Star Traders: Frontiers review

The new pinnacle of PC-to-mobile ports

The Trese Brothers should be considered a ‘house name’ in mobiles games – for years they’ve been quietly toiling away at their own series of inter-connected RPG and strategy games, from Star Traders Elite, to turn-based strategy favourite Templar Battleforce (which sits in our list of the best mobile strategy games for a reason). Other than some updates and regular sales they’ve been rather absent from our handheld screens of late, but for one astonishingly good reason: Star Traders: Frontiers.

For those not in the know, Star Traders: Frontiers is an open-world/sandbox style sci-fi RPG where you, as a ‘Star Trader’ and captain of your very own ship, must try to make a living in a hostile and unforgiving universe. It can be considered the spiritual (if not direct) sequel to the original Star Traders RPG released in 2011. You can customise your captain however you want in terms of looks and starting traits/stats, which will effect what kind of playstyle you want to try and follow. There’s also a range of basic ship types to get you going, and more can be unlocked by playing.

Frontiers started life as a PC game (which enjoyed a successful Kickstarter), so this is a port of a title that’s been available on Steam since its Early Access launch in November 2017. The game launched into 1.0 in August last year, and since then has received countless free content updates big and small. It’s a state of affairs that will expand to include the mobile version, which is excellent for the game’s longevity on all platforms.

The sheer diversity within the game is its strongest asset. A key gameplay pillar is, naturally, trading – there are plenty of basic and lucrative trade goods to find all over the game’s world. Buy low, sell high, and there are ratings available to give you an indication on how good the price is (although, don’t take it as bible – some of the lower rated goods can yield better profits if you find the right buyer).

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Beyond this, there’s variations on the trading game such as smuggling and black market trading and, of course, you could turn into a pirate and just steal everyone else’s goods. You can also ignore commerce completely and go down a more military-focused route, or even make a living chasing down rumours, exploring dangerous wildlands, and fighting alien monstrosities.

Trading alone can quickly become a bit of a sterile experience, however, and doesn’t really achieve anything other than making money. You will start with an initial pool of contacts across a few factions (mainly your ‘home’ faction), which you can approach to take on ‘quests’ – missions that vary depending on the contact.

Factions are always allying and fighting each other, even engaging in trade bans (which makes honest trading difficult), so the missions you will get asked to do will slot into these contexts. The more influence you gain with a contact, the more bonuses they’ll net you, and some will even introduce you to further contacts, expanding your network and allowing you to earn reputation with more factions.

There are some light elements of strategy to this game, although it’s not really a full-blown ‘strategy’ RPG like Fire Emblem. You can engage in both space combat and ground combat – both are static affairs that involve you selecting abilities and actions in turn order, and simply pounding away at each other until one side folds or dies.

In ship combat you can mount a wide array of weapons that work better at different distances, and you can even close in to board. You can equip your crew with various guns and melee weapons, with some jobs roles specialising in ground combat. It works well enough, although it reminds me of the Pokémon games at times – you’re walking (flying) around minding your own business and suddenly a trash-tier Pidgey (pirate) jumps you.

Coming to STF on mobile, especially having come from the PC version, has been a remarkably seamless transition. I’m impressed with how robust the experience is even playing it on a phone – the UI has been reduced in a way that still leaves the information accessible (more or less) but leaves plenty of real-estate free so you can see your ship and what’s around it as you travel through space.

But it’s easy to look at things through rose-tinted glasses because Frontiers is such a good PC port, and a welcome breath of fresh air in the current app marketplaces. As a game it’s not without some faults. Like the original game, Frontiers’ openness can be almost intimidating – you’re not always sure what to do. Trying to learn everything on the fly, naturally, comes with some trial and error.

Another element of the game that’s both a boon and a curse, especially for new players, is how Frontiers’ game world is persistent. The factions are always interacting with each other around you, and major plot elements and the game ‘eras’ will progress whether you’re directly influencing the story or not. You’re quite quickly introduced to two ‘main’ plot threads you can follow from the off, which you can choose to ignore, but eventually they will expire.

This idea of being left behind can actually be quite stressful for someone learning the ropes. Getting a quest done in time is one thing, but failing a major quest because you’re trying to do everything in time as well as explore and learn how the game works can be frustrating.

It sometimes leads you into situations you’re not equipped to handle as well: unlike other RPGs of this nature (more of which can be found on our best mobile RPGs list), the game doesn’t quite lead you along a progression curve that lets you meet each new ‘escalation’ on equal footing. Whiz through things too quickly and you may end up fighting an opponent you can’t win against. Whether you’re playing with permadeath or not, it can be a jarring set-back.

It’s great to exist in a persistent universe – one that has such a wealth of content to pull the player through, but it can get a bit overwhelming for a newcomer, and the game doesn’t inherently possess many systems to help deal with that. You either adapt, or you end up dying a lot – we recommend if you’re struggling to take a break and go read some gameplay guides and tips videos. Even just a little bit of ‘behind-the-scenes’ knowledge will help smooth over any gameplay wrinkles you’re encountering.

The Trese Brothers have come a long way since their earlier releases, but it’s great to see how their games keep getting better and better. Star Traders: Frontiers is a new pinnacle of not only their own personal work, but also of PC-to-mobile ports in general, and an excellent addition to the roster of premium mobile games. If any of Frontiers’ traits appeal to you, then this is absolutely a must buy.

Star Traders: Frontier review

An excellent sci-fi SRPG that will provide countless hours of fun once you get over its initially intimidating scope.