Galaxy on Fire: Alliances Preview
We already know that the next entry in the Galaxy on Fire series, subtitled Alliances, will be very different from the previous games. Instead of a story-driven, singleplayer space shooter, this time around the developers at Fishlabs are taking a leaf out of Eve Online's book, and creating a sandbox cooperative game of intergalactic domination, based around the strategic acquisition of resources, and the colonization of entire solar systems.
At this year's Gamescom in Cologne, we have the opportunity to get a look at the game in action, and the first thing that impresses us is the sheer size of the gaming world. Like Eve Online, the team plan to run the game as a single server at launch, and there'll be something like 100,000 solar systems for players to squabble over collectively.
The reason for that fighting is very simple - it's all about the resources. Each planet in each solar system is just waiting to be colonized, and every planet will have a certain mixture of precious gases, crystals and metals ready for extraction. These extraction facilities can be upgraded over time to become more efficient, giving players more and more materials to create defensive and offensive forces, or to simply expand into new territories altogether.
It raises a natural question of just how expansion will be limited. It's no good, after all, if a time-rich player can simply head into the game, colonize the entire universe, and then sit back and reap the rewards while others struggle to collect the bare minimum of resources needed to get started. Fishlabs' Kai Hitzer explains just how player ambition will be kept in check.
"It's down to the level cap that's driven by your Commander, " he says. "You'll choose from a faction, and your Commander will also be able to specialize in certain skills, and he will level up. Every time you finish a structure, job or task you get some experience points, and your level will determine your planet cap, your ship cap, and so on.
"Initially, you level up quickly to get up to speed. But as the Commander increases in level, it becomes increasingly harder to increase his level again, and further levels don't award as much cap."
Notably, this is also the first free-to-play entry in the series, and purchasable currency units can be used to speed up construction operations. So how will the tam balance keeping the game satisfying and relevant for light spenders, without allowing so-called gaming "whales" to come in, spend a fortune of real money on credits within the game, and adopt a pay-to-win position?
"If all your planets are conquered, your Commander stays intact," explains Kai. "If I lose all my planets, I'm back in my home system which is always secured with at least three planets. And I can rebuild from there, and even keep some resources in there. Then I can re-enter the arena and start to re-conquer planets. These limiting protective factors seem to work quite well already in the beta."
"Also, you're going to earn some coins from completing missions, and we'll also have something like a daily raffle. Then of course, you could buy credits if you wanted. But we hope to find the balance that enables people to participate in the game without spending a lot of money. At the same time, if we do happen to have whales, they can upgrade that way in the game."
There will of course be strength in numbers, and this is a game designed to be played collaboratively. To assault another planet, and claim it for yourself or for your alliance, you're going to need to assemble a fighting force and then travel across the universe to do battle - a process which might take days of real time. Fortunately you can coordinate with your friends to arrive at the same time, ensuring that no one person presents themselves as a lone, weak force. In the post-combat battle reports, you'll even be able to view how each battle played out.
Before those fights begin, however, you're going to need to determine which planets are even worth assaulting in the first place. Various statistics screens will give an overview of the planet's mineral worth, who controls which planet and in conjunction with which other players, and so on. There'll even be the chance to scope out targets remotely.
"You have spy drones that you can deploy," explains Kai. "They can gather information about planets. If they're not successful, you might receive no information, or they might even get detected and give the player a warning that someone's spying. They don't know who's doing the spying, but they know that someone might be coming."
It all sounds very intriguing, devious, and a potentially rich source of war stories. It might be a very different offering for fans of the series, but if Fishlabs can strike the right balance with its free-to-play model, and deliver on its single-server technical ambitions, Alliances will be one to watch when it releases towards the end of this year.