Colonies Online Preview
For a while now, weâve been living in an age where video games are no longer a one-off purchase. MMORPG titles aside, about seven years ago it was normal to pay 40-60$ for a game, take it home and enjoy the investment for as long as you wanted to. With the dawn of the digital age, however, this all changed. Not only do prices fluctuate wildly now, but thereâs also an abundance of payment models to choose from. Maybe you like going to the brick-and-mortar stores to get a physical copy just as you did in the old days? Maybe you prefer playing the free-to-play games instead? Pay-to-win is also an option I guess. It all depends on the developer in question, of course. And some devs are especially audacious. Iâll take Phantom Pain as a prime example of this cheekiness â a fully priced game where the developer/publisher decided to include microtransactions all the same. Of course, thereâs a plenty of games doing that in the wild now, but that doesnât make it any less intrusive or rude. Having cleared that up, Colonies Online is another such game.
What is even going on.
The underlying idea behind Colonies Online is that players have to secure a foothold on their planet of choice, team up with others and build a structure to call home. A simple notion that smoothly introduces one of the gameâs most important gameplay mechanics through casual gameplayâ¦ in theory.
In practice, things are quite different though. Upon kickstarting Colonies Online I was presented with a to-be-implemented character creator, which defaulted me to a large, muscular baldling who looks exactly the same as all other people in this game do. I shrugged that annoyance off due to the gameâs Early Access nature â there are things missing all the time in games undergoing active development, so this is to be expected. The game spawned me in a classic hi-tech facility in which colonists were waking up; it also doubled as a training gauntlet with heavily weakened critters running amok. This is where the first real problems start rearing their ugly heads.
Firstly, Colonies: Online suffers from a massively over-convoluted user interface. Make no mistake, this is a simple isometric shooter through-and-through, yet what could easily have been a streamlined, simple and inviting UI was turned into the flashy mess that it is here. I donât want 40% of my screen to be cluttered with useless information, let alone have that useless information be presented in a way that irks my eyes. The graphics themselves are of passing quality at least. Nothing to be writing home about, but thereâs visual potential in this game, if nothing else. UI and graphics aside, gameplay is whatâs most important about any game, especially during its tender alpha/beta stages; itâs a gameâs defining quality after all, and if core gameplay isnât up to par there simply isnât much to talk about. Colonies: Online is not a fun game at this point, sadly.
The entirety of gameplay rests upon two pillars. Thereâs combat, naturally, which can be best described through the usage of adjectives such as âcrooked, jagged, laggyâ and my personal favourite: âsluggishâ. Seriously though, thereâs so little to this game right now that itâs not even funny. Hitting âTABâ shifts your baldling into a combat stance so stiff and awkward even the original Deus Exâ combat animations look good in comparison. You aim your armament via the installed laser sight, and then fire away. As you take down five different kinds of insectoid creatures over and over again, loot magically appears in your inventory without so much as a bloody notice! The absolute lack of feedback, be it that of hitting a mob or picking loot up is unforgivable. And donât even get me started on hit feedback itself, because the damned insects like to ignore your shots every once in a while even though they so clearly hit their mark. Ping issues, perhaps? I presume thatâs a possibility, but itâs not like the gameâs only just released on Early Access for these issues to persist. Oh no, Colonies: Online has now been available for the Steam users to play since May 2014. The level of quality, or lack thereof is not to be ignored. But I digress.
Oh wow, thank Godâ¦
The second gameplay pillar, aside from the mind-numbingly dull combat module is the base-building, which works well. Actually, now that I think of it, this is the only part of the game that works properly and is even slightly enjoyable. Unless, of course, you got followed by a band of crooks who ravage your newly built hideout just so that they can steal your belongings. Low-level bases are easily destroyed by experienced players, and even though it definitely is possible to shield your stuff once you attain proper gear, thatâs a long way to go from the starting point. And whatâs separating you from the instant base-building, you ask? Why, itâs the grind, of course! Now, I honestly donât mind grind when the game Iâm grinding is fun. Hell, Iâve got 1100 hours in Warframe and about half of that surely is grind, but Iâm having fun there. Colonies: Online is not comprised of anything but dull, pointless and sickening grind that slaps you in the face simply because combat itself falls flat every step of the way.
That said, thereâs one last part of the game I havenât touched upon just yetâ¦ and that are the microtransactions. Now, this feature decidedly does not make the game a pay-to-win endeavour, but it really made me think. Colonies: Online does not play like a beta game. No, itâs more like early alpha, even after over a year in Early Access. That fact alone makes it irredeemable in my books. Itâs understandable for the developers to require extra funds to improve their code, but that means considerable improvements should be made. I may not have played this game back when it was released, but I dread to think what that had to be like so far back in development. No, this does not bug me all that much. My issue is that the developers have the gall to ask players for even MORE money so as to make the game enjoyable faster. âWant to skip the first ten hours of pants-droppingly boring grind? No problem, friend, just cough up more cash and weâll see what we can do!â
To hell with that. If Colonies: Online was fun Iâd understand the inclusion of one such option. If it was nearing its full release Iâd maybe even defend its usage since the developers possibly would have been barely making ends meet at that point. No, with the game sitting at version 0.11.6 at the time of writing this feature, thereâs no way developers are planning a full release anytime soon. A tiny bit of deductive reasoning tells us that there are three possible conclusions for Colonies: Online. We may witness the development picking up speed somewhere further down the line and the game getting released half-way done as many other Early Access projects already have been. Maybe the devs will simply lose interest and let the game die on its own in the limbo theyâve created. Finally, and most unlikely, the game will remain in Early Access for years to come, with incremental improvements being made at the slowest pace.
So you might wonder why am I attacking this game quite so much, when in actuality itâs a fairly mediocre, albeit low-quality piece of software? Because someone, somewhere has to make a stand against microtransactions of this kind. I am making mine now, thus concluding this preview in a sombre tone.