Space has always been the perfect setting for video games, from the trading and exploration of Elite to the bleepy bang bang shooting of Space Invaders. In fact, the first videogame ever made was called Spacewar!
So Rogue Universe belongs to a long lineage of cosmic videogames, but also to a much shorter – but equally significant – lineage of strategy-MMORPGs on mobile. For the most part it does both sides of its family tree proud.
Let’s start with the basics. The central gameplay mechanic in Rogue Universe is familiar from every other strategy-MMORPG since Clash of Clans. You have a base, plus people, plus ships, and all of them can be levelled up by fighting, completing missions, collecting achievements, and investing the loot you earn into making yourself stronger in a variety of different ways.
But it handles this loop in its own unique way. The first innovation is your base, which is actually a hulking mothership, made up of six modules, orbiting a 3D planet that you can rotate in any direction with a swipe.
The novelty here is that Rogue Universe doesn’t expect you to unlock and construct new building types as you level-up. Instead, you have the lot from the beginning in the form of the six mothership modules – though you have to keep reinforcing these to get anywhere.
Aside from your mothership you need to manage your crew and your fleet, by constantly recruiting and constructing people and ships of several different kinds. Crew come in Combatant, Support, and Guest forms, each with a choice of four skills and a customizable salary level, giving you plenty of scope for rich personnel management.
Ships, meanwhile, broadly come in four different flavours: Main, Arsenal, Utility, and Torpedo Bomber. Within those categories are many more, such as Assault, Swarm, Battleship, Destroyer, Privateer, Antifighter Craft. Stealth Cruiser, and, well, the list goes on.
All of this gives you a lot to work with in terms of tailoring your forces around your playing style and your goals. The research tree is similarly nuanced, letting you focus on six different areas, with branching paths in each. If that all sounds a bit overwhelming, you can relax – a story mode, made of up a series of chapter-like Journeys, holds your hand through the important early-game moves.
Your tasks are diverse too. At the most basic level, you can attack other players, attack NPCs, complete missions, or undertake a Deep Strike – a series of increasingly difficult battles, more or less like a tower in a fantasy RPG, but with saved progress.
There are two ways to attack players and NPCs – either by selecting them from the Scramble menu or by hunting them down manually through the 3D interface. While hunting them down is more immersive, and you get to examine your enemy before rushing in, it can be a fiddly process. You’ll be glad of the simpler option.
Missions range from reclaiming planets to mining to ambushing cargo ships. There’s a diverse selection, requiring a diverse fleet, though it’s worth pointing out that these missions all take place off camera, as do the attacks. You very much play the role of detached pen-pushing commander, sending fleets off to carry out various tasks while you watch their timers tick down – or expedite them by spending gems or cards.
You do get to witness firefights in the Deep Strike mode, but they’re not particularly exciting to watch.
Elsewhere the presentation is much slicker. It has plenty of character, too, thanks to the huge cast of characters and the engaging story cut-scenes, all put together by a team of well respected comic book artists.
The level of technical polish is decent too. Rotating your 3D planets, zooming in on your mothership and its modules, and zooming out to the galaxy view to navigate between systems all look and feel immersively slick, and the game does a good job of scaling its interactivity to suit different styles of play.
That said, Rogue Universe is a more cerebral strategy-RPG than most, with an emphasis on the administrative demands of interstellar conquest, from the basics of staff recruitment to the tricky field of diplomacy in a universe swarming with other players, NPCs, and dominated by huge opposing factions. Check it out for yourself on Google Play.
If you’re in the market for something a bit different in the strategy-RPG genre, or if you’re fond of huge, endlessly explorable space games of yore such as Frontier, Freelancer, and more recently Elite Dangerous, you should give Rogue Universe a try.