As a game that many have been able to play for a while now, Fractured Space's full release may have slipped under the radar of many potential players. This is an example of a game that has made great use of Steam's Early Access program, and has successfully made the transition from paid beta to free-to-play full release. Developer Edge Case Games, while they have made a few slip-ups during development, have listened to the community and put out frequent patches that have mostly been enjoyed. The end result is impressive; a visually stunning title with strategic depth making for a fun yet engaging experience. What's more, it can be played, almost in its entirety, for free.
Fractured Space is a free-to-play, team-based online game where two teams control colossal space frigates of varying sizes and payloads, and fight to capture and destroy their opposition's base. The way the game plays, along with the layout of the map, makes it simplest to describe Fractured Space as a MOBA, but it is by far one of the most unique genre examples that we've played.
The free-to-play model for Fractured Space, however, isn't unique, but this isn't a bad thing. It's a similar system to what we've seen in other MOBAs like League of Legends, with the game's playable ships locked behind a paywall that you can either get past with real money, or using a currency obtained via grinding. On top of this, you can buy cosmetic skins for ships for real money, with the higher tier skins giving currency bonuses in-game.
You've got a crew, which works similarly to League of Legends' rune system. Each crew member serves a specific purpose; for example, captains boost your capture rate, cooldown rate, and damage reduction stats. You get a starter crew, and could play the game using just those should you wish, but those slightly different bonuses would need to purchase 'supply ships' which give you random crew members. These supply ships can be bought with the currency earned through playing, but it requires an incredible amount of grinding.
As of right now there are 31 different playable ships, split into three different manufacturer types: USR, Zarek Industries, and TDR. The differences between manufacturers are mainly cosmetic, with design choices on ships reflecting the purpose of these companies in-universe. As an example, ships from Zarek Industries are made from reconditioned mining ships, and their appearance shows this.
Ships are geared up for different roles: attack, heavy, and support. This is where Fractured Space really begins to behave like a MOBA, as most of the time teams need to have a nice balance between these roles in order to come out on top. Attack ships are, as expected, geared towards attacking, tending to pack a punch while being weak on survivability. Heavy ships are this game's tanks; slow and lumbering, but with lots of health and ways to soak up hits, while still being competent on the damage front. And finally, you've got support ships: quick but vulnerable, these vessels keep allies alive and augment their abilities. As with all MOBAs, the capabilities of ships within these roles vary depending on which you're piloting, but as a general rule, this is what you'll get.
Now, finally, onto how the game actually plays. The standard PvP mode, where you'll be spending most of your time, is called Conquest. In this mode the map is split up into two different 'sectors' or lanes, named alpha and beta, which you can jump to from home base. In the sectors, there are three mining facilities in-between two warp points, one owned by you and one by the enemy. Capturing the enemy's warp point allows you to travel to the opposition's home base. In the early game, you'll only want to worry about capturing the mining facilities, which net your team resources, in turn levelling up your ship every time you return to base.
Each part of the map is littered with asteroids and other bits of debris, giving you a few strategic options to work with when it comes to approaching the enemy. You could use the asteroids to stage a sneak attack, for example, or set it up so that you can retreat safely under their rocky protection.
Every eight minutes, a middle lane named Gamma opens up, which can be captured by either team for a huge buff. The buff can be game-changing later on, in a similar fashion to the Baron or Dragon from League of Legends, or Dota 2's Roshan. In order to win the game you must enter and stay in the home base of the opposition for a certain amount of time, destroying turrets and fighting off enemies at the same time.
One thing to remember is that this is a team game and it's enjoyed the most when you utilise teamwork. Oftentimes, in our first few matches, we charged in alone only to get obliterated by three or four different spacecraft, which was a seriously unenjoyable experience. This is also why team compositions are important, once again reminding you that this game is indeed a MOBA. If you play as a ship that likes to get up close and personal, and the rest of your team is set up to attack from afar, you're going to have a bad time. Similarly, as with many team-based games, you may run into the occasional toxic player from time to time. However, these are far and few between, and most players are friendly enough to offer advice to anyone struggling with parts of the game.
Spacecraft movement itself feels realistic enough, for the most part; the weight of the crafts is excellently done, and it really feels like you're controlling a 1km-long hunk of metal through space. However, this weight is sometimes to the detriment of the gameplay - you can be moving so slowly that it takes too long to find an enemy to battle, or if you get caught up in a skirmish at the wrong time, it can take forever to turn around and retreat, and by the time you've done so, you're already dead. When you do encounter the enemy and the conditions are right, though, you're in for one hell of a battle. You'll be met with loud explosions and flashes of light until either you or your opponent goes up in flames, followed by a brilliant explosion.
The pacing of Fractured Space is really where its problems begin to surface. After dying, you're met with a lengthy respawn time that starts at 20 seconds and builds up, later becoming as long as a minute. After this, you're then going to spend a good minute or two to get back into a useful position. If you're losing, this will rinse and repeat until you've finally lost the game, which might be enough to make you lose patience. However, it should also be said that the slowness of the game is something that can't be changed, as doing so would cause an unbalance.
If you stick with it, and manage to wrap your head around the way it works, you'll find yourself dying less and having more fun. Many may not wish to invest time in order to get a payoff later down the line, which is understandable, but those of you who can make it through the steep learning curve will definitely feel rewarded for doing so.
If you're familiar with MOBAs and are looking for one with a space theme, then Fractured Space will certainly scratch that itch. While it certainly does have aspects that make this game similar to League of Legends of Dota 2, it is very much its own game, and it's quite different from the two. Fractured Space is much, much slower than your standard MOBA, and this niche entry to the genre requires an investment of time in order to see its true value.