By Chris Melchin / October 18th, 2016
|Developer||Edge Case Games|
|Publisher||Edge Case Games|
|Release Date||Sept. 22, 2016 (Open Beta)|
|Genre||MOBA, Third-Person, Strategy, Free to Play|
|Age Rating||N/A (all-ages)|
Fractured Space has been around for a while now, in open alpha on Steam. It’s free to play, but until a few months ago it was only playable by purchasing founder’s pack DLC, which includes an assortment of ships, in-game currency and items, depending on which one you get. More recently it’s also possible to start from nothing, with only the free ships and picking up more as you go through in-game or premium currency.
Fractured Space is a 5v5 MOBA-esque competitive game, with each player taking control of a massive capital ship to fight over control of five sectors. The end goal is to take over the enemy main base before they capture yours. In order to do that, your team needs to take control of forward stations in the main alpha and beta sectors, which in turn allow your team to jump to the enemy main base to capture it. The alpha and beta sectors also have mines which can be captured to provide your team with extra resources and experience. In addition, there’s the gamma sector, which unlocks for capture periodically throughout the match and provides a significant combat buff to the team that captures it.
That’s the default Conquest mode. There’s also Frontline, which cuts the arena down to a single sector, and is the mode I played at PAX West. It has a 15-minute time limit, after which it goes into sudden death where respawns are disabled. The goal of taking over the enemy main base is the same, but sudden death offers an alternate win condition to limit the length of the matches, while Conquest maps could theoretically go on indefinitely. Frontline is locked at first, unlocking as you level up through playing Conquest.
The main idea with Fractured Space is the importance of teamwork, where two ships will always overpower a single opponent at an equivalent skill level, and more ships can compensate for a wider skill gap. Knowing your ship’s strengths and weaknesses is very important, as is knowledge of the enemy’s abilities, how you work together with your teammates, and how to best position yourself to maximize your ship’s efficiency.
Ships in Fractured Space generally fall into three size classes and three categories: light, medium and heavy, and attack, defense and utility. Lighter ships are usually faster and more maneuverable, while heavier ships can withstand and deal out more punishment before dying. Attack ships are standard damage-dealers, defense ships are tanks, and utility ships provide support through healing, weakening enemies or other means. Different weight classes feel very different to use, with light attack ships more capable of escaping from fights while heavier ships are designed more to fight it out. My general playstyle in games like this is very aggressive, which lends itself well to heavy, lumbering defense vessels like the TDS Leviathan – my personal favourite – while using lighter ships often ends in me failing to escape from dangerous situations and dying. In addition to the weight classes and categories, different ships all have different abilities and roles, operating at different ranges to give themselves an advantage. Even primary weapons behave wildly differently, with some ships using burst-fire guns, others capable of sustained fire, and still others having beam weapons. The sheer level of variety makes it likely that you’ll find something that resonates with you, especially when taking into account the different kinds of extra abilities and traits each ship has.
Ship designs are varied yet cohesive, with each of the three in-game manufacturers – Titan Defence Systems, United Space Research, and Zarek Industrial – having their own distinctive visual style that makes their ships stand out from the others. As you play more, you learn to recognize frequently-used ships on sight, with each possessing its own unique profile and size. Aside from ambient sounds from your ship and others nearby, sound design is purely functional, with the game delivering a lot of important information through sound effects and voice.
The primary means of escape available is jumping, where after a short spin-up time the ship jumps instantly to one of the fixed jump points around the map. However, during the spin-up, all damage taken is multiplied by four, making it a very risky way to escape without cover from nearby asteroids, stations or allies. Meanwhile, jumping enemies make great targets, especially late in a game of Conquest when the respawn timer is up to a full minute. Focusing fire on one side of an enemy is also useful because you can wear down their armor, making them take more damage from each attack. It’s also important to keep track of your own ammo, and listen to your crew to know when to reorient yourself to protect undefended areas of your ship.
That’s another element of Fractured Space; crew selection. Choosing the right crew gives you different permanent boosts, such as reductions to cooldowns or jump time, boosts to damage and speed, etcetera. They give you audio cues about enemy or ally presence and the state of your ship, which can be critically important if you’re not constantly monitoring everything manually. The HUD is not particularly helpful either, with unclear cues about the state of your armor or that of enemies aside from what you can see on your ship. The mini-map is also unclear, although given that the game is played in all three dimensions it would be difficult to construct a map that would accurately reflect enemies’ positions while still being easy to read at a glance. According to developer Edge Case Games, the HUD is high on their list of things to change, from just being functional to actually being visually appealing as well.
Once you find a ship you like, Fractured Space is quite an enjoyable and, at times, a very intense experience. On the other hand, it’s very possible to choose poorly and spend an entire 10-to-30-minute match stuck with a ship you don’t understand, don’t know how to use properly, or otherwise just don’t enjoy, which can be quite frustrating. It happened to me following an odd bug where I didn’t have access to any of my credits, premium currency, crew members or ships that I’d bought, and spent a match stuck with the Venturer before I got it all back. (I should note that the Venturer is not a bad ship, it just meshes incredibly poorly with my play style, so I did not do very well at all that match.) The game has a firing range to test out ships before buying them, so you can see if you think you’ll be able to enjoy using them. Three ships are available from the start, the Titan Sentinel, the USR Pioneer, and the Zarek Venturer, with more available through founder’s packs, other DLC, or in-game purchases with free or premium currency.
Fractured Space is for people who like MOBAs and other team-based strategy games, but with a different perspective and pace. The durable, slow-moving ships give fights a more methodical pace, with everything requiring proper positioning, forethought and planning or else you’ll likely get trapped and killed by the opponent. However, it’s still possible to turn the tables in a heartbeat with strategic jumping. It forces you to have full spatial awareness, since enemies can approach from any direction, and carefully positioning yourself to maximize your damage output. If that sounds like it will catch your interest, it’s free-to-play on Steam so you lose nothing by giving it a shot. It’s still in open development, and Edge Case Games is listening to their player base and responding to their feedback.
Base game free-to-play, with starter DLC provided by publisher for review.
Edge Case GamesFractured Spacefree to playMOBASteam