This review of Starvoid was written by both James Ku and Dustin Liaw. They jointly played the game together and conflated their thoughts into this article.James: Paradox Interactive’s latest release, Starvoid, looks to combine the large-scale skirmishes of RTS games with the single-hero-badassery of MOBA games. Starvoid promises players non-stop fast-paced action with the option to drop in our out of games at any time and the ability to instantly respawn after death. A wide variety of units, such as combat robots, tanks, and gun turrets is available for players to take into combat, and multiple heroes allow for various playstyles. How does Starvoid stack up with other MOBA games on the market? I teamed up with MOBA expert (and personal friend) Dustin Liaw to find out the good, the bad, and the ugly of Starvoid.
Dustin: Well, I did rage-uninstall League of Legends two weeks ago, so I don’t know if you’d call me a “MOBA expert”…but I digress. Starvoid feels like an odd step, well, backwards. Just like MOBA games fill the void between RTS’s and RPGs, Starvoid tries to fill the void between RTS and MOBA; the result is something like the love child of Lord Elrond and Jean-Luc Picard. As in LoL and DotA, you start with a single primary character that you can customize to fit your playstyle with abilities and equipment. But that’s basically where the comparisons end, as your hero acts kind of like a walking barracks/factory/starport rolled into one. You can spawn up to four minion units, with each unit taking up a certain amount of energy (read: population) resources. You won’t be able to spawn all four simultaneously, so you’ll have to choose wisely and adapt to your opponents’ builds. Your robotic minions aren’t just fire and forget; each one of them has its own abilities and quirks that you need to learn how to use successfully. You know those missions in some RTS’s where you only get one squad to use? This is basically like that…except with multiplayer and respawning.
J: While spawning minions as a MOBA-style hero could have, in theory, been an intriguing gameplay feature, it’s tough to see where Starvoid was planning to go with the hybrid RTS/MOBA concept. Besides a few light in-game text explanations from some sort of mysterious advisor-
D: Hold on. You mean, those boxes packed with hard to read size-8 font text that no one in the state of Puerto Rico would even try to read were the tutorial?J: Unfortunately, that appears to be the case. Starvoid is completely devoid of a tutorial or explanation of how to actually play, leaving players no option but to jump in a game and figure out what works and what doesn’t. It’s a frustrating way to be introduced to the game, especially when Starvoid doesn’t really play like any other game on the market. Joining multiplayer servers made it abundantly clear that most players had no idea how to control their units, as the vast majority would spawn whatever squad happened to suit their fancy and use the attack-move command to send all of their units barrelling in towards the enemy. Sure, throwing players into games and forcing them to learn and experiment on their own CAN be fun (rarely, especially in competitive multiplayer games), but seriously, an RTS/MOBA hybrid practically begs for a tutorial or an offline practice mode at the very least. Speaking of multiplayer servers…
D: Are you talking about the time I hacked Bill Clinton’s computer and exposed…no? Oh, you mean the Starvoid servers. Well. Generally, unless someone’s going to be hosting on their own machine, multiplayer games need a strong server network, and you’re not going to find that here. Even with practically no one playing, I still found it hard at times to connect to any servers at all, making even solo practice harder to do than a fourteen-page paper on the nominal aesthetics of Americana. And if you’re trying to play an actual game, well, good luck with that. As of this writing, the player base of Starvoid appears to number in the low double digits; it’s almost impossible to find anyone at all to play with, and even if you do, most of what you’ll find is the standard THROW ALL OF YOUR UNITS THAT WAY YES I SAID ALL OF THEM tactic that appears to be popular among young and excitable lemming army commanders.
J:… I’ll admit, I may have followed tactics that were extremely similar to the prevailing strategy of attack executed by these “young and excitable lemming army commanders”… BUT. I did figure out that you can press “Q” to activate special abilities of some minion squads! After about 2 rounds of play, too! Yay for discovery… Honestly, though, a tutorial would help this game improve its playerbase quite a bit; not everyone likes to be haphazardly thrown into random games and be forced to “explore” how to play. Starvoid features some robust customization options for those who can somehow bear to play hundreds of games to gain the thousands of experience points necessary to gain levels, such as different weapons, armor, and abilities for both your hero and your minions. Starvoid takes a “more options, not superior” approach to unlocked gear; that is, gear unlocked as you level merely provides different ways to play rather than being a full-on upgrade. Fully-geared default loadouts for each of the hero classes is provided to enable beginners to hold their own against the custom loadouts of higher leveled veterans, which is a rather well-conceived feature aimed towards keeping competitive balance in the game.
D: Starvoid includes three different game modes to go with its three different maps: Sabotage, Battle, and Team Deathmatch. Sabotage is one of the more interesting ones; the goal is to reach the enemy base and drop bombs into holes in the ground. If you’ve played TF2’s Mann vs. Machine, it’s sort of like playing as the machines, except everyone in this game is a machine. The misleadingly-named Battle sees each team tasked with capturing nodes on the battlefield, while Team Deathmatch is exactly what it sounds like. Well, there are supposed to be three modes, but generally things tend to devolve into Team Deathmatch after a while. None of the maps is particularly outstanding; in fact, considering that there are only three, there’s a very noticeable lack of variety in Starvoid. This wouldn’t be such a problem if the gameplay was more exciting, but things tend to get old fast.
Graphics and sound are just as nondescript as the gameplay. The best thing that I can say is that the game doesn’t look and sound terrible, but then again, it’s nothing to write home about. It’s like playing a mod for a game that came out five years ago; the art design is fairly bog-standard space cowboys ripped from any sci-fi game within the last ten years, character archetypes and all.J: Indeed, the game doesn’t look terrible, but framerates were mysteriously sub-30 throughout all of my play sessions. With Starvoid’s graphics looking like they do, and considering my computer can handle far better-looking games at much higher frame rates, it definitely appears as though Starvoid has some graphical optimization to work on. There really wasn’t much atmospheric sound in the game, making battles feel rather isolated and far away rather than keeping players engaged with what was happening on-screen. Voice acting was not so great either; some sort of (stereotypically) heavily accented European female voice narrates alerts and victory/defeat announcements, and it doesn’t really add to the game in any appreciable way.
D: The problem with Starvoid is that it just doesn’t stand out in any appreciable way. It could be fun with enough people to play with, and I can definitely see where the developers were trying to go with it, but the cold hard reality is that without a good server network, without a player base, and without any sort of single-player mode, Starvoid just isn’t worth the investment. If you can convince enough friends to get the game, you might be able to eke out some fun matches, but I can’t see anything that this game doesn’t do that isn’t already done better by another game.
J: There’s one word that pops out at me when thinking of Starvoid: disappointment. Combining RTS and MOBA seemed like a great idea on paper, but Starvoid just doesn’t seem to capture the magic of either genre and instead presents an unpolished and unfocused game. The beta for Starvoid apparently ended recently (leading to Starvoid’s actual release) but it appears as though Starvoid needs to spend a few more months in beta. No tutorial, uninspired gameplay, and lack of polish anywhere in the game really brings down Starvoid’s potential, and a small playerbase makes it even harder to justify playing Starvoid. It’s not the worst of games, but there’s not a whole lot to feel encouraged about when it comes to Starvoid’s future prospects.