I found out that there was an iOS game set in David Weber’s Honor Harrington universe. I should mention that I’m not a big fan of mobile gaming in general, so it takes a lot to get this particular fish to bite.
I was hooked on the Honor Harrington series from the first book (On Basilisk Station), and it was a fun ride up until David Weber presumably got Too Big To Edit and/or the voices in his head suddenly demanded that he stop writing exciting adventures and start stitching together shambling Frankenbooks out of cut and pasted sections of previous novels plus 18,000 pages of political intrigue and way too much exposition on stuff that doesn’t exactly move the plot along.
Like a schmuck, however, I kept buying his books because I have to know what’s going on with the important characters that I got attached to in earlier novels. It reminds me of the phase I went through as a small kid where I kept licking 9-volt batteries over and over. Zap! Ow! Hee hee. Zap! Ow! Hee hee. Why am I still doing this? Zap! Ow! Hee hee. I think they have twelve-step programs for stuff like this, and there’s probably an entry in the DSM for it. Point being, I’ve been becoming increasingly annoyed with David Weber’s writing style over the last few novels, but I really like the universe he created.
So, I downloaded the game.
That’s the first thing you see when the game loads. I found it a little jarring because the design aesthetic is pretty generic and sufficiently different from what the novels describe that I wouldn’t have recognized it as having anything to do with the Honorverse if the title was removed. Supposedly, the original designs weren’t visually exciting enough, and the folks dealing with the film/video game adaptation felt they needed to change things up. I can kind of see their point, but I sorta wish they’d stuck with the original design aesthetic.
I was surprised by the depth to the gameplay. It’s sort of like a Japanese roleplaying game with spaceships, combined with a time/resource management game, and it’s actually pretty fun.
You can manage your ship and crew, modifying their capabilities and experience over time by expending 3 different forms of in-game resources: Prestige, Metal, and Plasma. Tapping any of the system icons on the ship screen takes you to a specific section, where you can install various components to modify and improve that system’s capabilities.
Messing around with components is interesting–installing, upgrading, and swapping out components between battles has a surprising amount of depth to it. One of the neatest elements of the game is that when your ship takes critical damage to any of these system sections, you actually have to play through the damage control process on the system screens by putting out fires before they destroy tiles, conduits, or components.
Components can be bought from Outposts or salvaged from cargo pods after battles.
You travel around the game on the Sector Map, tapping on where you want to go. I disliked the use of the word “Warp” here since it feels like it got cribbed from the wrong universe, but whatever. There are numbered plot points and random encounters (marked by a ? in the snapshot above), and clicking on any of them takes you into combat.
The cheesy text cutscenes that sometimes happen right before entering combat make me grin because they take me right back down Memory Lane to the JRPGs I used to play on the NES/SNES and Playstation.
I tried to capture an exciting battle using the Everplay instant replay feature, but for some reason it crashes frequently on uploading when attempting to share battles that last longer than a minute or thereabouts, so you’ll have to settle for this less dramatic random encounter here:
My initial fears that Honorverse ship-to-ship combat might feel a bit flavorless or “off” when distilled into a simplified 1:1 screen mashing duel thankfully proved groundless. There are a number of different missile types, a number of different countermeasure types, and there’s a whole layer of offensive strategy in picking the right kind of missile to fire at the right time, and a defensive strategy in using your countermissiles, point defense lasers, ECM, and gravitic wedge to protect against incoming fire. In some ways, it deviates a bit from how things are presented in the novels, but it works and feels fairly solid.
Another thing that I was initially dubious about was the fact that it’s a free-to-play game with in-app purchasing. That sort of stuff usually ends up being an obnoxious pay-to-win proposition that gleefully and unrepentantly milks players like cows, but this particular game isn’t anywhere nearly as bad as I thought it would be in this department. You can buy various amounts of Prestige in blocks of 0.99, 1.99, or 4.99 USD, and then spend that on other resources, or you can forgo in-app purchases entirely and simply grind for resources in random encounters and replays.
The advancement balance between paying vs playing feels okay to me. So far, it seems like you can raise enough Metal and Plasma to keep your ship well-stocked in missiles and components without feeling too much like you’re mowing the lawn with a pair of scissors. If you time your crew and component upgrades to happen while you’re away from the game, the upgrade countdowns are less annoying. In my case, the game’s demanding enough that it runs down my iPod’s battery to 20% pretty quickly, so I just start the time-consuming upgrades right before plugging it in to recharge and then wander off to do something else for a while.
This game takes liberties with the source material, screws my iPod Touch’s battery life like a lusty bonobo, and crashes frequently, but it’s pretty fun, and I like it.