Review Date: March 20 2012
Regrettably, I haven't got around to watching the 2004 remake of the "Battlestar Galactica" television series, but sadly, I am old enough to vaguely remember the original series which aired way back in 1978. The franchise has inspired several video games over the years, including Bigpoint's Battlestar Galactica Online (BGO), which launched in 2011. You take your place among the human or the Cylon fleet and the cosmic dogfight begins.
I should stress that BGO is a true browser game, it isn't simply launched from a browser. Although it runs in a browser window there is a full screen option. BGO uses the Unity browser plugin and there is minimal downloading required. You'll be in the game a few short minutes after registering on their site. That may not sound like much, but given the quality of BGO's graphics, it's an impressive feat.
In typical MMORPG fashion, you begin by choosing a faction. In this case you can let the system assign you a faction in return for an XP bonus; a mechanism likely intended to help balance faction numbers. I opted for the bonuses and was placed on the Cylon side. BGO provides you with an avatar although it isn't really part of gameplay, all of which takes place in your spaceship. The only time you see your avatar is when you're docked at a station to pick up missions or trade, and these areas are not public.
It doesn't take long to figure out that BGO is all about the space combat. You're given full "manual" control over your ship and can fly in all directions. The game is designed for mouse and keyboard, with no official support for joysticks. Flying is kept very simple, but not so simple that you're merely selecting a destination. While BGO has far more control settings than most browser games, they still seem a little sparse.
The primary weaponry includes cannons, missiles, and mines, but you have an assortment of other skills that can also be used in battle. Dogfights are one of the game's strong points, and there are both enemy mobs and enemy players to contend with. It falls slightly short of being a pure shooter as you are still "sticky targeting," but there is plenty of maneuvering and timing involved. It also undeniably looks great and sounds great for a Web game.
As much as I enjoy the space combat, there's not a whole lot else going on in BGO. It has a mining mechanic that is decently implemented, and you can earn money to buy better ships and upgrades, but there is no crafting and no player-driven economy. Also missing is any semblance of a storyline. A few tutorials introduce you to the basics, and missions consist of a handful of routine tasks that can be repeated daily. After that it's either grind, PvP, or buy some progress from the cash shop.
Colonials vs. Cylons
The Colonials and the Cylon in BSO are fighting over control of a portion of the galaxy. Once a faction takes over a system, mines can be built to provide additional resources. These battles are not instanced and there are no level restrictions. There is something to be said for these conflicts, although they are usually a chaotic and imbalanced affair, with new players serving primarily as cannon fodder. One shortcoming is that the human side appears to significantly outnumber the Cylon side on most servers; a problem which is quite common in two faction games.
BGO is a free-to-play game supported with a cash shop, and as is often the case in F2P land, there are ample incentives to get you to open your wallet. Ships are priced in Cubits which are sold for real money in the cash shop. Cubits can be earned in the game, but at an extremely low rate relative to the price of ships. Grinding your way to a second or third ship without spending money is a monumental task. And it's not just about ships; there are all sorts of things that Cubits can buy, from XP bonuses to superior ammo. These systems seemed designed to obscure the cost of keeping the game enjoyable as much as possible, which makes them hard to recommend over games with more straightforward pricing schemes.
The Bottom Line
BGO is a terrific showcase of what can be accomplished in a Web browser using the Unity plugin, especially in terms of visuals. There's a solid space combat game here, but the rest of it is very shallow compared to the average MMORPG, and perhaps more importantly, Eve Online. As remarkable as it is for a browser game, it's difficult to justify the pricing. For the inconvenience of a large download, most gamers will get more bang for their buck from the more substantial titles in the genre, some of which are also F2P.