Welcome to the 'verse
Star Citizen has been called a lot of things over the years since its explosion into the scene as an unprecedentedly successful crowd funding campaign that has as of writing raised over $470,000,000 from over 3,800,000 'Star Citizens'. In the ensuing 10 years the game has progressed in the open from little more than a hangar where you could walk around your ships to what today is, arguably a very playable space simulator with several gameplay loops including trading, mining, PvE and PvP combat, search and rescue, salvage, exploration, and of course, piracy.
It's hard to explain to someone who has not played the game the sheer scope of the ambition on display here. Everything you see, everywhere in the Stanton System can be travelled to. It all exists in the game world and if you have the right equipment, skill, and a little luck with server performance, it can be explored. This imbues Star Citizen with more emergent gameplay opportunities than any other open world game I can think of and even rivals the so-called metaverse. The community of Star Citizen stylizes this world as the 'verse and it is filled with spaces on planets, asteroids, moons, and in ships that allow players to congregate and interact. Even though the game remains an alpha with many rough edges it somehow already manages to feel as though it is a real place. T-posing NPCs may abound, especially on freshly launched server instances but even in spite of that stepping off an elevator and riding public transport to a shopping district to pick up some bottled water and sandwiches before continuing on to the space port to start your next adventure out into the black can still manage to pull you in. The game even already has a variety of scheduled and triggered events like Invictus Launch Week, Jumptown, and XenoThreat which would not feel out of place in a finished product, but here are just a taste of things to come.
Starting out in the game there is very little hand holding. You will probably find yourself looking up guides, or videos to get you started but once you get into the world one of the things that struck me was the obvious attention to design details that many other games miss. The locations within the game all have a clear identity. This is especially true of the cities where the culture of the corporation that operates them and their purpose are clear in the palette and shapes used. Thought was obviously put into player wayfinding, ranging from hints using lights, colors, and objects to draw a player in a direction to honest-to-god signage. You enter a public transport system station and there are maps, and signs, and directions to the platforms just as you may expect. There are clocks to show when the next train will arrive and once aboard how much longer until the next stop. Spaceports feel a lot like present-day airports with security and customs checkpoints, a departure terminal and lounge, static displays, vendors, all leading the player naturally from ground transport to a ship.
Similar can be said about the various space stations, with a natural flow from docking to cargo handling, ore refining, the food court, shopping and critically, the bar. Ultimately the attention continues down to surface outposts using consistent design language to tell the player where the critical buildings are even when you are too far away to read the signs. The pilot in me appreciates the use of the white/green beacon on the major spaceports.
The 'verse is both beautiful and unforgiving. Items are physical objects, not icons in a menu. They are stored somewhere (eventually in physical lockers and containers), they have a specific volume, and therefore take up a portion of your limited space allotment, filling physical spaces on your ship and in your pockets. If you die and cannot retrieve your body (either at all or before someone else does), your equipment and anything stored in it is gone. The end goal is for no instancing here so players can rock up on you to hinder or help as they see fit, even providing medical care if they are so inclined. Similarly, if your ship is lost, left unlocked and unattended, or destroyed you lose all the customizations and cargo aboard. The plan is eventually to have your stored imprint (part of the respawn lore) degrade a little each time it is loaded into a freshly cloned body so you will only be able to suffer a limited number of deaths before having to pass your possessions on to an heir. I can't help but feel a little bit of the weight that system brings to the game and sense a bit the potential for emergent stories to develop for each Citizen, if they want to tell them. It certainly makes for some tense moments after a database reset when I find myself moving all my belongings from one of the planet side starting locations to a space station so I can spare myself the train ride to the spaceport on subsequent logins. Imagine trying to get a load of mugs from Hutton Orbital back to Lave in open and you have a bit of a taste of the feeling.
Back in 2014 after the dust settled on the 2012 space game crowd funding frenzy I landed on team Elite Dangerous, mostly because it was first to market with a working game and I just wanted to get out into the black. Over the years I've mostly wandered the galaxy aimlessly, trading, exploring, a little PVE here and there. The community and the content they created was fascinating, incredulous, amusing, and awe inspiring. Unfortunately for many of us, Frontier made some missteps with the design and launch of Odyssey, upsetting the community and (in my opinion) cheapening the experience. I forgave Elite for a lot because it was so big and so ambitious with so much to explore, but felt more than a bit slighted when the dev team decided that one of the major asked for (and promised in the original design documents) and anticipated features, the so-called space legs, neglected to include ship interiors.
I'm not even remotely alone in being unimpressed.
Shortly thereafter two community members announced they were going to look elsewhere. Sci-fi author, and all-around lore guy Drew Wagar and maker of extremely well produced and artful ship reviews The Pilot announced their intentions to goto Star Citizen seemingly within days of each other. The Pilot's video on the Avenger Titan convinced me to pick it as my starter pack and this has proven to be a decision I have not come to regret.
I don't want to leave you thinking that I started playing Star Citizen just because Frontier made a mistake, that's not the case at all and I've continued to play Elite Dangerous' Horizons expansion along side Star Citizen. Elite continues to set the bar for sound design in a space game and having an astronomically correct (or as close as they can get to it) Milky Way in there to explore is hard to beat. If you look at Horizons and ignore Odyssey for the moment the polish and refinement is without compare. I was happily playing the game in 60 FPS with a 3rd generation Intel Core i3 and a GeForce GTX 660. All that being said though I am can't help but find myself preferring to move boxes around Stanton, carrying them one by one out of the hold of my little Titan into some remote outpost on some moon.
In my short time playing I've found plenty of players out for a bit of the old gank. My first time in prison was met with a player beating me unconscious while I was still trying to figure out the unarmed combat key binds. By and large though the community seems welcoming, people often offering to help other players with missions or to recover from glitches. The general chat channel is refreshingly civil and currently free of the sort of spam that you tend to find in these types of places.
There are some important backend tech changes coming. Without getting into specifics it seems that Star Citizen is trying to lurch out of the 2010s and into the 2020s with a backend architecture where this huge world, filled with all these physical places, objects, players, and ships can exist in one single global instance across many servers. Once complete the promise, and at present that is all it is, is a persistent universe for all to play in at the same time. The tech should then enable more star systems and features to be brought online. The next system, named Pyro promises a departure from the Stanton system that we all know and love as well as to be a proving ground for interstellar travel. Somewhere down the road player housing and customization promises even more immersion. I must admit that I'm as much of a sucker for base building as I am for some good old space trucking.
I am excited to see what comes next for Star Citizen. It seems to be in an unprecedented position to be able to transcend space sim into future-life-sim. I'd love to see CIG provide APIs and interfaces into the Persistent Universe to allow players to develop an ecosystem around it much like what has happened in the Elite Dangerous community. I have been thinking recently given the ship (and future player owned building) interiors that it would be neat to be able to create in-game audio sources and wire them up to Internet accessible content. Imagine being able to play WJST Jet Set Radio in the common areas of your luxurious 890 Jump or have Hutton Orbital Radio wafting through the cavernous void of your Drake Caterpillar or Argo RAFT. I can imagine player groups having people scheduled to DJ on Icecast streams that could, if vetted, be broadcast to the 'verse, available for anyone to tune into. I'd love to see a new age of pirate radio be born in the verse.
At the end of the day no one really knows what to expect. Sure there is a public roadmap but only time will truly tell. Still, armed with nearly half a billion dollars and growing almost anything is possible. Even if all they did was add a few star systems, polish everything that is there to the point that you're less likely to randomly fall through a planet, and call it done it would still be an amazing accomplishment.
To finish up, if this sounds interesting you can
my referral code is
STAR-TWZ2-KTD5 (already included in the link). There
are pretty regular free fly events that are announced on the website where
you don't even have to have a game package to play and more often than not
there are several ships to fly for free. That is how I got in and hooked
and highly recommend it as the route for any new player. It's also worth
mentioning that while this game has a reputation for being a demanding tech
demo, it really isn't. Drew Wagar runs a pretty un-remarkable system and
streams the game to Twitch at the same time from the same PC. I run this on
my gaming PC which itself has pretty modest
hardware as well and still manages to take some
pretty nice screenshots.
The two things that are absolutely critical are having
at least 24GB of RAM and a reasonably fast SSD for the game. I'd suggest a
NVMe SSD but in a pinch a SATA one is going to be better than a HDD. I get
a pretty solid 60 FPS everywhere except some of the more dense cities
(microTech is fine, Area 18 has a few hitches) so don't be afraid to try it
out just because your PC is not super modern.
Hopefully we'll see you in the verse. o7