Entropy hands-on: the early days of an ambitious online space sim
This new space MMO has been released on Steam Early Access by Artplant, the team behind the browser-based Battlestar Galactica Online. It’s their attempt at recreating the dynamic, player-driven universe of EVE Online, giving players the opportunity to mine, trade, explore and fry each other with lasers across 120 explorable star systems. CCP’s game has had the benefit of ten years of iteration and updates, so it’s a hard act to follow.
When you load the game you’re dumped straight into the character creation screen. They could really have done with some kind of cinematic here, introducing new players to the universe, but I imagine we’ll see that in a more complete build. The editor is impressively flexible, enabling you to freely mix and match human and alien features without any the limitations of sticking to a particular race. I created a jug-eared, green-skinned thing, although players will only see me as a still portrait.
Spaceships are piloted manually. You steer with the WASD keys, manage speed with the mouse wheel, and roll with Q and E. While it’s nice to have full control over your ship in a game like this, the operation is frustratingly sluggish. I felt like I was driving a tractor through a lake of syrup, rather than blazing through the cosmos.
You start your career by completing a series of tutorials, which felt half-finished and ended abruptly – this is definitely an Early Access game. You’re taught the basics of the combat system first, which is faintly reminiscent of Wing Commander and X. You have to ‘lead’ fast-moving targets to hit them, which contrasts with EVE’s slower back-and-forths. A reticule gives you a rough idea of how far ahead of an enemy to aim your shots.
The developers say the game supports space battles of up to 100 ships, but my experience of playing was pretty lonely; I rarely felt the presence of other players. But if the universe doesn’t feel as alive as it should, it’s new and still building up its player base, so I’ll let it off. Without anyone to team up with, I worked through some jobs on my own. They were fine. Standard MMO fare, with no particularly memorable writing or design yet.
Until the population expands, it’s difficult to judge Entropy. Artplant say it’s a universe designed to be shaped by players, so I don’t think their vision will be fully realised until the servers fill up. Whether it’s a powerful enough platform to create the kinds of fascinating stories that emerge from EVE’s sandbox remains to be seen, but I admire the developers’ ambition. The success of Star Citizen, which raised a staggering $10 million, proves people are hungry for space sims, but Entropy will have to do something pretty special to stand out from the crowd.