Title: Starlink: Battle for Atlas Date Released: October 16, 2018 Genre: Action Adventure Reviewed On: Nintendo Switch Also Released On: Xbox One, PlayStation 4 Developer: Ubisoft Toronto Publisher: Ubisoft MSRP: $59.99 USD
Last year, a match-up no one saw coming caught the gaming industry by surprise. Mario, Nintendo’s plumber who can do literally anything, was thrown into a game with Rayman‘s Rabbids. After its critical success, Nintendo perhaps thought that another of its IPs could be trusted in Ubisoft’s hands. At E3 2017, Ubisoft announced Starlink: Battle for Atlas, showcasing a few familiar faces from Nintendo’s StarFox franchise.
Seemingly a match made in heaven, considering Starlink‘s gameplay focus on starships and space dogfights, I was immediately intrigued. Having enjoyed previous titles in the Starfox franchise immensely, I found myself eager to learn more about Starlink. As more and more details were revealed, my excitement for its release continued to grow. That day has finally come, and I couldn’t be more pleased at the final package.
Starlink: Battle for Atlas is an open world space adventure, focused on a single star system in the game’s universe. The player is introduced to the crew of the starship Equinox, a ragtag group of space explorers on a mission to rescue their captain. The captain, St. Grand, is kidnapped at the very beginning of the game by an alien named Grax, who heads up a force known as the Legion. This Legion wants the secrets to producing Nova, an extremely rare and powerful resource, which seemingly only St. Grand knows how to do. Using an advanced technological system called Starlink, the crew of the Equinox can customize and improve their ships on the fly as needed. Using this technology, it’s up to them to save St. Grand and restore peace to the Atlas system.
The core gameplay consists of piloting your ship through space and on the ground of various planets while completing missions for your allies and destroying alien threats. Each planet and most of outer space is chock full of activities and objectives that Ubisoft has made standard in the majority of their recent games, so you’ll never have a shortage of things to do. Due to the nature of combat and gameplay it always feels fun and rewarding when you complete an objective.
That being said, the activities do suffer from a lot of repetitiveness as your game time goes on. Each planet recycles the same types of activities, such as fetching specific items, upgrading refineries and outposts, or defending a hacking terminal from waves of enemies. You’ll spend a lot of time doing the same thing over and over again for the same types of rewards. The majority of your focus in these activities will be the amassing of the game’s two primary currencies: Electrum and Nova.
Electrum is plentiful and found literally everywhere, as defeating enemies and destroying containers strewn about every planet will reward you with copious amounts of it. Nova is a little bit harder to come by, as it is mainly rewarded for completing the more difficult activities. You’ll need both to purchase upgrades for your ships and weapons. You’ll also find many hidden loot caches and collectible scrap items that you can turn in at any outpost or refinery for additions rewards. To make things even easier, you’ll also receive regular shipments of Electrum from any allied outposts or refineries you’ve unlocked as well.
Speaking of weapons, Starlink features a modular design concept for its ships, weapons, and even the pilots. You can mix and match any of these components to fit your whims at any given moment, even in the heat of combat. In fact this mix and matching is highly encouraged, as the right combination of weapons and ship parts can be the key to victory or a one-way street to defeat. The only downside I noticed is that you have to remove everything before you can change pilots, but this is a minor grievance.
Weapons rely heavily on elemental properties, and the player is encouraged to experiment with them to find out their pairing effectiveness. This can be a lot of fun in and of itself, as mixing the right weapons can have very satisfying effects, dealing immense amounts of damage to enemies. I found that fire and ice were a very effective pairing, especially early on, as you can abuse the Thermal Shock status on everything fairly easily. Simply hit an enemy with one element until they either freeze or burn, then hit them with the opposing element.
To further increase the effectiveness of your weapons, you can install several mods into them. These are found all over the game, as rewards for completing objectives and activities, as well as treasure found in the world. The mods have powerful effects, such as increasing the amount of damage you deal with certain elements, or increases your ship’s handling or defense. Mods come in varying degrees of rarity, ranging from common, to rare, to epic, to legendary, and finally unique. Early on you gain the ability to fuse three of the same mod together to increase its rarity and power. This is the key to becoming stronger in Starlink.
In addition to the different weapons and ships, you can also play as one of several different pilots. Each pilot has their own unique abilities and skills to learn as they level up. Pilots, ships, and weapons all level up by defeating enemies, completing missions, and tackling the various activities found on each planet.
Whether in the heat of combat, or in the midst of exploration, the look and feel of the game overall is simply excellent. It’s a lot of fun just to pilot your ship around, as the controls feel very intuitive and responsive. You can just about stop your ship on a dime at the end of a boost if you need it, almost immediately, and even perform rolls and jumping ascents. You can even freely take off from the surface of a planet, fly out into space, travel to the next planet, and seamlessly land on it. Doing so offers some of the most amazing visual experiences in the game.
Travel feels great thanks to the stellar handling, and it’s a lot of fun to just fly around and explore. Whether on a planet’s surface or out in space, you have a lot of options as to how you get to where you need to go. You can skim along the planet’s surface, or take off and fly to your destination as you desire with the push of a button. Once you’ve manually flown to and visited a planet for the first time, you can also fast travel to it, as well as some other specific locations.
After a certain point, you gain the ability to build outposts on the planet surfaces to reinforce them against the Legion. When this happens, the game becomes a little bit more of a grind, but again the game so much fun that you won’t even care. A bar will appear next to each planet, denoting the Legion’s influence on the planet. The more allies you make on each planet, the smaller and smaller the Legion’s influence becomes. Ignore a planet for too long, and the Legion will take it over completely, resulting in another grind to fight it back.
Starlink has a few different difficulty modes. The harder ones focus on the speed at which the Legion spreads as well as increasing the difficulty of combat encounters. Starting out, I’d recommend one of the lower difficulties, and once you get a good feel for the game and how it flows, start a new game on one of the higher ones. Combat gets really intense, and offers a supreme challenge to go with it — as well as the great feeling of satisfaction when you overcome it.
If you are playing the Nintendo Switch version of Starlink, you will notice one particular addition to the game: Starfox and his crew! Ubisoft teamed up with the original developers of the Starfox franchise and the current voice actors for the characters to fully integrate Fox and crew into the game. This is ultimately a perfect fit, as Fox fits into the game’s world without a single hitch. One of the available ships is even the iconic Arwing, which is also fully customizable with the Starlink system and weapons.
Fox is in the Atlas star system for his own reasons, but he can’t help but join the crew of the Equinox in their mission as it becomes apparent that they need his help. You can play through the entire game as Fox, and even complete a mini-campaign dedicated to Fox and his mission in the Atlas system. This mini-campaign features a well-known antagonist and long-time rival to Fox: StarWolf.
There is a rather impressive amount of freedom to Starlink, although it’s not obvious at first. Once you are able to take off from planet’s surface and set off into space, you are able to go to any location in the game, provided that you can survive the journey. Doing so can net you with some powerful upgrades early on, which feels extremely rewarding so soon in the campaign.
The main story campaign of Starlink is of a respectable length, clocking in at about 20 hours. However, this playtime can be extended much further if you choose to complete all the challenges and activities the game provides. Doing so never feels boring, as the rewards are plentiful and help to make you even stronger, and combat is just so fun and rewarding on its own.
A major feature of Starlink is that it is a toys-to-life game, similar to Skylanders or Disney Infinity. I didn’t touch on this before, as I have been playing a digital copy of the game, but if you choose to go the physical route you can also get some collectible toys that affect how you can play. Starlink has some rather impressive looking modular toys that mount directly onto your controller. From here, you can swap out your ship, its weapons, and even the pilot to change your load out in-game. These are all available in different packs which are purchased separately, although the starter editions each come with a copy of the game, a ship, a pilot or two, and a few weapons. You only get access to the weapons, ships, and pilots you physically have, so its encouraged for players to go out and buy these extra packs.
If you were to get everything possible to complete the toy collection, which unlocks every single weapon, ship, and pilot in the game…you’re looking at spending close to $300 USD. Or you could purchase the digital deluxe edition and have everything included in-game for about $80 USD. You can complete the game in its entirety no matter what route you choose, but it’s much simpler and much cheaper to go digital. The physical toys are rather impressive as display pieces though, should you choose to go that route.
Overall I would say that Starlink: Battle for Atlas is an excellent game with few shortcomings. I thoroughly enjoyed my time with it, and plan to enjoy many more hours completing it fully. I’d definitely recommend getting the Nintendo Switch version, as the Starfox fan service is very respectfully done and well-integrated into the game. If you don’t have a Nintendo Switch, then the Playstation 4 and Xbox One versions are more than enough to keep you entertained and offer plenty to do even without the Starfox content.
Final Score: 9/10
A great space adventure with loads of the usual Ubisoft activities to complete, Starlink features stellar visuals coupled with tight controls to create an entertaining experience that should not be passed up!
The review copy of this game was a digital code provided by the publisher.