First Look: Hades' Star Alpha03 Jan 2017 9
I've mentioned Hades' Star and its ongoing alpha testing a couple times in my News by Numbers column. Having been playing the alpha for a few weeks, I have learned quite a bit about the game and its future so I’m back to dive a little deeper and give you guys a peek of what things are like at the moment.
Hades' Star is a space-based MMO where you are in command of an expedition to the distant Hades' galaxy. It's a futuristic gold rush; advance scouts sent word back that the galaxy is rife for settlement and exploitation. These reports launched thousands of ships sent by corporations and other groups interested in a piece of the action.
As one such enterprise you start Hades' Star with a modest six sectors in a yellow star. This star system is your (relatively) safe zone and the basis of your economy. Your goal, both initially and well into the later game, is to expand outward as quickly as possible. There's plenty of room for that—each yellow-star system has thirty-seven sectors in all. You explore by building short-range scanners that make it possible to reveal and then enter adjacent sectors.
Hades' Star is all about this expansion. Sectors are packed with planets to colonize, asteroids to mine, and enemies to destroy. More planets mean more shipments of diamonds, ore, alloys, and silicon for your transports to shuttle across the solar system to where they are needed most. These shipments are the best way to earn credits—the primary currency in the game and means by which you'll grow your budding galactic empire. A new batch of shipments becomes available on each of your colonized planets, moons, and trade stations (excellent investments you can build once you get up and going) every seven hours.
More asteroids mean more hydrogen to mine. Hydrogen is harvested by miner ships and fuels your transports and gas-guzzling battleships. One key to success in Hades' Star is making sure you are not outstripping your hydrogen production. Luckily, asteroids respawn relatively quickly, so this is not terribly difficult to do so long as you keep expanding and finding more asteroids to keep up with hydrogen consumption.
Battleships are essential to take on the indigenous Cerberus. Yeah, those reports that the Hades Galaxy was uninhabited turned out to be not quite true. The Cerberus have laid claim to it and their sentry ships will engage any ship that enters a sector they control. They also have nasty bases that spit out sentries every 24 hours; I call them Death Stars, though they don't have the handy fatal flaw. Cerberus forces will be scattered throughout your yellow-star system and you'll frequently cross paths.
Combat is fairly simple. Each ship has stats for speed, hull strength, damage per second, and attack range. To fight, you send your battleships within range of your Cerberus foe. All ships focus fire on the first opposing vessel that enters their range until it is destroyed, or they are. You can use tactics like hit-and-run, strafing runs, and luring single sentries closer by encroaching on a sector but not entering their range. You can repair damaged ships by "docking" at any colonized planet.
The real action in Hades' Star is red star runs. For every nice, stable, yellow star there are several red-dwarf stars—unstable, dangerous, and ready to go nova. Red stars have an irresistible allure however: ancient artifacts lay buried upon the surface of planets within these systems. If you recover and research these artifacts you will gain XP, credits, and discover blueprints from an advanced alien race that can be used to upgrade the technology of your ships. Upgrades provide better weapons, shields, and other utilities—like a remote repair module that fixes your ships while in battle. Other blueprints help your transports and miners, such as adding greater carrying capacity.
Risk follows reward, however, and red stars are rife with peril. First, they are infested with Cerberus sentries. There's little chance to recover an artifact without mixing it up with them in combat. Second, and this is a big one, you'll only have ten minutes before the red star goes nova. Ten minutes to get in, fight your way to a planet, extract the artifacts (this takes one minute per artifact), and get back to your temporary wormhole to warp all your ships out.
Travel isn't instantaneous either. It takes anywhere from ten seconds to three or more minutes to travel between objects in Hades' Star. There is a real-time delay that is very similar to Subterfuge, for those who have played, but with much shorter travel durations. This makes for some very tense but super fun adventures.
What Hades' Star has at this point is some intriguing and promising core gameplay. There are absolutely bugs and balance issues—this is an alpha after all—but those are being tracked down and exterminated by the development team. The game is missing more interactive features that players would expect from an MMO, however. There are some social aspects of the game already in place, but Hades' Star is far from its potential on that end. You can establish a diplomatic relationship with another player and send a couple ships to their system to fight Cerberus or transport shipments (you collect a fee and they get the full value of the shipment). You can also collaborate with another player on a red-star run with some advanced coordination. Players can also join corporations, and the idea appears to be to pool resources toward mutual goals, although in the alpha it offers little more than a chat channel.
The developers plan on adding a lot more in terms of collaboration and competition. One of the game's three design pillars is in fact diplomacy and "interacting with other players in a highly political environment that involves friendships, rivalries, unholy alliances and betrayals." They confirmed they have a large and growing list of ideas to this end, but were reluctant to share any front-runners lest they fail to appear for any reason and leave players disappointed. My personal hope is that this goes beyond the usual PVP elements and into things like trade wars and espionage between rival corporations.
Hades' Star will come out of alpha testing at the end of January, if not later. The devs will take some time for further development and then begin the open beta, which will also serve as the game’s soft launch. The game will be free-to-play with optional in-app-purchases of crystals, which can be used to speed up certain tasks—like colonizing a planet or building a new short-range scanner. Crystals can also be converted into credits and thus used to speed up one's progression in the game generally as well.
The IAPs were disabled during the alpha and I can confirm it is certainly possible to make progress without spending a dime. You will earn crystals through shipments and the game's ample achievements. I spoke with the developers about the freemium model and fears of "pay to win" and they acknowledged those concerns. They see free players as essential to the long-term health of the game and are committed to avoiding features and options that make those players feel like they are being cheated in some way because they don't buy crystals.
I've really enjoyed my time playing Hades' Star and am very much looking forward to both the game's launch and seeing where things go from here. If you're interested in playing once the beta launches you can subscribe to updates and track progress on the Hades' Star website, or keep checking back here. We'll provide more info as it becomes available.