Coming out of E3, it was safe to say that Starlink: Battle for Atlas was my biggest surprise of the show. Even without the announcement of Star Fox joining up for the Switch release, Starlink caught me off guard simply because of how tight and engaging the ship controls were. That said, I only was able to check it out for a brief period of time at E3 and still didn’t have a great idea as to how the moment-to-moment gameplay would work.
Well, that has now changed, as I was recently able to play Starlink at an extended preview event hosted by Ubisoft a few weeks back. In total, I was able to play around two hours of Starlink in total and once again, came away overly positive in my impressions from this space shooter.
My demo of Starlink began at the opening of the game, where I was able to play as Fox McCloud in his signature Arwing. Fox and the gang’s inclusion in the story actually felt extremely natural from the getgo, which was something I was hesitant about considering they were only added to the game within the past year. If you’d like, you can check out some of these opening moments of the game with Fox and the others in the video above to see more about what I mean.
After playing as Fox for a bit, I then jumped over to the Xbox One version of the game to experience what Starlink has to offer once you get past the opening area. The first noticeable difference was just how improved the graphics were on Xbox One compared to that of Switch. Usually, I’m not one to harp on graphics all that much, but if it’s a major selling point for you and you don’t give a care about Star Fox, I’d definitely recommend you play on PS4 or Xbox rather than Switch.
Once I decided which ship and pilot I wanted to use in this second portion of my demo, the main thing I wanted to try and see within Starlink was how the open world functioned. The ability to travel around from planet to planet was one of the most alluring aspects of Starlink to me on paper but I wasn’t able to move about much in my time with the game at E3. So what did I do? I looked upward and flew out of the planet’s stratosphere and began hurtling towards the next closest planet.
Starlink does contain fast travel once you uncover certain locations but it’s this freedom to explore the universe that I really found to be a ton of fun. It reminded me a lot of No Man’s Sky except instead of needing certain resources in order to travel about, I could just start flying in a new direction and be there shortly. The simple act of flying around in Starlink feels great and I’m excited to just spend more time in this world exploring.
All of this being said, Starlink’s various planets will have certain level gates to ensure that you don’t run rampant and do missions in any order. Much like something like Assassin’s Creed Origins–the most recent example of level-gating I can think of–some planets within Starlink will have higher level enemies that will absolutely wipe you out if you aren’t of a certain level. At one point in my demo, I ran across a group of space pirates that made pretty quick work of me. I know level-gating is often an annoyance to many, but I appreciate that Starlink even has RPG elements like this in the first place. From the small slice of the game that I saw, progression also seems to be interesting, albeit pretty standard. I’ve always been a sucker for growing my character slowly over the course of a game and steadily becoming stronger and Starlink seems to be giving this to me.
One thing I wanted to specifically point out about my time with Starlink is that the toys are really, really cool. It’s important to mention that you absolutely do not need them to play, however, which is something I wasn’t all that keyed into before my demo. If you want to just purchase Starlink digitally, you’ll still have access to everything that you’d have if you purchased the toys. Ubisoft isn’t gating content by requiring you to purchase the toys, which is such a nice change of pace for a Toys-to-Life game since almost none of them ever do this.
That said, the toys are so fun to play with. The snapping of different wings and weapons onto your ships is so satisfying and it has an immediate effect within the game. Having all of the various toys at my disposal for this demo, one of the biggest things that stood out to me was how high-quality the builds were. Even if you don’t want to use the toys while you play Starlink, I could see plenty of people wanting to pick them up just because of how nice the models are. It’s 2018 and Ubisoft once again has me wanting to purchase a bunch of Toys-to-Life and my wallet really hates me for that.
If there are any concerns that I have about Starlink right now, it would be about the content that fills-out the world. Most of the side missions that I played in my time with Starlink were rather repetitive. While there was quite a lot to do on each planet that I traveled to, most of these tasks found me destroying the same enemies or protecting the same objects over and over again. I’m not putting much stock in this just yet considering the tiny sliver of Starlink that I have seen, but if these side missions do prove to be quite repetitive, then it’ll be a bummer. Hopefully, the larger metagame that is at play can keep things lively and engrossing hours into the experience.
Despite there not being much buzz around Starlink: Battle for Atlas among this Fall’s big releases, my time with it has quickly made it jump near the top of my own personal most-anticipated games of the next few months. I’ve said this in the past, but Starlink feels like the natural evolution of Star Fox, which is a comparison that I’d make even if Fox McCloud wasn’t in the game. If you’ve been craving an awesome starship combat game with a massive open world to explore, Starlink is going to be right up your alley.
Starlink: Battle for Atlas is due out next month on October 16 for PS4, Xbox One, and Switch. You can pre-order the starter bundle on Amazon right now if you’d like to get that sleek Arwing toy for yourself.
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