I’m one of those people who likes the idea of EVE Online but doesn’t have the time or the mettle to actually play it. I’ve certainly tried but quickly discovered that it would take an extraordinary amount of time spent space mining and fighting off AI and player controlled-pilots before getting a chance to participate in one of those big, crazy huge events that you hear about every so often.
On the other hand, free-to-play MMO Hades’ Star is a bit more my speed. Enclosed within a persistent universe, you’ll spend time building an empire from the ground up and sustain it through trading, exploration, colonization, and the occasional bout of aggressive expansion. With a presentation that’s far more manageable and easier to understand than EVE’s complex system of menus, windows, and tabs, Hades’ Star appears to be a great alternative for people like me who don’t have the time and energy for EVE. You’ll still have to put in a lot of work and progression is a bit arduous but it’s far less complicated and chaotic than the CCP MMO.
Set in the distant future, it’s your job to adapt to the random pocket of space you’re dropped into and make it thrive. Your humble beginnings start with a couple of planets to colonize, asteroids to mine, and the means to establish star bases. Everything in the game is built around the process of making enough money to purchase various upgrades and satellites that’ll help you expand your burgeoning empire. The first hour is spent learning the ropes and understanding the game flow that involves sending out transports to deliver cargo to and from planets for cash and use mining ships to harvest hydrogen. Representing the bulk of the gameplay experience, all these tasks are easy to perform, using a simple system of contextual menus and mouse clicks. Ships fly themselves so all you have to do is click on an area of space and tell it to “go.”
This part of the game is, admittedly, its slowest and least exciting. Where things get really interesting are the discovery of special stars that enable special missions and PvP. Building a Red Star scanner will unlock timed missions that have you sending battleships to clear planets and transports to acquire special items within a short window of time before the star goes nova and destroys anything left in the system. The riches found here are special artifacts that can improve your units and capabilities. There’s a real sense of urgency of getting your ships in, transferring artifacts and getting out before the place goes up in flames. Adding to the tension is the time it takes for artifacts to be loaded, which keeps your eye glued on the ticking clock. Other stars are reserved for players that team up under the banner of a corporation, allowing a group of like-minded people to harvest materials for the good of their organization. White and Blue stars are pocket portions of space that allow for some semblance of player versus player combat, where one team must fend off another’s battleships and transports and claim the riches for themselves. Blue stars are limited to battleships for more naval encounters.
However you choose to play Hades’ Star is certainly up to you. I mostly played by myself because it seemed like every corporation suggested to me was big on active participation and as someone who works two jobs, I’d be nervous about making any sort of commitment.
The game features mechanics familiar to the free-to-play genre. First, accomplishing tasks takes time. Whether it’s traveling from one colony to another, building a battleship, researching technology, or scanning an unknown region of space, you’re going to have to wait for things to get done. These assignments occur in real-time, ranging anywhere from three minutes to an hour. Revealing new sectors takes four hours. Ideally, you’ll do other things to fill the time but because you’re pretty limited with how many ships you can have on hand, you’re going to encounter a lot of downtime. Because the gameplay is persistent, that time continues to count down even if you’re not playing. And don’t expect to get all the cool stuff right out of the gate. The transport errands you’ll perform seem to offer something a little more than chump change, leaving you stuck in the mud as far as generating income is concerned. You can get some nice financial boosts by taking on various objectives. Or, you could just spend real money to buy up virtual currency.
Speaking of which, everything costs money. Upgrading planetary colonies, researching new tech, building ships, and jumping to different systems comes at a cost. Credits and Hydrogen are two of the most common. Credits are rewarded for leveling up, transporting cargo, completing objectives, and analyzing artifacts from star systems. Hydrogen is another form of currency that mostly governs ship movements and activates certain add-on modules. These currencies work hand in hand in developing your empire but there’s one questionable thing about it: storage caps. If you reach the cap for credits and hydrogen, you can’t earn more until you upgrade planets, a cost that increases each time you do it. In my case, I was overloaded with hydrogen but credits were low and it would take several sessions to build up the amount of money needed for these upgrades. Two options were left to me: use crystals to cover the difference in cost or purchase what I needed with real money from the in-game store. Crystals are premium currency, one that speeds up the time to finish a task and the aforementioned means to cover large costs. Hades’ Star is generous with crystals at the start but the more you work, the more crystals are needed, leaving you to feel left in the lurch a little bit. You can still earn them without having to spend money but they come at a trickle.
Hades’ Star is all about micromanaging your galactic empire. Just like EVE Online, you’re going to have to put in the work and time to get yourself in a position to see and do some really cool stuff. The start of the game is pretty slow going. As such, your play sessions probably won’t last more than 15 to 30 minutes, revealing even more that this is a port of a mobile game you can find on the App Store right now. As far as free-to-play games go, Hades’ Star is familiar territory, mechanically speaking. It makes little demand for your time and you’re free to spend money to speed things up if you want, no harm, no foul. Other than that, the game is solidly built, the soundtrack is a bit boring, but there’s really nothing overly offensive about it. The question is whether or not you’re willing to put in the time. I’m concerned with how little there is for you to do during those sessions where you’re doing nothing more than trying to earn money but at the end of the day, it’s a nice way to take a break from computer work and video editing like I did during the making of this review.
Librarian by day, Darkstation review editor by night. I've been playing video games since the days of the Commodore 64 and I have no interest in stopping now that I've made it this far.