It's been a good couple of years for the games descended from Defense of the Ancients. The direct descendants, like Heroes of Newerth, League of Legends, and Defense of the Ancients 2, have pretty much saturated the market for games that want to do a better version of what Defense of the Ancients already did. That means we're working entering a new era, where the genre gets mashed together with anything else at hand, resulting in games like Super Monday Night Combat and the subject of this review, Stellar Impact.
This isn't a bad thing in the least. While players into the genre can be fairly expected to have a solid handle on the core mechanics of a Defense of the Ancients-based game, that means that the core entries in the genre are all pretty much the same. On the other hand, Stellar Impact manages a few key twists to the genre by introducing neutral points to capture, personal and team tech trees, escort units, and multiple other new aspects that add a few more wrinkles to the genre.
On the downside, not all of this is particularly easy to handle. It's already a pretty daunting genre, and such drastic changes, along with a tutorial that only really teaches the very basics of the game, means that a player who's not experienced with the options the game presents will have more than their fair share of difficulty in adjusting to the game's differences, and without any practice mode to be found, you'll have to do your adjustment in live matches.
Fortunately, the community seems unusually forgiving for a game descended from Defense of the Ancients. Most of the games in the genre have a community with the temperament and patience of a pack of wild dogs. On the other hand, Stellar Impact's community, in the games I fumbled through learning the ropes, were astoundingly patient and willing to explain how to use my ship's abilities, such that I was actually able to play semi-effectively by the end of it.
This might have to do with one of the core differences Stellar Impact has from most other Defense of the Ancients-based games: You need to pay for it. While most of its cousins are free to play with the option to pay for characters or skins, Stellar Impact has a $10 entry fee. It's a little unorthodox, and while it might do a good job of keeping the worst of the worst out of the community, it also presents a pretty significant barrier to entry compared to other games of its type.
While Stellar Impact currently has a small selection of ships, they each fill an archetypal role. Coming packed in with the game, you have a variety of ships that range from fast attack to leadership roles, while the DLC adds artillery, support, and carrier ships. Coming from games like League of Legends, it might be nice to see more than one ship per role, but the relatively small number of skill points per game forcing specialization does make different ships on the same team potentially play differently from one another.
The game's controls are fairly easy once you get used to them. Ships control like you'd expect them to, with a throttle controlling speed and mouse clicks or the A and D keys controlling facing. It's a bit simple, but in the heat of combat, when you're circling opponents, trying to get a broadside on them, it's still simple naval combat. Your facing to your target determines what guns you can bring to bear, and the need to stay mobile while keeping your best side towards your enemies makes the game feel quite a bit different from most games of its type.
The game's graphics and sound leave something to be desired. It's not very pretty, and the game's sounds don't really enforce any sort of personality or feel to the game. Still, the core gameplay is strong enough to excuse the graphics, and you can always mute the game and put something more interesting on, so neither are exactly game-ruiners.
Stellar Impact's an interesting game, and I'm glad to have played it for review. That said, with all the other games in the same genre out there, I'm not sure if I would have picked it up, even for $10. Your potential enjoyment of this title depends entirely upon how much the idea of the peanut butter and chocolate combination of space naval combat and Defense of the Ancients-style gameplay intrigues you. If you're at all curious, it'll be worth the time, but if you're not, there's certainly a dozen other games in the same family waiting for you out there.