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Starborn Wanderers Review – Trying To Go Big And Go Home

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Platforms: iOS
Publisher: Game Insight
Developer: Game Insight
Release Date: August 1, 2013

This just in: space is big. Like really, really big. So if you’re going to set an RPG in space, it should feel vast, like there’s no lack of things to do or places to go. Game Insight tries to do that with “Starborn Wanderers,” its mobile sci-fi RPG that has players trying to save a human race that’s abandoned one home and had another destroyed.  The result is rough around some of its edges but still accomplishes much of what it sets out to do.

In the future imagined for “Starborn Wanderers,” humanity believed it found a permanent home out in the stars on a planet dubbed Terra Nova. That changed the day a massive alien craft dubbed the Ravager blew the world to smithereens, forcing the remnants of society to cling to the hopes embodied by Phoenix Station and the Wanderers, gifted pilots who represent the last line of defense. Can a suitable new world be found – or possibly even Earth?

As a rookie on the fast track to becoming the newest Wanderer, the answers to those questions lie primarily in your hands. A multi-part mission gets you on your way, teaching you the finer parts of navigation, spaceship-to-spaceship combat, accepting contracts, and more. You also begin to find out about man’s relationships with other prominent spacefaring races and delve into the history of the Wanderers and their not-very-creatively-named enemies, the Dark Wanderers.

Most quests involve combat, which avoids the tricky question of touchscreen controls by utilizing a turn-based system. While this might seem strange for something as dynamic as a space battle, it works because you only have a few seconds to choose your actions and the ships stay in constant motion the whole time. During your turn, you can use consumables or fire missiles before ending with one of your basic attacks. There’s also a combo system that promises some additional strategy but mostly nullifies it by including a single button that takes out the guesswork.

Credits and XP are the main rewards for winning battles and turning in quests. The former can buy you new ships and equipment for your vessels, but while the developers’ promise that you’ll get to fly a variety of different ships is correct, their customization is partially an illusion. All ships have slots into which you can place weapons and other devices, but usually you’ll just be mounting better versions of the stuff you already have. Some more actual variety would have been nice.

As for the XP, leveling up increases your character’s ability to harness Alpha Energy, which works in a way very similar to a mysterious force from a galaxy far, far away. Alpha attacks give you several more options in combat, and defeated enemies sometimes drop more energy that you can tap to collect, meaning you aren’t always just waiting around for your turn.

Between quests that advance the main storyline (which eventually leads you to be able to accept missions from alien races as well), you can take on contracts to make some extra space dough. This isn’t a bad thing on its own, except that the cash required for some of the main missions basically forces you to grind out contracts at times – and they get repetitive even though they refresh every so often. Some contracts require you to buy and sell items, which isn’t as interesting as it could be since the game only appears to have a living economy. At least mining, which by now is a staple of sci-fi RPGs, involves a skill-based mini-game.

On the presentation side, “Starborn Wanderers” suffers from a bit of a split personality. The graphics and sound are above average, and there are little touches like the animated docking sequences at space stations that stand out. Then there’s the dialogue, which won’t be making anyone’s “best of” lists this year. There appear to be some localization issues that make random conversations make less sense, and some NPCs tell you the same thing remotely that they do in person. It occasionally makes for a weird, somewhat disjointed experience.

Microtransactions allow the real money purchase of new ships and some powerful gear, but Game Insight has balanced things enough that they don’t feel like necessities. The only thing that raises some cynicism is hyperspace fuel – warping between space sectors depletes your pool, which replenishes over time. You can also pay to get more immediately, and the folks behind the game are obviously hoping some players do.

It’s clear that “Starborn Wanderers” is going for a sprawling, epic type of feel, which is what a space-based RPG should be. It doesn’t quite get all the way there, but it’s pleasant and good-looking enough to be worth a free download to see if you can ever get humanity to its new home, wherever it may be.

Verdict

+ Turn-based space battles and mining mini-game are fun and different

+ Has some visual flair

– Plenty of content, but some of it gets repetitive

– Clunky dialogue is definitely not a highlight

Score: 7.5/10