You could find Star Renegades on PC for some time now, but the game has finally made its appearance on the Xbox One, and the RPG/Strategy hybrid has made the transition nicely. Featuring great artwork and thoughtful, tactical gameplay, Star Renegades is one of the better games to come out in 2020.
Admittedly, the story itself is a bit on the thin side for an RPG title, as you are responding to a warning from another dimension (brought to you by the robot J5T-1N) that impending doom is upon you. This ties into the roguelike gameplay that sees your heroes falling time and time again, sending forward what you learned with J5T-1N so he can warn the next dimension. Lather, rinse and repeat until your units are strong enough to withstand the attacker.
While the story itself is not terribly memorable, the real start of the show for tactics fans will be the combat. The battle system operates on a turn-based principle that is managed through a variety of menus. If that sounds a bit old-school, that’s because it is in a lot of ways. That being said, there is more skill than RNG luck at play here, with the right moves at the right time leading to especially effective attacks, not just the luck of the draw. There are some interesting ‘instant’ skills you can apply that layer into the gameplay. Admittedly, given how old-school the core combat felt, this mechanic seemed a bit jarring at first, but once I got the hang of it, I appreciated the extra level of impact it allowed me to have on my battles. It is hard to fully explain how all of these little tweaks can make such a big difference, but I certainly felt as though I had greater impact on the outcome than many other strategy titles I have played over the years.
It helps that the visual and character designs are so good, as they compliment the tactical gameplay nice. There’s real difference between the different units you acquire over time, and sometimes that nuance makes all of the difference. The graphics fit the science fiction plot notes and characters rather nicely, with flashy effects and solid animations that bring the combat to life. I do wish that the soundtrack was a bit more memorable, however. Given how sharp things look visually, the music just never gelled with me in the same way. It was never bad, but it just wasn’t memorable or all that catchy either.
Being that this is a roguelike, progression is a tricky thing – but the overall balance of what carries over each time worked for me. That’s saying something, as I tend to have a hit-and-miss relationship with the genre. You don’t earn experience like you would in a typical RPG (which makes sense given the disposable nature of each dimension), but characters can still be leveled up how you like based on your overall success. Sometimes the genre is so punitive that I feel like my time’s just being wasted, but here ability to upgrade characters and improve their bonds with one another provides a good foundation that kept me coming back for more. Really in a nutshell, that describes Star Renegades rather aptly from my perspective: I just kept coming back for more.
It helps that in true roguelike fashion, each dimension gets a nice shake-up from the last, so you’re encountering completely different scenarios. This probably shows up in the Intelligent Adversary system. It reminded me of a slightly watered down version of the Nemesis system from Shadow of Mordor. The idea is an enemy that will adapt to how you play, making itself harder to kill and forcing you to change tactics.
I don’t know that Star Renegades has much replay value once you’ve beaten the game – it’s not like the story itself really takes any twists or turns, or has special / hidden content (at least not that I discovered) to try and unlock on a second go-through, but the ever-changing stages do a nice job of keeping that initial adventure fresh. Despite the rather slow-paced, tactical nature of the combat, that ‘one more battle’ addictive quality kept me churning through dimensions rather greedily.
One thing I’m always curious about when a game moves from PC to console, is how well it controls. This is especially true of menu-heavy RPG or strategy games, which Star Renegades most certainly is. The good news is, I found the UI pretty easy to navigate and never found myself going: Man, I bet this was a lot easier when using a mouse and keyboard. So to that end, kudos to the devs for good design.