Battlevoid: Harbinger is a roguelike strategy game that blends games like Starsector and FTL into a semi-unique take on the genre. I say semi-unique because even though I’ve never played a game quite like it, nearly every mechanic is present in either Starsector or FTL. Combining these games results in an atypical experience, but to me, it always felt like a worse version of both.
Battlevoid’s combat operates similarly to Starsector, but with most of the mechanics whittled down to be less complex and more accessible. In Starsector, you build up a fleet of space ships that all fall into different classes, each with their own roles to play. You might have a tanker ship that just carries fuel for the rest of the fleet, a carrier that holds small fighter ships, or a destroyer fitted with plenty of firepower. In combat, the AI controls most of your ships, while you pilot only one of them. You can give orders to your ships, but they can also handle combat on their own just fine. You can customize your ships with different modifications and weapons, allowing two identical ships to fill different roles based on their equipment. In contrast, Battlevoid places severe limitations on your ships, both in design and in building your fleet. Your fleet is limited to three ships, making it infeasible to have ships fill different roles. Sure, you can make a support ship that helps out your other two, but it’s typically far more useful to just have a couple more guns instead. The other limit is that there is typically only two weapon slots for customization, with smaller ships only having one. Each ship also has a few support slots that can take a shield boost or a small turret for shooting down missiles or fighters. In Starsector ships can have huge amounts of weapons, with some of the largest ships capable of holding over 20. This gives ship customization depth and complexity, while Battlevoid keeps everything simple. This isn’t an inherently bad thing, but Battlevoid takes it too far and becomes bland because of it. Even compared to FTL, which only lets you control a single ship, Battlevoid has a clear lack of variety.
The roguelike elements of Battlevoid also leave a lot to be desired. It uses a standard roguelite progression system, in which you unlock new starting ships as you play, but it does it based on a stingy experience system, making it feel overly grindy. FTL lets you unlock new ships by either beating the final boss or by performing special in-game tasks. This gives you the sense of organically progressing because you don’t just watch an exp bar fill up, you actually progress as you get better at the game. Battlevoid is also shockingly repetitive for a roguelike. Because roguelikes are built around playing the same game over and over, they typically go above and beyond when it comes to having variation between different playthroughs. A game like FTL has hundreds of randomized events that can occur, but you only see a handful of them every time you play. With Battlevoid, there is very little mission variety, so each playthrough follows the same basic formula. The starting ships that you unlock are also bland and sometimes indistinguishable from each other. FTL gives each ship its own playstyle, but in Battlevoid, the only difference between ships are their health and the number of weapon slots they have.
Visually, the game looks good, thanks to a consistent art style and distinct ship aesthetics. The main drawback comes from the lack of ship variety, but that’s more of a gameplay problem than a graphical one. The soundtrack is nothing to write home about, but it never becomes bad, just typical. It’s actually one of the game’s stronger points, given how lackluster many elements are.
Being a roguelike, there isn’t much story, but what’s here is good. Once again, it suffers from being generic, but it doesn’t take away from the experience. For most roguelikes, I’m fine with a non-existent story, mainly because we all know what to expect going into it.
Overall, Battlevoid: Harbinger is just a typical roguelike. It pulls ideas from some great games, but it’s never greater than the sum of its parts. I wouldn’t call it a bad game, just a mediocre one. In a way, this makes it even harder to recommend, because an inconsistent game usually will have some great elements that might appeal to certain people who can ignore the game’s faults, but Battlevoid is so consistently “meh” that you never get a high to justify a low.
*On a positive note, I would recommend people check out Space Haven by the same developer. It’s a different genre, but it seems like the studio has found a game that plays to their strengths as developers. It’s still early access, so I wouldn’t buy it just yet, but it’s on the right track.