Platform: Nintendo Switch
Category: Arcade, Adventure, Role-Playing & Other
Release Date: October 16, 2018 (EU & NA)
The Forgotten Legion are descending upon the planetary system known as Atlas. It is up to you and the magnificent capabilities of Starlink technology to unite all of the inhabitants of Atlas, so they can stand a chance against the ever-growing threat that wants to harvest the entire galaxy for the power source known as Nova. Get ready to go to infinity and beyond with our Starlink: Battle For Atlas review.
Firstly, I would like to apologize for how long this review has taken to be published. A game as vast as Starlink: Battle For Atlas is not one that can be summed up after a few hours of gameplay. It needs to be experienced with no restrictions. Savoured without being rushed. Starlink: Battle for Atlas gives you quite a bit to do, straight from the get-go but not even more features get introduced as you play, even after 10-20 hours in, there are still so many things you will learn.
Ubisoft has been working extremely hard to provide an intergalactic experience to rival the likes of No Man’s Sky, Mass Effect and Destiny. Though not quite in the same vein as these interstellar titles, Starlink: Battle For Atlas gives its own take on the sci-fi genre that focuses on exploration as well as heated dogfights on land, in air or outer space. When Ubisoft first announced Starlink: Battle For Atlas at E3 back in 2017, it really looked incredible and the fact it was coming to Switch made my wallet breath a sigh of relief that I wouldn’t have to buy a PS4 to play it.
Come E3 2018, Ubisoft had yet another surprise. Star Fox was not only being added to the game but is actually incorporated into the story as well. Though only available for the Nintendo Switch version of the Game. Fox McCloud and his signature Arwing were going to be playable and Falco, Peppy and Slippy were coming along for the ride. Though Ubisoft supposedly had a year after reaching an accord with Nintendo to get the Star Fox team into Starlink, it turns out that Ubisoft had been working with the idea long before the agreement. A bit of a gamble but it paid off and Nintendo loved the idea. So, with the little history lesson out of the way, let’s get on with the review.
Starlink: Battle For Atlas follows brilliant scientist Victor St Grand and his crew aboard their ship, the Equinox. During their fourth visit to Atlas, most of the crew are dispatched to fight off incoming enemy ships known as Drakes that are taking fire on another ship carrying important cargo. As the Starlink team are busy fighting off the enemy ships, the Equinox is breached by a much larger ship and St Grand gets kidnapped. The mysterious invaders remove the Equinox’s Nova core which connects to all the other ships and all of them plummet onto a nearby planet known as Haven.
During their search for their arch enemy Wolf O’ Donnell, Fox McCloud and the rest of the Starfox Team witness the fighting between the Starlink Team and the Drakes. Against Peppy’s advice, Fox and the rest of the gang lend their aid and after winning the battle also somehow lose control of their Arwings and plummet towards Haven along with the Starlink Team and the Equinox. (Nintendo Switch Version Only).
Regardless on which pilot and ship you choose, you will then have to explore the planet Haven to find anyone who can help get your ships back in the air as they have been grounded and reduced to hover mode. As you explore the planet, you begin to learn more about what is going on and learn about the mysterious Grax, the Wardens and how Grax wants to build his own Forgotten Legion to harvest the planetary system of Atlas to make Nova.
It is up to the Starlink Team to help unite the planets of Atlas and help give them the resources they need to defend themselves against attack from the Legion and the rather unhelpful Outlaws. Fox McCloud also puts his plans to hunt down Wolf to one side as the top priority is putting an end to Grax’s Plan of destroying entire worlds.
The story is not unlike any that hasn’t been heard before. A large empire with malicious intent, plans to dominate over entire planets. A rag-tag team of rebels hope to inspire others to take arms against the empire and form an alliance. An important person of interest is kidnapped by the empire and the rebels must try to rescue them. It is a tried and tested formula but one that still works even to this day.
For a game that is based on the exploration of entire planets, Starlink: Battle For Atlas is vast! It is very colourful and though the Switch version doesn’t have the same graphical output as the PS4 or Xbox One, it still manages to look amazing. The draw distance is not as far but everything within range gives your surroundings so much life and that you’re not just floating around barren planets with an odd building here and there. Well, there are places like that on some planets that could do with a bit more filler but even our own planet has empty deserts and open oceans so you can excuse Ubisoft for not just overfilling each planet.
Everything is very colourful as well from the ships to the environments that you are flying around in. The effects like skimming across the water’s surface or the change of time between day and night. A lot of thought has gone into making each planet worth visiting to see what is unique about each one and makes players want to explore every part of them.
The music is energetic and seems to take a leaf out of The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild’s book. Opting for a more ambient approach and only breaks into music when in the middle of a firefight or an action sequence. The triumphant fanfare when procuring an outpost or ruins in the name of the Alliance is rewarding as well and makes you feel like you are achieving something. From the hovering hum of your ship to the rustling of the plants as you fly past, everything seems to feel more alive with sound.
The most important thing of all, above graphics and story is of course, gameplay. Starlink: Battle For Atlas is a very expansive game with so much to do. There are seven planets to visit within the Atlas system, each with their own ecosystems and environmental hazards. Each planet has many outposts like Observatories or Refineries. Befriending them is one of your main priorities during your expedition as they can help you find points of interest or help generate Electrum for you. Electrum is the in-game currency which is used to purchase upgrades among other things.
As you continue to unite planets under the flag of the alliance, you will eventually be able to build Workshops that can create mods that are used to upgrade your ship and Armories that will generate vigilantes to keep watch over the planet and defend it against opposing forces. You will also be able to change outposts from Observatories to Armories and vice versa after you have ventured far enough into the game’s main plot.
When beginning Starlink for the first time, you will be able to choose from three types of difficulties. These can range from Easy, Normal, Hard and Very Hard. Normal is ideal for first-time playthroughs and Easy for those that want to focus more on story and exploration. Very Hard is where the real challenge is at. It makes enemies much tougher and aggressive and will have you constantly battling for survival on every planet that is under threat.
Depending on which version of Starlink: Battle For Atlas you have bought can really make a difference from the get-go. The physical Starter Pack comes with a physical Arwing toy, Fox McCloud and Mason Rana Figures along with the flamethrower and Frost Barrage weapons. A digital Zenith ship is also included. The Digital version however, comes with four digital ships from their respective pilots. The Deluxe Digital Edition comes with all ships, pilots and weapons and is rather costly but in the long run is actually the cheaper version of them all.
Individual ships can cost around $14.99 and extra weapons at $3.99. It soon adds up to be a rather costly affair and can cost you $150 all in for digital only. If you want the physical ships and weapons, you are looking at around double that. The Arwing and Fox McCloud seem to be only available in the starter pack and it’s a nice extra that allows players access to extra Star Fox based missions. It must be said though that the Arwing is not the best ship in the game and there are others that are much stronger and with better stats.
There are two options to play the game as well, physically and digitally. By playing physically, you will have to attach physical Starlink toys onto the special Joy-Con mount that comes in the starter pack or bought separately. First, you need to choose a pilot and slot them into the Joy-Con mount. You will then need to choose a ship and which wing and weapons you would like to use. You can add around 3 wings to each side of your ship which can improve and hinder different stats like handling, weight, defense, etc. You can only connect two weapons at any one time but you can combine them in whatever way you like.
Once you are set, you can then begin your adventure with your load-out. You can swap out weapons, wings and ships at any time during playthrough but the game will pause to the load-out menu by default. You can change this in the options menu so that it won’t pause during weapon swaps. If you play digitally, you will have to manually change and choose your preferred load-out in game. You will have to pause every time in order to change weapons which is a slight disadvantage to the effortless exchange of physical weapons. You can choose between physical and digital play at any time by opting to use the Joy-Con Mount or not. If you don’t use the mount, you will be given the option to play digitally. If the mount is connected to the active Joy-Cons, you will be given a prompt to play physically.
The main enemy in the game is the Forgotten Legion. There are many types of land-based legion enemies from imps and Cyclops to Giants and Primes. There are also Drakes and Dreadnoughts which are aerial based and attack you in Space. Another faction of enemies are the Outlaws, which fight against all sides for their own gain. If you see Legion forces and Outlaws fighting each other, you are better off waiting for one side to be victorious and then pick off the winning side. trying to jump in between the two will have both forces turn their sights onto you.
There are many missions apart from the main story missions to keep you occupied though some require you to venture further into the story before you can access them. The Star Fox Missions has Fox and his crew trying to hunt down Wolf who is hiding somewhere in Atlas. Other missions will have you try to find hidden Electrum Rush caches or liberate certain ruins from enemy occupation. They can get very repetitive at times but the gameplay never seems to feel too tedious and I have always found myself veering off from the main story just to capture an old refinery or scan an indigenous creature.
An open world game as large as this one can be rather tiresome travelling over long distances again and again. However it wouldn’t be a Ubisoft game without Fast Travel points. These are large spires that have been left behind from the Warden era and after completing their puzzles, will become fast travel points to help players get from one point to the other much quicker. After travelling to a new planet once, you will be able to fast travel to them from then on. This is handy as the distances between planets are long, even with Hyper-drive activated. There are also hyper-drive traps which the outlaws use to ambush ships. These can be tricky to evade and leave you with little option to fight back until you can either recuperate to escape or give the outlaws what for.
Along your travels, you will also come across Mods that you can use to improve a number of stats on your weapons and ships. some mods are restricted to certain weapons with elemental specific properties. You can gain experience points on each part which will reward you with a skill point to improve your pilot’s skill tree. The skill tree allows you to improve your Pilot’s special ability and passive ability. These change between pilots so each skill tree is different.
Starlink: Battle For Atlas is played from a 3rd-person perspective. Piloting the ship is handled in two ways; flying and hovering. Flying is handy to avoid most environment-based obstacles when on planets and can give you an edge in avoiding terrestrial firefights. Hovering allows you to get up close to enemies and take them out on the ground. You can also scavenge for materials like minerals and plants which you can use to upgrade outposts. You can also communicate with outposts in order to upgrade them, participate in sub-missions, repair ships or offload valuable materials in exchange for Electrum.
During the first part of the game, you are restricted to hover mode until you can require Nova to power your ship up again. You will then be able to change between hovering and flying by simply holding the R button. As regards to your weapons, you can independently fire them using the ZL or ZR buttons, The ZL button fires the port side weapon (Left) and ZR for the starboard side weapon (right). You can dodge incoming attacks with A or by using the reflector shield with X. It can be a bit tricky keeping a mental note of what does what with so many different functions but in the end, it is a very fluid experience that will become second nature to you.
Now, there are a lot of things that Starlink: Battle For Atlas does right and some things it does poorly. The Switch version has the Star Fox exclusive pilot, Arwing and special Star Fox missions. You also have the possibility to play the entire game as Fox McCloud if you want which, is quite satisfying for any Star Fox fan. Unfortunately, if you were wanting to play as any of the other pilots or their ships, you have to purchase them separately. This is a shame as automatically, you are deterred from playing as any other character opposed to the ones you already have. Some pilots can unlock special features in the game like allowing you to Fast Travel to defeated Outlaw bases or increase Refinery efficiency.
You can’t unlock them naturally in the game either so if you want the extra weapons, pilots or ships, you will have to purchase them from retail stores or from the Nintendo eShop. Digital purchases are more economical but if you like the look of some of the ships and want to collect them, they would make for a cool collection. The ships themselves are nicely designed and are surprisingly light. The mini figures on the other hand, do look pretty cool but on closer inspection do bear signs of slightly shoddy paintwork.
This has been quite a colossal review to so thank you for bearing with me thus far. Then again, an immersive open-world game of galactic proportions deserves a review that is equally large in proportion. Starlink is quite the time sink and is surprisingly addictive. Half the reason this review is so late in being published is because I just had to go back to the game and play it some more. Starlink: Battle For Atlas is what No Man’s Sky and Starfox Zero should have been. I have never really been into aerial combat games but Starlink has me hooked. I really hope that the team over at Ubisoft Toronto get the opportunity to make a proper Starfox game because they have created a truly brilliant game with Starlink: Battle For Atlas.
THE VERDICT: 9/10
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This post was written by Mike Scorpio