there that Halcyon 6's difficulty curve starts getting a little steep, the balance of which speaks to its status as a work-in-progress Kickstarter project (Halcyon 6 exited Early Access last week but still needs to hit its various stretch goals).
Looking at the current stretch goals, which include deep starship customization, new win conditions, diplomacy, and additional character classes, its apparent that we've only seen the tip of the iceberg with this game. There's a ton of work still to be done, with the initial release being only the foundation.
But that's not to say that Halcyon 6 feels empty by any means. Aliens constantly drop by your base to alternately tease and threaten you; research is plentiful, and there are some cool choices to be made. One of my favorite moments was a quest reminiscent of Alien in which my crew had to hunt an elusive Xenomorph-like creature hiding in the ducts. In the end, I just had to keep pouring resources into the hunt until the thing was captured, but it added a lot of atmosphere to the daily grind of accruing resources.
Sadly, Halcyon 6 does not have the depth and polish out of the gate of say, Stardrew Valley. But man, I love what they're doing with this game. I love the different systems at play, the presentation, and the quirky sense of humor, and the Chruul make for mysterious and effective villains. But there's still a ton of work to be done, not to mention a lot of bugs to squash (Careful: You might find yourself unable to complete the initial "Expand Your Base" quest).
I'm sad that I can't give Halcyon 6 a wholehearted recommendation out of the gate, but I'm nevertheless really curious about what's to come. If it lives up to the promise of its stretch goals and gets another layer of polish, it could well be something truly special.
The Nitty Gritty
- Interface: Manually collecting resources is a bore, and it would be nice if it were possible to have time go slowly without pausing entirely. Otherwise, it's surprisingly streamlined and easy to use.
- Sound: Halcyon 6's soundtrack is phenomenal, and its sound effects are great, too. Like the art, it definitely lends Halcyon 6 the feeling of being on a space adventure.
- Visuals: Halcyon 6's pixel art is simple, but surprisingly detailed. Weapon effects feel powerful and effective. The stylized graphics make for a nice contrast to the often sterile space genre.
Halcyon 6 has tremendous promise, but tedious resource gathering, repetitive combat, and bugs hurt what is otherwise an ambitious and interesting space sim. I can't quite recommend it right now, but I'd check back in six months or so: It may well be on its way to being something truly special.
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