Ever wanted to fly around in space? To build up a little squad of ships, equip them with badass weapons and take on the universe? Distant Star is a Rogue-Lite with Real Time Strategy combat that allows you to do that, then crushes those dreams under its firm-but-fair fist.
Okay, lets deal with the elephant in the room here first of all: Distant Star: Revenant Fleet is a lot like FTL: Faster Than Light. That’s not inherently a bad thing and it differentiates itself in some major ways but the fact remains that a lot of its core structure is similar to FTL (or Flotilla if you want to go a bit further back.) The bulk of the game take place in combat but between battles you guide your rag tag group of ships from point to point in a series of maps dealing with randomised events and traders along the way gaining loot, money, more ships and so on. It’s all very familiar but very well crafted. Each of my playthroughs felt different enough to be interesting and to get its hooks in, bringing me back for more and more.
The story isn’t necessarily super interesting. There’s a space war going on, space people are flying around doing space things shooting other space people and you’re trying to make it back to your space people to space aid in the space battles with the space enemy. It’s enough to get you going but nothing to write home about. The individual events encountered on a per-system basis are generally pretty fun or at least enough to set up the impending battle. There’s a lot of retaking colonies or opportunities to take revenge on people, destroy defectors, fight with pirates, defend defectors from the other side and lots of other stuff to keep it interesting.
Almost every one of these events has an option that starts a battle which in a lot of ways is the real meat of the game. Battles are an RTS affair with each of the ships in your squad taking the role as one of your units. Positioning is key as your ships have a limited amount of shield but can recover by staying out of fire for long enough. These are restricted by the class of ship, so no equipping the healing stuff to the non-healing ship. In every battle I played the enemy had significantly more ships than I did and also warped in as waves (sometimes literally on top of my ships which is incredibly annoying) and they are often very difficult. Leaving a ship in the wrong position for even a second too long could be the difference between a loss and a victory. It’s all very fast paced and strategic and incredibly fun if you’re into RTS combat. The balancing is still changing pretty often in its Early Access state and the latest update actually made the whole thing quite a bit easier. It still ramps up and gets a lot more difficult as you progress but in particular the first few systems are now a lot less punishing than they were when I started the preview.
Each ship in your squad can also be equipped with different weapons and equipment which can be activated in a fight adding another layer of usefulness to them and separating the ships into different use classes. Pulse ships for example can soak up a decent amount of hits and tend to have area of effect equipment such as repair pulses that fix up ships in the area or blasts that can take out smaller ships. Enemies also seem to have these abilities however and being able to counter an enemy’s attack can be the deciding factor in a close battle.
Currently, Distant Star is in Early Access on Steam, which the developers are putting to good use. Since I started playing it for this preview it has been updated multiple times with significant increases in content, major updates to the balance of the game and much more. Even without the promise of updates the amount of content currently in Distant Star is more than enough to recommend it but given the frequency of the updates it’s pretty much a must buy if you’re okay with paying for Early Access. If you are of the “I’ll wait till it’s done” persuasion then this is still one that’s worth keeping an eye on.