Steambirds Alliance Closed Beta Report – 1st Weekend
Release Date: Summer 2019
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Steambirds Alliance, developed by Spry Fox, just recently entered closed beta and I had the great privilege of playing it, so I want to share my thoughts. Let me preface my closed report by saying that I have very little experience with the bullet-hell genre, and I am also not that great at the genre either, so keep that in mind for the full context of my experience.
Steambirds Alliance is a bullet-hell rogue-lite MMORPG and from my experience and the presentation of the game the “rogue-lite” part of the experience is significant and may alter how you feel about playing this game. Unlike other MMORPG games where you can resurrect and continue from where you left off, SBA has a permadeath for whatever plane you are using at the time and its inventory, except the rogue-lite part of the game comes into play with Pilot EXP and Pilot Points.
As someone who isn’t great at the bullet-hell genre, I found the game to be at relatively easy to jump into and learn through the tutorial. In my couple of hours of playing the game I never felt like I was completely overwhelmed, as I was able to maneuver my planes with ease because the bullets weren’t at such high speeds in the early levels. Like other MMOs, the main area you get dropped into is a vast open world in which you can run into other players and the farther you fly out the greater the enemy level. This is the first area of my experience that I both had enjoyment and not, as this area is easy to get quick level ups to start out, but I found the enemies to be really crunched together like an enemy salad that just seemed weird. All that being said, the enemy difficulties seemed easy to start with, as I had a quest marker that helped direct me in the proper direction. The first quests sent me in a direction and eventually into an instance that I was able to clear very easily that also included a boss. Although the boss was easy, It made me want to play an instance of a much harder boss to test my skills.
The overworld hub in the game is relatively compact, as all the places to visit are all close together, including the storage for your gear. Every flyer starts with tier 0 gear, but you can store items for storage in case you die so you can replenish. This is where I didn’t quite like the game experience because the game inventory management only gives you a limited amount of storage to start that I was quickly able to fill up with extra gear just in case. More disappointing, there is no way to sell items or break up items, as you have to just drop them on the floor, which is kind of annoying. The plus side is that people will drop or giveaway extra items in the player hub area that could be upgrades, but to me that isn’t enough to keep that system the way it is.
Although I generally enjoyed flying around and just leveling, the quests are there and I did follow my quest markers. My major frustration with Steambirds Alliance came at least several times I was following a quest marker only to be randomly teleported into an area surrounded by enemies, and even worse, enemies at least five levels higher than me. So you know what that means? I easily died and had to start over. That sent me to the Pilots EXP screen, which had a level bar that went up and I also gained Pilot points to use on the skill tree, which was very jumbled and somewhat confusing. The pilot points allow you to upgrade things like armor or specific weapons. The pilot skill tree was one long list and it seemed to me like it could be organized better, like into tabs or something. I spent most of my time looking at the tree to try figure out whether an upgrade would affect the plane I was using, which is another presentation issue the game could make easier to see and figure out, like probably by using tabs.
I played long enough to get enough points for decent upgrades and unlock another flyer, the Paladin. The first plane, Quad, to the Paladin was a significant change in playstyle, but a much welcomed one. This is where I can see SBA shining, as there are other planes to unlock down the line with various requirements, plus you can house different planes in your hangar fully geared and take them out whenever you want.
Although I did feel like my planes got stronger from death to death, as well as my playing ability in this genre, the rogue-lite element to the game felt too punishing. It also signals to me that casual players of the bullet-hell genre might not be willing to stick around in this game, as the game seems geared to the seasoned players of the genre. A bigger inventory to start would probably mitigate this issue, but I still felt like I would eventually hit a skill wall if I hit later levels. Unfortunately, the wall I did hit was being randomly teleported to being surrounded by high level enemies leaving me to feel hopeless and annoyed. I hope that is just a bug.
Steambirds Alliance is in closed beta, so I hope the game makes improvements where it needs to, especially with the skill tree UI. I will continue to play this because I am still intrigued to see how the game goes from here and I didn’t feel totally overwhelmed as a weak bullet-hell genre player.