I personally think it’s bad to start off an article by giving away your thoughts, but I’m gonna say it, SOL: Exodus is a pleasant surprise. I was fortunate enough to get my hands on the game a few days before release, so I interrupted Distant Worlds – Legends to take a look at this space-focused combat sim thingy. So join me, won’t you, as I go through the first three missions of the game…
NOTE: This game isn’t out until tomorrow, and since my reviews are basically big game diaries, there are BOUND to be spoilers in here, so you’ve been warned. ;)
SOL: Exodus is pretty unassuming when you first load it up. The moving background of space combat is feathered with just a few simple buttons such as starting a campaign (or resuming a mission) and settings. Since the campaign is currently the only option — I’ve not yet learned if there will support for MODs or single player missions — I hit the button and dove right on.
The campaign starts with you, an unnamed space pilot under the command of Commander David and his AI assistant, CASSI (Central Automated Sol System Intelligence). The two have a fun banter, which is fully voiced and honestly humorously written. You’re orbiting a planet while some scientists down below try to determine if it’s suitable for human colonization, since our sun is gonna explode in a century or so, according to the story. As part of the United Colonies of Sol (UCS), you’ve been sent with four ships to survey suitable planets and report back. While this is happening, you’re flexing your wings with Commander David and CASSI in a simple tutorial of sorts that teach you the basic controls.
Speaking of, the controls are what you’d expect from a game based on the Unreal Engine. Flying is mostly mouse-based with a few keyboard control for roll, as well as weapons and targeting. It’s a bit on the simplistic side — maybe a bit too much so, which I’ll get to in a bit — but overall it works well, as I’ve not played a game with this fluid of a mouse-based control scheme since Freelancer. The simple tutorial takes you through maneuvering, engine usage and some simple targeting. This is no Freespace 2 or TIE Fighter, as there are no power levels to manage or any such complexities. Nope, this is get in there and shoot stuff, which is fine by me.
Eventually while you’re flitting about with Commander David, the scientists tell you that this planet will be quite suitable, which is awesome news. However, the good times don’t roll for too long because shortly thereafter, these pricks show up:
We, of course, have no idea who they are, but eventually they start shooting at us, and through their brief communication, we learn that they’re the “Children of Dawn” (COD) — I giggle whenever I see that because I see “Cash on Delivery” every time — and that they really don’t want our mission to be successful since they think the sun’s explosion is some sort of rapture or some such nonsense. Whatever, they’re bad, we’re good, pew pew goes the guns.
As an aside, let me talk about the guns for a moment. Rather than lasers, your fighter (and so far, I’ve only flown one, though you can upgrade it) has some sort of big-ass machine guns which are INSANELY visceral to shoot and damned fun to use. I bad a blast tearing through enemy fighters and, later, bombers and torpedoes with my machine gun weapons. They’re less “pew pew” and more “rattatat-tat-tat-boom-boom” and I adore them for it. Back to the game, I’m slaying my way through enemy fighters when even more show up.
Eventually, two frigates show up and I lose two of my big ships, the Cronus and Prometheus. Then, Commander Davey takes command of the Gaia — an unarmed science ship — transfers CASSI to me and promotes me to Commander. Above my character’s protests, he RAMS THE FREAKING GAIA into the other ships and blows ‘em up, leaving me shocked and only the Atlas left as a base of operations for us.
And so ends the first mission…with my COMMANDER FREAKING KILLING HIMSELF and losing three out of four capital ships in the process. Holy. Freaking. Crap. I’ll admit I was a bit out of breath after this mission, in a good way. Combat was tense and exciting, and while it was kinda overwhelming, it was the GOOD kind of overwhelming. What a way to start a game, huh?
Based on how you do in your missions, you get upgrade points to upgrade your fighter in-between them. In this case, I had two, so I upgraded my guns and shields (you can also upgrade afterburners). This is likely why you keep one fighter for a time, as you continually improve upon it, which I’m fine with if done right.
Moving on, the next mission fast-forwards us TEN FREAKING YEARS, when the Atlas finds itself returning to Sol, arriving first at Pluto, that plucky little planet/asteroid thing. My your character has grown a bit. He’s all gruff and sexily-stubbly and his voice has gotten a bit more coarse. Apparently over those ten years, the Atlas has come under — and survived — numerous COD (giggle) attacks and is now finally returning to Sol with the news that they found a planet.
Things seem a bit…different though. Comm traffic is quieter and things look a bit less…busy than before. Upon arriving at an outpost around Pluto, I find that it’s surrounded by COD (giggle) automated defensive turrets, which are also blocking communications. Using my fighter’s new MAG Cannon, I take all of them down in short order.
Once I can communicate with the outpost, they tell me they were told that the Atlas was lost years ago. Reporting our deaths as greatly exaggerated, I send those folks jump coordinates so they can be gone from the COD. And speak of the devil, that’s when the little bastards show up.
Of course I have to defend the transports, but it’s not too difficult since the target display clearly shows your target’s target, so I can make fighters targeting transports my top priority. Eventually, the Dawn Hammer — a COD frigate — shows up and demands our surrender, to which we politely decline. Here the game introduces hacking. By targeting a specific node on a capital ship, your AI CASSI can reveal the code needed to hack into the ship and do things like have its turrets target its own fighters, and so on. You need to watch the display as the characters are revealed, however, and then choose the correct code amongst several. Some might find this annoying, but I found it kinda awesome.
We were able to hack the Hammer’s turrets when she began launching torpedoes at the Atlas! I targeted them as quickly as I could, heading…right for them. I meant to shoot ‘em down as I approached, but I ended up flying smack dab right into one.
Now get this, in a lot of space games, that would be it, end of mission, time to restart. Not this game, though. Here, you fly in an escape pod back to the Atlas and get a whole new fighter so you can continue the fight! I thought this was a really nice touch, and also showed that the Atlas, not your fighter, is your highest priority target to protect in any engagement.
Eventually we won the battle, but barely. The Atlas was pretty beat up, at around 16% armor when the mission ended. We also gained a new colleague, Capt. Holland! Yay! This time I was awarded Veteran status and got more upgrade points!
This lead to the third mission, entitled “Day 2: Triton”. The intro to the mission shows us a great debris field left by the massive “Battle of Dawn”. Within moments, we got jumped not just by COD (giggle) fighters, but now bombers as well. Bombers are much larger than fighters, and slower as well, so they were perfect fodder for the MAG Cannon.
At this point, both fighters AND bombers are going after the Atlas, and it’s getting hard to keep up with it all. I’m asked for my surrender again, and once again turn ‘em down. This is when two frigates show and start lobbing torpedoes at the Atlas!
The battlefield is INSANELY hectic now, with fighters and frigates all over the place. This is where I got a little annoyed with the game. There are only two buttons to target enemies, once from nearest to farthest, and the other in reverse. Sure, you can use the spacebar to target what’s in front of you, but with dozens of enemies on-screen — and the game flew smoothly with so much on-screen, even on my old machine — that’s a futile exercise. Trying to target specific torpedoes coming for the Atlas was very frustrating, but I also realize I have to work within these limitations, so it wasn’t TOO frustrating.
Anyway, both the Atlas and I are taking a pounding, but another thing I like about this game is that it lets you land for repairs.
Sadly, it didn’t help much in the end, as I lost the Atlas and therefore the mission. I guess next time I need to use both drifting and missile lock more often. I kinda glossed over them as CASSI explained them in the heat of battle and such.
After I failed, I had to take a break. Not because I was annoyed or frustrated — just the opposite, really — but because I was out of breath and still a bit overwhelmed! That was some damned intense combat, punctuated with decent writing — including some swear words — and believable situations. Even though I lost the mission, I honestly didn’t feel angry or bothered at all. It felt kinda like…this is what happens when you’re not good enough, try better next time. This, again, wasn’t a bad thing, and I just hope I don’t run into a WALL of increased difficulty like some other game.
Overall, I honestly had a blast with my first few missions in SOL: Exodus. These three missions were dammed meaty, and with over an hour of play just with three missions, I’m looking forward to several more hours of intense combat. :) Stay tuned for my next entry wherein I try to conquer Triton again, and then deal with whatever happens after!