Star Nomad 2 has been out for a few days now, and my intent was to have this review complete in time for its launch. Something happened, however, that hasn't happened for quite a while; I couldn't stop playing it long enough to write about it.
Star Nomad 2 is an open-world, sandbox game of space trading and combat in the same vein as Escape Velocity or even the venerable Elite, although that game was 1st person and was played in three dimensions. The game is played on a top-down, two-dimensional plane. You start weak and practically defenseless, and it is up to you to find your way in the world. There are 4 different political factions vying for dominance (in addition to various guild factions), and you, the player, can have an effect on how this space opera plays out simply by choosing a faction to help, and doing what you do. After you earn some coin making Kessel runs or whatnot, you can start to arm your puny, underpowered ship. There are kinetic energy weapons, plasma weapons, energy weapons, missiles, drones, and of course some truly overpowered experimental tech in each category to discover. There are also various ship systems to upgrade and a progression system for your character with points to allocate in whatever way that enhances your play style. But wait, there's more! Once you get your ship exactly the way you want, it will be time to upgrade to a larger ship, or perhaps a ship that has extra loadouts for a particular type of weapon that you favor. The very best weapons, systems, and ships are reserved for pilots who raise their reputation with a given faction. Be warned, however, that raising the rep in one of the three primary civilizations, will lower your reputation in the other two. There are also pirates, and "Zerkers" rampaging about, and various uprisings, events, pandemics, and shortages for savvy traders to capitalize on. All of this occurs in the background, giving the impression that you are not playing this alone, although Star Nomad 2 is very much a single-player game. And, in case you're wondering, Star Nomad 2 is less of a sequel and more of an enhancement over the original (which I have never played).
Star Nomad 2 is truly an indy game in every sense of the word. With one developer bringing it all together, it's no wonder that the game is a bit rough around the edges at the time of release. Most notable, there is no tutorial. Just a couple of screen of game text, and you're booted out into the cold hard vacuum of space. Fortunately, there are various difficulty levels, and the easiest one assigns no penalty for death. Even better, the game is saved only when you enter or leave a planet (or die) so if you wander where you shouldn't wander and get your lunch money taken, simply force-quit the app, and restart on the last planet you visited. This is good, because there will be much stumbling about in the first hour of gameplay as you buy things you didn't intend to buy, and sell goods at the wrong market, etc. There are a number of notable quirks that can be extremely frustrating if you get stuck:
1. Selling ship systems and weapons is not performed by "dragging across" as the descriptive text says. To sell items, drag them to the "CREDITS" logo on the upper left of the trade screen.
2. When the game begins, you are given weapons and missiles, which can be found in your Storage Area of your ship. For some reason, this can only be accessed via the trade screen of each planet. Woe be to any player who doesn't read the intro text...
3. After combat, you can pick up enemy crew pods by flying over them. However, there are also cargo pods that can only be harvested by stopping near one and tapping on it. Once this window opens, there is no closing it except by tapping the Star Map (and then closing it again).
4. Buying new equipment can only be done after you have either sold the previous equipment or moved it out of its spot and into storage. Buying a ship, on the other hand, will immediately sell the old ship for 75% of its purchase value. Any modules will be transferred to the new ship, however, weapons and cargo will vaporize into the ether! To avoid this, either sell everything before purchasing the new ship or move it to storage prior. Players are warned of this by a block of text at the bottom of the screen, however, with something this potentially catastrophic, a confirmation dialog box prior to completing the purchase would be much better.
5. Star Nomad 2 will chew through your battery like you won't believe. The developer has promised optimizations to the game engine, however, as well as some much needed fine-tuning and bug hunting.
Reaction to Star Nomad 2 on the various gaming sites has been all over the map. On the one hand, hardcore gamers love it (I'm in this group). On the other hand, pure mobile gamers have described it as unforgiving and confusing. Being happy with your purchase is as simple as deciding which group you're in before buying. The disconnect I've noticed with Star Nomad 2 is exactly the same as I've seen every time a PC game gets ported intact to mobile (yes, Star Nomad 2 is a very successful PC game). Star Nomad 2 is not a mobile game; it's a desktop game that you can play on your mobile device. This will be heaven to some and anathema to others, depending on your gaming preferences. Now, if you'll excuse me, I've got to grind some reputation with the Starborn Federation so I can buy those heavy weapons I need. This war isn't going to win itself.
Ratings (scale of 1 to 5):
Graphics: - 2 - Most of the game graphics are unremarkable, but the ship battles are absolutely stunning (even in 2D)! Sound: - 3 - Ship battle sounds are excellent, but the rest of it is pretty lackluster. Music is nice when it plays. Controls: - 3 - The D-Pad and the interface both need a bit of tidying-up, but once you get used to everything, it won't slow you down. Gameplay: - 5 - You can get absolutely lost in this game if you have the patience to learn its quirks. Super hard to put down.
Playing Hints and Tips:
Drones. Seriously, drones are more effective than any other weapon, by far. Once you set them on their target, they cannot be reasoned with, they cannot be bargained with, and they absolutely will not stop until it is dead; even if you're cowering safely on the far side of the map. Sure they can be shot down, but that happens very rarely (my current ship launches nine at-a-time and I've had to replace one in the last 25 kills). If they get damaged, they return to you, repair themselves, and then launch again to rejoin the fray. Remember to fly trade missions and fight pirates in whatever space you want reputation in.