Star Crusade: War of the Expanse is an online, free-to-play, sci-fi collectible card game in which six factions are fighting over an unclaimed sector of space. The developers, Xim, Inc., have granted access to Star Crusade via Steam’s Early Access program as an open beta, with the aim of ironing out the final few bugs before an official launch several months away. When I saw the game in the Steam Store, I just had to see how good it is. It’s been touted as “Hearthstone in Space”, and bracing myself for that to be true, I dug in and found something rather unexpected.
Is Star Crusade a good game? Read on to find out…
Star Crusade has many game mechanics that fans of Hearthstone will recognize. The gameplay mechanics, the way in which you interact with the cards on the board, the deckbuilder, and even the hero powers are all similar (some, identical) to Hearthstone. I was prepared to be disappointed with this fact, however, there are many features and mechanics introduced in Star Crusade that give it a different strategic feel and actually might make it superior to its forbearing game.
The layout of the game board is similar to almost every two-player, casual CCG that Star Crusade will inevitably be competing against in an already overcrowded genre. Players will have a starting hand with the ability to send as many of these cards back to their deck as they wish, and hope for a better replacement.
Playing cards and card interactions such as attacks are very similar to those same CCGs. Your card plays are restricted by the standard incremental resource system, called ‘Supply’ in Star Crusade. However, the Supply can also influence the outcome of some cards which have their effects resolve based on the current number of Supply you have available.
Many of the keywords copied over from other CCGs have changed names but with similar effects. For example, the Screen effect in Star Crusade is the same as Taunt in Hearthstone. You can always see a card’s effect at a glance when you long press the card with your left mouse button or while deckbuilding. The familiarity of these keyword abilities will help you settle into the gameplay with very little need for adjustment.
There are a few gameplay mechanics and features that give Star Crusade a different strategic feel to many of its competitors. The first are the sub-resources, such as Firepower, that can enhance cards beyond their base statistics or effects. You’ll accumulate these temporary resources through other cards. For example, some cards will add to your ‘Firepower’ value while on the field, and cards will reference your current Firepower value as to how strong their effect will be when you play a card. This makes creating decks that revolve around this sub-resource a real prospect, rather than an afterthought.
The card art and user interface are of the highest quality, which will make selling Star Crusade to new players much easier. One of the most impressive features is the background on which you play. The scenery changes to reflect the current state of battle and ships will fly past when you deploy particular units to the battlefield. Although not interactive, it is entertaining to watch how it changes over time.
Playing Star Crusade is very effortless thanks to its easy-to-learn mechanics and familiar gameplay. You should play through the brief tutorial though if you’re new to TCGs/CCGs, as it will settle you in nicely. There are six factions to choose from that have different play styles and strategies bound to suit different tastes. All factions also have their own Commander. They have abilities that can be triggered using Supply – enhancing the strategic value of particular deck types when built to exploit these powers.
So far the game modes are limited due to Star Crusade being in beta. The developers are keen to iron out mechanical issues before adding more modes and features. However, what you can play now is more than enough for those that want the full online experience.
You may battle against real opponents in casual and ranked games whenever you wish. If you don’t quite feel confident in taking on a real opponent, you can test your skills and deck against the A.I. bot instead. Winning casual or ranked games will enhance your player level and earn you some Credits for use in the game store.
Raids are another way of gaining precious cards and other rewards. Raid is a drafting mode in which you have to pick a single card from three, thirty times, to build your deck. It’s similar to the Arena mode of Hearthstone. You will have a 30-card deck at the end of it and must then take part in consecutive battles. Losing three times ends your run, and you earn prizes based on your overall success. Even if you lose three times, you will receive something, so it’s never a waste of time.
One such reward you can earn from Raids is Scrap, which is used to make new cards you may not own. You can also gain Scrap by melting down excess cards. You are likely to have many excess cards the moment you begin purchasing booster packs using Credits or real money, as you can only ever have a maximum of two copies of a card in your deck.
The deckbuilder is of your standard variety. Click cards in and out of your deck and you can right-click on cards to see them in greater detail, such as what each keyword means. The filtering system is quite basic at the moment and only allows you to filter by faction, name, and Supply cost at this time. It would be great to be able to filter by sub-type or keyword, and I’m sure the developers are likely to add this later.
A single-player arc is coming as there is an option in the store for Campaigns. There are also many cosmetic purchases you can make in addition to packs. All of these are currently unavailable in the beta version, but any packs and cards purchased will carry over to the full version, so you need not worry about making a purchase for packs in the beta version.
It is easy to dismiss Star Crusade as a Hearthstone clone, but with a sci-fi theme. While there are many similarities, Star Crusade has plenty of unique selling points that give it the distinction it needs to be viewed as a stand-alone title. It will take a lot of heat for being so similar, and it definitely does feel like playing Hearthstone, at times, but I think with enough time it will stand on its own feet.
I love the way in which the battlefield background reflects the state of battle or when you deploy units. The sub-resources that are included add a new dynamic to the game that has strategic implications. I’m looking forward to seeing how a Campaign can fit into the game, though the developers have done an excellent job with the lore already, which can be viewed on their website.
This may be a controversial thing to say, but I actually enjoy playing Star Crusade more than I enjoy playing any other casual card game, including Hearthstone. Perhaps it is the fresh sci-fi theme and the fascinating design of the original alien races, or perhaps it’s the new mechanics which have reinvigorated my interest. Whatever it is, I believe Star Crusade is going to see great success. It is polished, it is well designed and the base set is full of interesting card mechanics to play around with.
Xim, Inc., the developers, are very keen on community participation for ironing out the final few bugs from their beta version of the game. The more people that download this impressive CCG, the faster any glitches are coded out, and the sooner the game can begin its final launch phase. So get in on the action now while it’s early. You won’t regret it.
For more information on Star Crusade, check out the Steam Early Access here.