Starlink: Battle for Atlas – Toys for Strife

Having been a pretty slow week for myself, I had tried to look for a game that was different from the usual sort of things that I tend to play. After hearing a bit about Starlink: Battle for Atlas, I decided that it seemed interesting enough to go out and try it for myself. Developed by Ubisoft, the game itself is a sci-fi open world action game that is played through a third-person view of a spaceship. It’s also one of the few recent games I’ve seen that had been made with couch co-op available, though I played it solo. Before I get into the thick of things though, there are a few things I’d like to cover.

First of all, the version of Starlink that I went ahead and picked up was the starter pack for the Nintendo Switch. With that, all of my experience with Starlink comes from this version alone. The game is also available on both PlayStation 4 and Xbox One, but I went with the switch version because of Star Fox. The starter pack of Starlink comes with toys that allow you to swap ship pieces that come packaged using a controller mount. There is an option to play this version without using the toys, I personally played without them, but I’ll try to explain how the toys work anyways. If you decide to swap out any parts of your ship, you can change them out while they are connected to your controller mount. Swapping parts on your controller mount will register the changes inside of the game. From what I’ve seen it doesn’t seem to really matter how the parts are connected, so you could be relatively creative with the pieces. Outside of the parts packaged in the starter kit, new ships for in-game use are available for purchase through various outlets. It’s all just a matter of how much someone is willing to spend, as this method can be very expensive. If you don’t really care about having the physical copy with the extra toys, the definitive version of the game seems to be the digital copy. The digital copy of Starlink: Battle for Atlas comes with more pilots, ships, and weapons for in-game use. So, if you want to get more out of Starlink, I’d recommend going with the digital version. If you’re like me and care about having a piece of plastic to put on a shelf, the starter kit is available for purchase for $74.99. As for the digital copy, it’s available for $59.99.

With all of that out-of-the-way, I’ll get into the actual game.

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The story of Starlink: Battle for Atlas begins with brief backstory stating that after making contact with an alien that crashed on Earth, Victor St. Grand began recruiting a team of pilots whom become known as the Starlink Initiative. St. Grand then takes the Starlink Initiative to the Atlas Star System to find the origins of the alien that crashed on Earth, who St. Grand had given the name Judge. Shortly after their arrival, the Equinox is then attacked by an enemy known as the Legion, who are being controlled by a cultist named Grax. The Legion then kidnaps St. Grand, after which much of the game is spent with the Starlink Initiative forming an alliance with the alien races of the Atlas Star System to battle the Legion, while also trying to rescue St. Grand.

For the most part I can’t really say that I found the game’s story to be all that great. I feel that I also found half of the characters to be relatively unlikable, or just flat out annoying to the point where I would savor the sweet silence of moments where I didn’t need to hear them. This also pretty much resulted in me switching my pilot to Fox McCloud almost immediately after arriving to the games second planet, as Mason Rana quickly managed to get under my skin. It didn’t completely fix the problem, as I still had to watch and listen to all of the characters I found repulsive during cutscenes. I felt as though a lot of the voice acting was decent, but some characters just made me cringe and shake my head with absolute disgust. At the very least, being able to play as Fox McCloud made the game lot more enjoyable for me, when helping outposts or exploring planets.

Speaking of the game’s planets, I suppose this would be a good time for me to take a moment to talk about the games visuals. I felt that Starlink looked surprisingly nice. In both the space of Atlas and the individual planets. The colors and lighting were nice and vivid for the most part, and some of the games effects were an interesting touch. Outside of a few recycled aesthetics that I had noticed, I felt as though there was personality to each planet. For example, going to the desert planet and having my spaceship go through water had caused my spaceship to overheat. I noticed a few similar things happen on other planets where the planets environment also had done damage to my spaceship. Though it was miniscule damage, it at least made them at least feel different in terms of the hazards. Outside of the environment, I guess I would have liked to see some more differences with the aliens, along with the content available on each planet. I suppose this would be a good time to bring myself to talking about the gameplay of Starlink.

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In the terms of the gameplay and things to do in Starlink: Battle for Atlas, there is actually quite a bit of content. Each planet has its own plant and wildlife species available to either harvest or scan and pulling up your Starmap screen will show a completion list when zoomed in on each planet. More things to do will become steadily available as you make progress through the games main campaign. Describing some of the various activities available, as there is quite a bit, I guess I’ll begin with one of the earliest activities in the form of the outposts. Offering to help an outpost will task you with a select quest. These quests may include hunting down enemies, scanning wildlife on the planet, gathering a certain item, or even simply helping the outpost ward off an attack from either a Legion or Outlaws. Allying these outposts is certainly a good thing, as there are different types of outposts that provide something beneficial. These benefits include things like uncovering more of the map, providing Starlink with electrum (which is the games currency), purchasing mods, or even an outpost that will provide defenses on the current planet. Alternatively, after progressing to a certain point in the game you can also build your own outposts on defeated Imp Hive locations, for a price. Further mentioning the outposts, they can also be upgraded through various means. The ways of which you can upgrade them include helping them with various side quests, donating resources, or even buying the upgrades outright. The upgraded outposts will strengthen them providing higher level workers, and beef up their benefits.

Outposts not being the only part of what is available to do on the planets, there is also a few other things to do in Starlink. Each planet has a number of ruins, imp hives, wrecks, Extractors, Warden Spires, and wonders available with their own set of tasks. Going into each of these a little bit in order, starting with the ruins. The ruins will have enemies you need to clear out, or have a box to decode. After either decoding the box at the area, or clearing the ruin of enemies. It will then ally the area with the alliance and also reward you with mods. Imp hives, as I mentioned before, can be cleared of the hive. This will then allow you to build an outpost on the site. The wrecks are basically either looting a box or decoding a wreckage. When having to decode, enemies will periodically spawn. This leaves you to have to defend the site until the timer runs out. Clearing a wreck will provide you with either nova or mods, both of which are useful. As for the Extractors, they are Legion harvesting towers. You can defeat these towers by shooting nodes located in and around the device.  Defeating these will also reward mods, and allow you to extract a core from the Extractor, which can then be delivered to an outpost. Delivering the core to an outpost will reward you with Nova and Electrum, and also significantly makes progress towards upgrading an outpost if not completely upgraded.  Coming to the Warden Spires, these are basically puzzles. Some may require just hitting the circles on the Warden Spire different elemental weapons, and others may require something a little bit more intricate like moving around certain shapes to each portion of the puzzle. They’re relatively simplistic, and completing them allow you to fast travel to each completed Warden Spire, additionally they also reward mods. Lastly there are the wonders, these locations have difficult enemies to defeat which will then open up a chest that provides a relic. These relics are basically an incredibly powerful mod for use on either your weapons or spaceship.

I feel I should also mention that after progressing to a certain point of the game, a meter will appear showing the Alliance and Legion stranglehold on a planet. Performing any of the games activities will change the balance of the Alliances strength on a planet. Also during this time, the Legion Dreadnoughts (their spaceships) will send down Primes to attack the planets. These hulking units plant Extractors on planets and can only be destroyed by attacking certain parts. Destroying these units provide rare mods and will also allow you to pluck their core, which can then be taken to an outpost for a reward similar to the Extractor cores.

Apart from the content available on planets there are also things to do in Atlas’ space. Periodically you may come across wreckage which can be looted, and there are also outlaw bases which can be found and cleared of enemies. Again, both ways are good for providing mods. There is also the Legion Dreadnoughts.  As I mentioned before, these Legion ships will send Primes to attack planets. Defeating these will halt the Prime attacks.

While I don’t mind the content for the most part, I did feel that just too much of the game felt like a repeating cycle. Different planets outpost quests would be similar at times to where it would feel like I was just repeating the same quests over and over again to the point where I wouldn’t offer help to upgrade outposts and would instead just donate items. Every planet pretty much has the same things to do, there isn’t much originality and at times it did feel as though repetition would set in to the point where I would get sick of being on a planet and just move onto the next, with or without discovering all the planet had to offer.

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Now that I’ve pretty much explained what Starlink has to offer in terms of its content, I feel as though I should take the time to get into the game’s progression system, as well as the games customization and combat.

The progression system in Starlink is similar to that of role playing games, in which you gain experience points to level. Experience points can be gained from defeating enemies and clearing any of the games open world content. Leveling up the pilot’s proficiency with both the weapons and the ships available will provide a skill point for the pilot, which you can then allocate to buff up different pilot abilities, styles and stats – each of which are unique to whichever pilot you select. Outside of your pilot’s skill tree, the Equinox also has an upgrade system. Leveling up your pilots or unlocking warden spires will allow you to upgrade different parts of the Equinox. These upgrades each provide a variety of different useful benefits. These benefits include being able to deal more damage to certain enemies, a larger storage for resources, and being allowed to equip more mods on your weapons and ship, as well as being able to fuse mods together to create a higher tier mod. Mentioning the weapon and ship mods a little more, before getting to the games combat. The mods serve as a way of boosting different stats such as a weapons damage, or your ships defenses, along with other benefits like XP gain boost. Mods can also be fused together in increments of three. Fusing together three of the same tiered mod will provide a higher tiered mod with boosted stats. Alternatively, later on you can duplicate mods by spending Nova, this is particularly good for relics and legendary mods, as these mods can be very powerful upgrades.

Moving onto the games customization, Starlink has a surprisingly large amount of things to work with. Though weapon, ship and pilot packs need to be purchased through the digital storefront or by collecting the real-life toy counterparts. No weapons or ships seem to be purchasable in the actual game. You don’t necessarily need to purchase anything extra to complete the game, as the base version alone is fine. Getting back into the actual customization part, you have a wide selection that can be accessible. If owned, you are able to swap out different pilots, as well as the ship itself. Not being done just there, you can also add-on a number of wings to each ship. This changes the ships stats depending on the parts you decide to equip on the ship. There is also a number of weapons in the game, though the starter pack only came with three total. You can also equip two different weapons giving you a bit more diversity. Interestingly enough, you can also equip the weapons backwards for some reason, though I don’t really see the point. The customization of Starlink is a nice positive point of the game, though it can be expensive.

Moving onto the games combat, for the most part it’s about what you’d expect in a game where you are flying around in a spaceship the entire time, though there are differences from a typical space shooter. Going back to the weapons, you are able to access weapons of different elements. Attacking enemies with different element weapons will then create a combo, which deals hefty damage. Additionally, each enemy has a weak point, when damaging an enemies weak spot will then deal critical damage to them. Outside of that another notable thing in the combat are the pilot’s special attack. These special abilities seem to vary from pilot to pilot, with Fox McCloud’s special being that he calls in Star Fox to do high damage to a targeted enemy. Things are generally what you would expect in a game with space combat, you can do tricks and shoot things. You have the ability to also throw up a shield and you can also reflect attacks by spinning. Finishing off the things you can do in the ship, you can also boost your speed and use hyperdrive in outer space. Both of these are very useful to getting around quicker, as the game world is surprisingly large. There is also a way to look behind you, and also zoom in further by pressing down the analog sticks. I can honestly say that I actually found the combat of Starlink to be the most enjoyable part of the game and is easily what I can point to as the high mark.

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So coming to a close, I can honestly say that I actually enjoyed Starlink: Battle for Atlas for the most part. I don’t think it’s the best Ubisoft title, but it does at least have a nice foundation and it’s something I’d like to see expanded on in future titles. I have some complaints sure, the reliance on having to purchase the weapons packs, or the varied toys made completing some of the games Warden Spire puzzles impossible, as the starter kit only came with a fire and ice weapon.  I also found a lot of the games voice acting to be relatively irritating. Not all of the voice acting was bad, but most of it seemed bothersome to me, (especially the character Levi.) I felt as though I enjoyed the exploration and combat the most, it was always fun exploring a new planet, and fighting enemies never got boring, regardless of the repeating content. Ultimately, I did think it also would have been incredibly nice to see each of the planets have more varied content instead of just the same things over and over again.

Kind of going back into the voice acting a bit, having to hear the same lines over and over at outposts on completely different planets made my ears feel sorry after a while, as the lines voiced by the generic outpost leaders sounded pretty bad. I also kept feeling like the crew aboard the Equinox was mostly unlikable. Any feelings I had towards the crew was mostly negative to the point where I felt like Ubisoft should have just made a Star Fox game. I actually thought the Legion was a bit interesting though, shame they were the enemy of the game since they were a lot more interesting than most of the Starlink Initiative crew.  Overall I can say that I liked this game enough to the point where I could say I’d recommend the digital version, since it comes with more content. It’s a fun game and I can’t really say there are too many like it. I heard someone compare Starlink to No Man’s Sky, I would say that’s a reasonable assessment. I felt there was similarities in at least the way planets feel they are designed, along with wildlife scanning but to a much lesser extent. I felt like Starlink’s combat and control were far superior to No Man’s Sky as well, as everything felt very fluent and refined. So with all of that, Starlink: Battle for Atlas is a solid game in the things It does right. Anyone who enjoys sci-fi space ship combat mixed with a typical Ubisoft game will find enjoyment out of this one, even with the games cringe worthy cast of characters it was still something I was able to put a little over 40 hours into. I feel comfortable enough to say that Starlink: Battle for Atlas is a fine experience worth checking out…, so long as you decide to purchase the digital version…

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