The common thing to do when creating an addictive shooter is to balance an unlock system that keeps things both fair and enticing. Lightbox decided to go a different route and give you personalization items to outfit yourself with as you progressed through the games multiplayer. In an effort to keep a level playing field, everyone starts with the same equipment and has to rely on Rift energy to build various fixtures to gear up. Supply armories give you rocket launchers and shotguns, while sniper towers can be built for the obvious sniper rifle.
As you level up in Starhawk, you are awarded new customization options such as different head/face skins, various shirt options, pants, etc. During the first three hours, I only unlocked a small handful of items. This isn’t necessarily a problem, but it was far different from what I expected when I pitched this idea. To be fair, I also didn’t play the beta, otherwise I would have known these things from the get-go.
Various game modes offer varied objectives, but this is about the multiplayer experience spread out over a three hour play session. If you don’t recall the first article in this series, please see “Progressing Through the Modern Battlefield” first. While this is not a comparison as to which is a better game, comparing the numbers for the sake of argument will be done. In the grand scheme of things, this is another chapter in my “Progressing Through..” series, albeit on a different note than usual.
Hour 1 – Reaching the Rift
While I got my feet wet with the game playing some of the campaign, the first hour of multiplayer was just as frustrating as it tends to be in a frantic, competitive environment. The maps are foreign and above all else, there’s always that person (or group of people) on the other team that is so far beyond your skill curve that they foil your every move. My first hour was an uphill struggle to grasp what was going on.
The opening hour featured six games, putting it right between Modern Warfare 3′s (MW3) nine games and Battlefield 3′s (BF3) four games. I spread the match types out and played a few different modes, but they generally lasted about ten minutes a piece. Sadly, none of those were victories which can lead to a depressing first impression. As stated before, your unlocks don’t come often; in one hour, I unlocked three faces, three shirts and three skill points (more on that later).
The big shocker came when I looked at my kill count. You can clearly see that Starhawk isn’t so much about killing the other team as it is working towards an objective. I had a total of 34 kills (MW3 – 106; BF3 – 61) which didn’t seem too bad for the pace of the matches. Most consisted of spawning, running to a vehicle and traversing across the large map to an objective. The maps are so big (for the flight portion of combat) that running around on foot was generally a lost-cause.
Hour 2 – Taking the Rift
I somehow lost track of time and recorded my screenshot of stats at the 2.5 hour marker. Thankfully, this only matters during the “story-telling” portion of the article and not in the overall scope of the data. But I digress. It was very clear that this was not a frantic, killing-spree game like MW3 when I only killed 23 people in the second (and a half) hour. I ventured into the dogfighting match match-type which is Starhawk’s version of a free-for-all. Half of my kills alone came from that match, the other four matches garnering a sparse amount of kills. But I had a nice tank-top unlock to show for my hard work.
Two levels were gained and I finally started toying with the skills. Sadly, skills are not something you unlock as you level up. Instead, they all have a certain requirment to unlock which then allows you to purchase with your skill points. It’s a complicated system that I tried to ignore for the first hour or so (mostly due to not having any unlocked) but once you start meeting some of the requirements it pays off. This was the hour (and a half) where I won three games in a row, which unlocked the skill to gain extra XP. With the slow rate of leveling up, this made me feel more accomplished at the end of each match.
Hour 3 – Controlling the Rift
The last half hour came pretty quick, for obvious reasons (namely it being a half hour instead of a full hour). I actually spent this portion of time playing with my colleague, Kyle Baron, who wrote the review for Starhawk, but let’s get to the facts. Three games were played and four people were killed by hand. Yes, four. I never said I was great at this game, did I? On the positive side of things, you get a hefty bonus of XP just for finishing a game, and for every few buildings you build you get some XP. So you can still advance and not be good. It’s not on the same scale as Battlefield 3′s supporting role, but it is above Modern Warfare 3′s.
I also played a little bit of Prospector mode (which is Starhawks answer to the now-cliche Horde mode). I say that because you get XP for that as well. But since it doesn’t really advance your equipment, sharing the two is completely fair and Prospector mode can be fun if you are tired of speeding across the landscape just to be bombarded by an enemy ship.
The Final Numbers
(Note: In keeping with the series, numbers from past games will be provided for reference)
Battlefield 3: 15
Modern Warfare 3: 24
Battlefield 3: 208
Modern Warfare 3: 294
Starhawk: Level 6
Battlefield 3: Level 7
Modern Warfare 3: Level 23
Starhawk: 6 shirts, 6 pairs of pants
Battlefield 3: 5 guns, 21 attachments
Modern Warfare 3: 8 guns, 16 attachments
Field Report Conclusion
Starhawk takes a different approach to its “progression system”. Giving you access to all of the guns up front, Lightbox opted to give you a more customizable experience. To be honest, it’s a far less addicting mechanic but it does give you something to work for. I never unlocked any of the mech skins or Outcast (think “opposing forces” in military games) options, which was a shame. There are a plethora of options, though, if one was to invest enough time into it.