Battlestar Galactica Online, and two other sci-fi MMOs you can play in your browser right now
There’s not a huge downside to having games run in your browser nowadays (thanks in no small part to the magic of the Unity engine). Take BSGO for example: it may run in your browser, but it’s a legitimate space sim MMO with great off-the-rails combat in an attractive, 3D environment. I've been playing in the beta, defending the colonies as Captain Santa, Viper pilot. The beta is open at this stage, so you can join the fight to preserve humanity (or you can be a toaster if you’d rather fight for the Cylons) at http://battlestar-galactica.bigpoint.com/, but you should know three things before you do.
1. It's not like the TV show
This isn't a space opera (whether that’s a plus or minus for you, I can’t say). The stale writing and lack of voice acting leave BSGO with as much tension as soggy string. The game’s setting—an “untold chapter” taking place during the second half of the TV show’s second season—also removes any potential for unexpected plot twists. You don’t have to be afraid of losing your fictional loved ones: Starbuck and the Adamas will be there to give you quests for all eternity, and you already know who the Cylons are.
2. Money can make you God
Hi, Billy Mays here for BSGO! Tired of being treated like a nugget? Have no fear, the nuke is here! For one small payment of 63 cents, you can own the deadliest weapon in the BSGO universe! Turn your enemies green…with radiation! But wait, there’s more! While you’re buying some nukes, grab some experience too! Why grind and earn your levels when you can just buy ‘em? Go from as weak as a llama to as powerful as Adama in just one purchase! Order now!
Nukes one-time use only. Ship sold separately.
3. It’s a frackin’ blast
Don’t let the crazy price tags scare you though—you can have a ton of fun without dropping a dime. Once you get used to the funky keyboard-and-mouse control system, piloting your Viper is natural, and teaming up with players to destroy a Cylon Basestar is a very memorable experience. As a fan of the TV show, I loved being able to live in this universe—the first time I flew by the beautifully-rendered Galactica, I almost cried. I felt like I was a part of the Galactica family, which is exactly what I wanted from this game.
Space at a snail's pace - By Lucas Sullivan
Fleets is a great sci-fi alternative for the incognito, office-bound gamer. As a turn-based strategy game, it can easily be thrown behind a spreadsheet when the boss walks by and it even vaguely resembles a Microsoft Visio flowchart (bonus points!).
Playing Fleets feels a lot like managing a virtual pet—albeit one stuffed with metal and lasers. Instead of a fluffy bunny, you’re entrusted with a small armada of starships that’s eager to grow, explore and neutralize all pirate threats in the nearby vicinity. Every half hour, you can help your little space mongrels achieve their goal by ordering them to invade nearby hexagons, building reinforcement ships or constructing mines to fuel your war machine.
Your empire continues to expand whether or not you’re logged in—as long as you queue up actions ahead of time. With constant nurture, your small colony can grow into a mighty galactic empire, crushing the NPC and human opponents in their way. Or your poor little space pups will get gobbled up by a mightier force—either way, the match’ll be over in two week’s time and you’ll be free to start over from scratch. If you’re feeling impatient, Chaos games run on two-minute turns and only last a couple of hours.
Little touches like achievements and excellent ambient techno give a strong boost to Fleets’ quality and immersion level. Tech trees are surprisingly deep and your flagship gains experience as you wipe out baddies (although it’s not persistent between matches).
A word of warning: Fleets borrows the Zynga philosophy of design, where overpowered conveniences (like beefed-up ships and instant unit production) can be bought with cash. But I had plenty of fun exploring and conquering the universe cash-free. If you’re the type of gamer who wants a little more time to think things through, go to http://playfleets.com to jump in.
MMO Autopsy - By Anthony Valva
All is quiet as I mine the asteroid in front of me—one of hundreds that must fall if I want to purchase a weapon upgrade for my ship. Five hours later, I’m still not close to being able to afford the upgrade and I’m beginning to worry that even if I do get mega-weapons, there’ll be no one for me to show them off to: I haven’t seen a single player fly by.
Almost everything about Outer Galaxies—from the interface to the interactions (hunt pirates, mine asteroids, build alliances)—reminds me of an isometric, 2D-version of EVE Online. But something’s missing. On the official wiki, I find tales from a grand universe filled with hundreds of captains leading massive fleets into battle and bloodthirsty alliances backstabbing each other on a daily basis. It looks incredible.
But those people are gone and that world no longer exists—just their memoirs. The wiki’s a time capsule: filled with urgent warnings of impending attacks that would never come.
Suddenly, I realize that I’m playing the corpse of an MMO, and it’s more depressing than the grind.