Eternal Starlight — VR RTS Done Right

Humans have finally left the solar system and mastered interstellar travel. Establishing a base of operations, it’s soon apparent that not only are we not alone in the universe but not all aliens come in peace. Interstellar war is inevitable but the odds aren’t in your favour in Eternal Starlight.

Eternal Starlight is a real time strategy game akin; in its most basic comparison; to Homeworld, but instead of point and click controls the player is transported into the theatre of operations as an almost omnipotent strategic observer able to influence attack strategy on any allied vessel. Change the attack vector, create a pincer strategy, attack the blind spot, all options are available to you at any time

If you’ve ever seen the 2013 sci-fi action movie Ender’s Game then imagine a slightly more simplified version of its battle simulator. A fully controlled, 3D representation of your armada against that of the enemy. The ability to zoom and rotate the battlefield perspective at the flick of a wrist and focus on any part of the conflict when it’s needed. Grab a vessel and plot out it’s movement through space and attack your enemies either directly or indirectly. Use vertical motion and horizontal motion together to create opportunities to damage your opponent without taking a full broadside from their big guns.

Human history is apparently doomed to repeat itself ad nauseum. We see a space and we assume it’s ours for the taking regardless of the indigenous species and even though Eternal Starlight‘s brightest humans have mastered space travel we still think if we can get somewhere we have a right to claim it and that’s what’s happened here. In a turn up for the books, humans have acted exactly as we have done hundreds of times before and refused to back down but since we are the protagonist heroes we are up for a righteous scrap for territory.

Fight or Flight

Not everyone in the immediate area hates us though and some species are willing to work with us if we only would spend a little time assisting them with their own problems. We might even get rewarded with a ship or some decent technology. It’s a good idea too since the aliens we’ve upset have given us seven days to get the hell out of dodge or face the wrath of their armada.

That pattern forms the basis for the Eternal Starlight campaign and should you complete various missions for different races you can gain better equipped ships or new weapons upon which to meet the enemy head on after the first ultimatum. It’s clear though you can’t please everyone and different storylines intertwine to gain favour with one race whilst potentially sabotaging your relationship with another so it’s important to play to your strengths if you want the best chance to drive back the enemy.

As you complete missions, credits are earned and equipment is salvaged. These can be used to buy new ships or weapons periodically from the supply store. You can also equip anything in your cargo on any ship in your fleet between missions if you have the weapon or mod slot available. The store also allows you to expand each ship’s capabilities. More shields, hull strength, speed and number of fighters can be purchased but it is also possible to unlock additional weapon or mod slots giving players plenty of options to fight the enemy.

Magic Hands

The strategic options are interesting and varied depending on your own preference. Do you go with the numbers and simply buy lots of ships and max out fighters or do you create an absolute tank and add massive amounts of weaponry knowing it’s the only ship you have? It’s your choice.

A skirmish mode allows players to create scenarios from any ships encountered or unlocked to get in some practice or simply to have a shorter play experience. It’ll keep you playing and it’s also an opportunity to learn the strengths of some of your allies’ ships giving you some foresight into potential paths to take in the campaign.

Graphics are good but it’s the scaling that’s most interesting. Grabbing a ship and moving your hands apart — like stretching dough — zooms in. It can either get you in on the action or be used to investigate enemy ships and show where the weapon emplacements are. It scales fast though and one second the entire battlefield, ships, stars and asteroids are in the palm of your hand and the next it’s like Battlestar Galactica is roaring past you in your living room.

The scenario-based story is a few hours long but each mission only takes 10 minutes so those without full VR legs can still enjoy it in a few sittings. You do however need a fairly good space to play in as even though you can do nearly everything standing still, you will find yourself moving around in the thick of battle. New players may also find it difficult to locate all their armada in hectic situations but it’s not long before moving around the 3D space becomes second nature.

A great start to what could be a standout franchise in VR, Eternal Starlight is easy to pick up and hard to stop playing with enough variety in both its story and skirmish modes to keep you returning.

Eternal Starlight is available now on PC & Oculus.

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