You play as Kayron, your typical Luke Skywalker-esque aspiring pilot, living in a typical galactic United Nations future, with typical avenge-your-father quest. Luckily for Kayron, his dad willed him an advanced prototype starfighter called the DarkStar One, which has special abilities that Kayron will unlock during his travels. The story begins as cliché as they come, with Kayron setting out to discover the man who betrayed his father, and picking up a snarky female sidekick in short order.
The DarkStar is your primary window to the universe—all the gameplay takes place from its cockpit or in menus. Like most space sims the game has a massive star map which you use to plot your trajectory and explore the cosmos. The map is divided into clusters, similar to Mass Effect, and each has several individual star systems at varying distances from each other. Several stars are too far away to reach with your current equipment, so as you progress through the game you’ll have to continually replace your hyperdrive with newer, longer-range models. It’s a smart way to parse out the gameplay progression and does a good job of focusing your objectives early in the game.
Each system has its own trade station were you can land, repair, restock and take side missions. The side quests don’t give you anything but money, but there’s a decent variety of them and you can gauge the difficulty depending on the award posted, so they work sort of like an extended tutorial. Most clusters have their own dedicated side quest that deals with the local politics and factions, also accessible from the trade station.
The star map also helpfully highlights which systems have hidden artifacts within their asteroid fields. These literal glowing green rocks are the only way to upgrade the DarkStar One, and are usually secreted in large asteroids or are awarded for liberating a besieged system. Your ship is divided into three sections and upgrading each one grants you new levels and slots for equipment and weapons. You can also unlock and power up the ship’s plasma injector, which, after numerous upgrades, can drastically augment weapons, shields and other vital systems—a real life saver in a desperate battle.
Hunting for artifacts is kind of a pain at first and for the most part it’s necessary; you won’t get too far in with your puny starting equipment, and you can’t buy upgrades without the necessary levels. I kind of wish the game had a standard XP system, but then again finding the artifacts is easier than doing a dozen repetitive side quests, so it ultimately cuts down on grinding. You’ll also find yourself plotting the quickest course to systems containing artifacts, so you’ll end up visiting more systems in the end instead of glossing over huge swathes of the game.
There’s a healthy variety of things to do but some are more exciting than others. If you’re so inclined you can outfit your ship with cargo drones and turn it into a goods hauler, and do the buy low/sell high trading game that’s a staple of space sims. A mining module turns your weapons into rock cutters, so you can blast away at asteroids and debris and sell the valuable minerals inside. You can make a lot of money this way but it’s more fun to hunt pirates, which there is definitely no shortage of. More illicit jobs include sabotage, raids, surveillance photography, eavesdropping and the vindictive destruction of kindhearted traders who were too charitable with their cargo, but these jobs can skew your reputation to the negative side and even get you some unwanted attention from the space fuzz.
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