Fractured Space first hit Steam Early Access way back in 2014 and is now making its transition to the free-to-play market in preparation for its final release. The developers recently led me through a few matches of the 5v5 space combat game, and while I haven’t had nearly enough time to see how the balance and progression ultimately work out, what I saw left me eager for more.
In space, no one can hear you push the lane.
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The game draws inspiration from the ubiquitous MOBA genre, with team-based pushes toward an enemy base through lanes of progressive control points. Without AI-controlled creeps or towers, however, the focus is squarely on player-versus-player combat between the game’s selection of big, powerful capital ships.
The fast action makes the game far more accessible than its inspirations, but that accessibility doesn’t translate to a lack of depth. The quick, 20-30 minute matches focus heavily on team tactics and smartly timed pushes on enemy holdings, and making smart use of both the environment and your ship’s abilities is essential to success.
As a ship combat game set in space, you’ve got full, three-dimensional control over where you go. The controls feature free mouse aiming and WASD movement, and a few additional keys for rotation and vertical movement. Your ship has a bit more momentum than a typical gun-toting hero, but otherwise maneuvering and aiming feels much like a shooter.
The maps feature two lanes–Alpha and Beta–which you can warp to from your home base. The lanes are randomly chosen from a pool of maps and features like asteroids and space debris will provide cover from enemy attacks. Your goal is to capture the three mining stations and the enemy forward base in each lane, which opens warp access to the enemy home base. Finally, there’s a neutral Gamma sector which opens for capture at set intervals throughout the match, and control of it means big combat buffs for your fleet.
The map layouts and quick warp options make for close matches with a lot of back-and-forth, and a well-timed push or a clutch Gamma sector victory can make the difference between victory and defeat. You level up over the course of a match, but you simply choose whether to boost attack, defense, or utility power. That means there’s no need to learn complicated build orders, which will be a welcome relief for those who find MOBAs impenetrable.
All this ensures the focus is on ship-to-ship combat, which is fast, fun, and exciting. Each ship has a number of basic combat abilities available on cooldowns, with basic left-mouse button shooting recharging almost immediately and more powerful attacks and abilities taking progressively lengthier amounts of time.
The ships fall into three different categories, which take the familiar form of DPS, tank, and utility classes. They all have a great deal of visual variety, and their specific abilities give them diverse roles in battle, as well. You’ll start with three ships in the hangar and unlock more as you play, but I only had the chance to command two in particular.
The Pioneer is a reliable damage-dealer, with a quickly-recharging laser blast and powerful gravity nuke ability. Additionally, it has detection abilities that can reveal enemy ships in the local sector even through cover. The more tank-like Venturer attacks with a mining laser and has an armor-cracking stone breaker rocket. Support abilities let you shield allies and get quick repairs at clutch moments.
Both ships were equipped with homing missiles and point-defense systems to take down enemy missiles, and watching for the telltale sign of incoming artillery to get your defenses in line is an important skill. One enemy ship in particular was capable of sending out drones that could quickly overwhelm my countermeasures, and the developers were frank about their plans for rebalancing in the future.
OS: 64bit Windows 7 SP1 / Windows 8 / Windows 8.1 / Windows 10
Processor: 2.3+ GHz
Memory: 4 GB RAM
Graphics: DX11 with Feature Level 11, SM5
OS: 64bit Windows 7 SP1/Windows 8 / Windows 8.1 / Windows 10
Processor: 3.40 GHz
Memory: 8 GB RAM
Graphics: DX11 with Feature Level 11, SM5
We don’t know yet know when the final release will come. There’s still some very clear test art on certain maps and both progression and ship abilities are constantly being rebalanced, but as of May 19 the Early Access version is available in a free-to-play format for everyone.
While our brief time with the game wasn’t enough to get a feel for how monetization would be balanced, the community has had a largely negative response toward the mechanics being implemented for the title’s switch to free-to-play, with long-time players suggesting that the grind for late game unlocks is too long and too expensive to bypass. I obviously haven’t had enough time with the game to confirm whether that’s a valid criticism or just an established playerbase getting upset that things have changed, but these sorts of concerns are what determines the long-term viability of any online multiplayer game.
With all that being said, I had a great time with the few matches that I had the opportunity to play–despite getting matched against and manhandled by far more experienced players. The ships are weighty enough to feel massive and powerful but maneuverable enough to keep the action fast and fun, and the impressive visuals do a terrific job of selling the space battle fantasy.
The unique control system and exciting combat left me wanting to see more of Fractured Space, which is something very few MOBA-inspired titles have done for me. I’m looking forward to seeing how the final game shapes up, and I definitely recommend checking out the early free-to-play release.
Most Anticipated Feature: I’d like to get all sly and witty here and talk about big space explosions, but honestly the final ingredient is tight balance and a use of free-to-play mechanics that’s not overbearing. If the late game unlocks come at a reasonable pace and don’t overwhelm the other options, Fractured Space could have a terrific future.