Halcyon 6: Starbase Commander is one of the most fascinating games I’ve played all year, not just because of its excellent combat system or its gorgeous art style. What initially began as a frustrating foray to mimic the combat systems of other recognizable strategy titles like XCOM, expands and adds intricate levels of depth and complexity all while looking—and playing exceptionally.
Halcyon 6 begins with a well-done tutorial that establishes the world and sets the stakes for the coming doom that will loom over the imaginative heads of the commander and his crew. At the onset of the game, trouble is brewing dangerously close to the titular space station. As the acting commander leaves with a crew to investigate the strange occurrences in the sector, they are ambushed and killed by Space Pirates. These events leave you as the new commander of a halfway operational space station deep in enemy territory, a large outcropping of parasitic alien life forms are also emerging and attacking nearby colonized planets. Suffice it to say, something’s rotten in your nebula.
While the stakes are high, there isn’t really much in the ways of a traditional linear storyline. Instead, what we have are some phenomenally written interactions with Space Pirates, nearby colonies, and other unsavory sorts. These moments add a significant amount of heart and personality to an already stylish game. I particularly remember a chance encounter towards the beginning of my playthrough with a defecting space pirate. She offered me vital information to capture the head honcho of the space pirates. In turn she wanted me to allow her to be the captain of the space pirates. What ensues is a hilarious debate between the two diametrically opposed groups as to whether or not the defecting pirate should become the head of the organization.
Hilarious moments like these are sprinkled in a healthy dosage all over the game and it never fails in putting a big, dumb grin on my face.
What impressed me the most about Halcyon 6 was its addictive combat system. During the first half an hour of the game, I felt that the game was fundamentally slow and nigh on unenjoyable. The combat was repetitive and didn’t allow for any real depth or strategy. Yet, as the game progresses and you’re able to upgrade your ships and units a new layer to the combat is unveiled. While it’s nothing close to a strategy guru’s wet dream, it does straddle between entry level and mild strategizing, never delving too deep or requiring that much from the player. At the beginning of the game your ship is locked in with a total of three combat skills which change depending on the class you select. As Halcyon 6 ramped up I felt the combat system became the star player in escalating my enjoyment. The effects during combat are flashy and larger than life which creates a visceral feeling during encounters. Every laser jolt and missile swarm tears holes in enemy ships, sending pieces of scorched debris rocketing across the screen. There’s an impact to every fight and that’s a great feeling. I’ve seen criticisms leveled against the game for being so focused on the flashy effects that the mechanics take a backseat. I really can’t disagree with this more. The skills all have distinctive attributes and abilities that allow the combat to really flesh itself out, especially later on in the game.
Exploration is a key component in these types of space strategy games. I feel that the fairest comparison to Halcyon 6 would be Stellaris. The difference between the two (and the reason I like one more than the other) is the steep learning curve. Halcyon 6 explains it’s most important elements to you in a very straight-forward manner. Stellaris had the opposite effect on me, I felt as if I was thrown into a mess with no way to determine which way was right or wrong. The barrier to entry for the player isn’t high and doesn’t require you to be a god tier 4x strategy gamer but if you want to play the game like that, it does allow you too. Halcyon is a game that you can just pick up, play, and not get too confused. I appreciate games like this. I know that I may be in a silent minority here but I’m pretty terrible at 4x games. I’ve tried just about every one under the sun and sucked at all of them, Halcyon is different. It doesn’t care that I’m abject garbage at strategy games, it just cares if I’m having a good time and I really like that.
Halcyon 6 is a fun and reliable 4x strategy game that isn’t too demanding of the player and will keep you entertained for hours to come. Halcyon 6 scratches a very similar itch to Rebel Galaxy. I enjoy the act of playing Rebel Galaxy more than Halcyon but I can’t deny that I’m really having a blast. The combat is just the right level of lite strategy to keep me playing casually while the story and dialogue take me along for a fun ride. Halcyon 6 is just a good bit of fun. I’m enjoying going through the motions of combat and resource management and I really can’t say that for a lot of the 4x games I’ve played.