In the far future, the New Terran Federation, after a series of wars with alien races, has established dominance over the lion’s share of the galaxy (go humans!). During this long process a mysterious structure was discovered: The Halcyon 6, a ruin from an old precursor race. You have been assigned to establish an outpost there and unlock its secrets. Suddenly, a strange rage of sentient, organic monstrous ships know as the Chruul attack humanity and destroy most of your fleet. After escaping, you make it, barely, to your station to discover that you have lost contact with everyone, you have only one officer left, and now you need to try to re-establish contact with the other colonies on earth, find a way to replenish your dwindling resources and build a new fleet to repel the attacks of the opportunistic pirates and aliens that will jump at this opportunity. Welcome to Halcyon 6: Starbase Commander.
Halcyon 6: Starbase Commander puts you in control of an ancient starbase. Its developers bill it as a 3X game, a bit of a call back to Civilization style games, often called 4X for the four pillars of its gameplay (exploration, expansion, exploitation, and extermination). In this case, the “X” that is missing belongs to expansion. When you start the game, you will be control of a large area of what used to be the territory of the now defunct New Terran Federation. This territory is littered with different celestial bodies around that can be dead, or become resource generators. Some provide materials, dark matter, crew, or fuel. Much of the first hours of your playthrough will be spent visiting your remaining generators over and over to get the resources you need to grow your fleet, and maybe even get a second one.
Occasionally you will have to defend some of these resource generators, and that means engaging in combat. Halcyon 6 features a traditional JRPG battle system. Both fleets, made of three ships each, fight in a turn based style system; however, unlike most systems the trick is not to be so overpowered that you press attack and dismantle the enemy without much thought, instead Halcyon 6’s system primarily revolves around status effects. Certain attacks will cause status effects that will make attacks from other ships hit much harder, and often cause status effects of their own. Success in space combat depends on your ability to chain these status effects with the ships on your fleet, while trying to keep your own ships status free and healthy.
This means that a good player, with a little luck can easily punch above their class. There are tiers of ships, which are unlocked following the simple tech tree featured in Halcyon 6. There are five tiers, and unlike other 4X games, or game like XCOM, which this game seems to draw significant inspiration from, enemy tech seems to unlock as you hit specific triggers rather than by playing long enough. These triggers are usually tech tree based, but they can also driven by the game’s narrative. Regardless, even if they are tech based, it will mean that at some point you will have under powered ships, but if you are good enough at using the combat system, you can have some amazing, narrow wins against much stronger opponents. It also makes the combat more involved than just pressing attack until everything dies, which makes it a lot of fun. Understanding this is also a requisite for defeating the bosses.
This can get complex. There are five tiers of ships divided in three different classes that in turn have two sub-classes each. To fly a ship, you also need a captain, who are also divided in these three classes, and have their own abilities, in addition to those of the ship. So you must make sure that you pair up your captains with ships that are designed to take advantage of their abilities and pair those with ships piloted by captains and ships that compliment each other. It is a deceptively complex system, but one that is still not immune to power creep from your fleets. Depending on the outcome of battles, your officers will acquire traits that can make them more power in victory, and weaker in defeat. For example, if you were forced to withdraw from a specific enemy, you may get a trait that effectively makes you weaker to that enemy. What this means is that you will most likely have a “primary fleet” that handles the tough encounters and will get easily overpowered at some point.
Halcyon 6 showcases a base building component similar to the one found in XCOM, where you must clear rooms before being able to build in them. It is almost an afterthought, and even after building most available rooms, I still had plenty of room in my base. However, in order to get a lot of these rooms to function, an officer of appropriate level must man it. Particularly during late game, it becomes a challenge of defending your territory while taking your higher level officers off of a fleet for a few days to perform a specific function, some of which will be necessary for the plot. And so it will be in your best interest to train more officers than you have ships, as officers also have their own abilities, which are improved with their own skill trees.
What you will be doing for most of the first half of the game is actually ferrying resources back from your territory to your base while fending off the occasional enemy incursion. You will also do some exploring and some combat with your officers, but not as much as you’d expect. The second half is much more combat heavy. This can get fairly monotonous, and while it can be interesting to manage your resources to accommodate for these threats I found the only two I was ever short on were officers and crew (mostly because building the higher tier ships and training officers is very crew-intensive). But the gameplay can get very repetitive, even with the change of focus in the middle of the game. If you do not enjoy the combat in this game, then you will hate the second half. However, this wasn’t a deal breaker once I finally realized, after making it about one third through the game, that Halcyon 6 is not really a strategy title so much as it is a narrative heavy RPG with strategy game elements.
What this game is doing is telling a story, and really most of the triggers for things to happen are narrative, not progression based. The factions present aren’t there for the regular faction play of these games, rather they serve a function in the plot. This became evident when I decided to go rogue and destroy one of the home worlds only to find that there was no such option. Approaching this like a strategy game would mean being disappointed with the faction play. Once you approach it as an RPG, then it becomes a part of a plot. There is escalation. There are bosses. The things that sets them apart is that instead of crawling through dungeons, you are tasked with defending your territory.
Halcyon 6 is a long game. Being used to indies being fairly short, I expected the game to end a few times, but in the end it surprised me by providing a fairly long experience. There were two or three points in the game where I would have been okay with the game ending. But instead it kept going, drawing towards an epic final boss battle about 20 hours after I started my first play through. The length of the game can be a good or bad thing depending on whether you like the gameplay. If you don’t enjoy the combat then its length certainly won’t help your situation.
The developers of Halcyon 6 have promised additional content in the coming months, which will do this game a lot of good as currently it is just a bit too repetitive for me to comfortably recommend. It is a good game, with decent base building and resource management gameplay, and with a great combat system, but it is still fairly shallow in its current form. However, the narrative and the novel combat system kept me engaged enough that I wanted it to finish if only too see what the secrets of its narrative were. It bares mentioning that at around 20 hours for a first run, this game does have a lot of value for its price. If this is something that sounds interesting to you, go ahead and pick it up!
This review was performed on code provided by the developer.