When I originally heard about the ambitious real-time strategy project from Nexon called Shattered Galaxy, where they would create a massively multiplayer world of perpetual war, I was a bit skeptical. I had visions of one giant tank rush and of overlord players running around stomping every new person to strap on their combat boots.
To say I was pleasantly surprised is putting it mildly. Far from the frag-fest I was expecting, Shattered Galaxy actually shows more strategic prowess than most turn-based games.
It’s a different type of strategy however than most are used to. You control between six and twelve units depending on your command skill and are often one of several hundred units participating in any engagement. So you have to use your troops with great skill, putting them where they can do the most good, and where your overall army can gain the most benefit. Sometimes this means you will have to sacrifice your units to hold or take strategic ground, and sometimes it means you will be able to perform battlefield heroics in the case of your unit’s specialized skills being needed at the right place and time.
There are four main factions battling for control of the planet that you are fighting over. There are supposed to be other planets but they either don’t exist yet or you have to be of a very high level before you can travel there. All the factions are player-controlled, which in a way is a disadvantage. You don’t really know the history or the general politics of the different factions, so initially joining one that you will fight for is pretty much random. You don’t have any basis for your decision.
Once you belong to a faction you can read the player-generated public relations talking about what the group stands for, but for the most part they all say stuff like, "We will conquer this planet and kill the others." Great guys, I can really rally behind that. I wanted to quit my faction based on spelling errors alone. But anyway, if you can get over the fact that you don’t really know why you are fighting, then you can have a great time.
The interface you have with your troops is interesting. You start out as a low-level commander in four different services. Each service contains a different type of troop, be it infantry, mobile, the air force or the bio corps. You can also make a mixed force with several of each, though I found this to be for the most part difficult based on the different move speeds and attributes of the various units. Combined arms do not work well with only six units. So making a dedicated single-role force and then combining that with the strength of the rest of the army is the way to go.
As your troops gain experience, they are promoted. And as the troops get promoted, so does their commander – that’s you. As you gain rank in each of the different services, you gain points that can be used to improve your character. Spending points wisely allows you access to higher quality troops, put more troops on the field, or customize your troops more effectively. Interestingly enough, you can be a general in one service and still be a peon in another. This however lets you gain promotions by working with your high-level troops from your expert service while having a token contingent from a lower ranking service. The lower ranked troops will gain experience relatively safely, and you will get promoted in that service, earning more points for your personal character.
Three of the services also offer unique customization options. You can go into a garage-like facility and tinker with your troops. So you can take out a large engine in a tank for a smaller one to make room for a bigger gun. One of the personal character skills lets you cheat a bit on the weight limits based on your technical knowledge.
The bio service does not have customization options because the biological troops, basically miniature monsters that can eventually grow to Godzilla size, evolve on their own. As they gain levels, they mutate into more powerful forms. The interesting thing is that they often don’t mutate right away, so you sometimes have to wait a day before this happens.
In battle, if your troops get killed, they don’t permanently die. You can go back to your capitol city after the battle and have dead troops repaired. This cost resources, but you get a share of all the resources collected by your faction in provinces they own all the time. If your faction is controlling large sections of the planet, then you should get a steady stream of resources deposited into your account. I never had a resource problem as a result. You can also go out and collect resources using troops equipped with cargo holds if you need some extra ore quickly.
The graphics in Shattered Galaxy are nice, though not eye popping. My guess is that with thousands of people playing, super-realistic 3D graphics would become a bandwidth hog. As it stands, I only rarely experienced lag problems. If a battle becomes too packed, it is temporarily closed so that lag does not become an issue. The only complaint I have in the graphics department is that after a while, all the terrain starts to look the same. There is a bit of a limited tile set.
Despite the lack of an overall plot or even special event missions, new players will quickly feel at home. When you get to your first battle with your wimpy six troops, it may seem like you are about to be swallowed by all the action going on around you. If you have a good battlefield commanded they will often direct you where you are needed, or you can find your own place. You are so comparatively small and weak when you start that the overlords won’t even bother to step on you for the most part.
My first time out I got to be a hero. I had six bio troops and there was about five minutes left in the battle when I arrived, though they had been fighting for about 20 minutes. To win a sector, an attacker has to change the color of multiple pods around the map. This process takes about 30 seconds per pod to accomplish and during that time you can’t step off the pod or it resets back to the original color. Anyway, my faction had three of the four pods in this sector and had troops guarding previous gains to prevent the enemy from regaining control of a captured area. There was heavy fighting over the final pod. The commander ordered my little contingent of troops to capture the final pod.
When I arrived, there were tanks, giant robots and a fleet of aircraft from both sides fighting in the area. I snuck my troops onto the pod and waited for about the longest 30 seconds of my life while those behemoths battled all around me. Nobody bothered to attack me, for doing so would have pretty much ensured that the perfect balance of powerful forces was disrupted. The offender would have been killed without taking another powerful unit with it. The pod turned to our color just as the game time ran out. We won the sector and I was given a promotion. Not bad for your first day.
The community that plays the game is a group of some of the best people I have encountered online. Battlefield commanders are both helpful and competent and wont mind helping a newcomer learn the ropes. It’s odd to think of someone feeling welcome in a perpetual war, but you will quickly become part of the team and that teamwork will bind you.
Shattered Galaxy cost just $30, plus the standard $10 each month to keep playing. While I think the game is more than worth this in value, I think the developers will need to add some incentives or special missions to the game to hold players’ interest over the long haul. As it stands, Shattered Galaxy gets 4 1/2 GiN Gems for doing the seemingly impossible: creating a massively multiplayer online game that is more than just a series of blind tank rushes.