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Star Citizen still doesn’t live up to its promise, and players don’t care

A decade in, development’s still trucking along

Star Citizen - A blocky, industrial looking orange ship flies through space, propelled by thrusters. Image: Roberts Space Industries
Cass Marshall is a news writer focusing on gaming and culture coverage, taking a particular interest in the human stories of the wild world of online games.

It’s 2022, and I just got into Star Citizen. An uninitiated spacefarer might be surprised at how much there is to explore.

It all started when a friend purchased starter packs for me and my friends. Despite being a skeptic who has largely been disinterested in the game, I was surprised to find a galaxy I could actually explore. Spending a few hours in the world of Star Citizen is intriguing, breathtaking, and frustrating all at once. I found myself taking time to just stop and watch advertisements for fictional mercenary companies, or sitting and bathing in the neon glow of a futuristic plaza. It is a game that is far more advanced than many people think, despite falling short in many respects.

Many people aren’t aware of how far Star Citizen has come — which makes sense, as it has so far still to go. It is, in fact, not actually a singular game but a franchise consisting of a persistent universe (PU) and an unreleased single-player campaign game called Squadron 42 that still doesn’t have a release date (and hasn’t since 2016).

Mark Hamill in a flight suit in an early image from Star Citizen’s Squadron 42 product. Image: Cloud Imperium Games

The game has been infamous for its slow and delayed development cycle; for many people, the title has become just a meme, and its harshest critics online have even claimed the game is a “scam”. As the years have passed, the gap between those who are following Star Citizen and those who are disinterested has grown. If you’ve given up — or never boarded the hype train — then you might only know about Star Citizen from snarky headlines like “CIG reels back Star Citizen’s roadmap because players ‘interpret anything on the release view as a promise’” or “Star Citizen dev defends missing roadmap feature by 4 years.” It’s easy to doubt whether the game is even playable — after all, even though it’s been nearly a decade, the developers are still discussing features as basic as, er, loot.

Yet the game is not lacking in resources. The game’s fundraising campaign continually breaks records, even as it adds on deep-pocketed investors. Fans and investors bought into Star Citizen’s big promise: it’s a “forever game” consisting of a massive sci-fi universe filled with players, each on their own individual journeys. Roberts Space Industries (RSI) and Cloud Imperium Games (CIG) have together raised hundreds of millions of dollars for the development of Star Citizen, which has gone towards game development, in-game cinematics, voice work and motion-capture for characters in the campaign from celebrities like Mark Hamill (and Gillian Anderson, and Andy Serkis, and on and on), and lavish in-universe commercials showing off how neat certain ships are.

That’s part of the trick to Star Citizen’s success. Players want to own a fleet of ships, made for specific purposes. And you can fast-track your way to that goal by going to a real money shop, where a variety of vessels are available. These range from $30 into the hundreds of dollars; it’s very possible to drop thousands of dollars on multiple ships so you have one for every situation. The allure becomes apparent once you board one of these fancy ships, and see the opportunities for roleplay. A big chunk of the time I’ve already spent in the game so far is just enjoying the scenery - sitting in the mess hall to eat and drink on a long haul, everyone picking out their bunk, a tour of the ship so everyone knows where the weapons are (just in case).

One player might take up residence in the med bay, like Star Trek’s Bones, while another might stick in the pilot’s cockpit. The result feels a little like the camaraderie inspired by a game like Sea of Thieves; Star Citizen is similarly focused on the mundane. It promises to be a forever game by making the normal, real-life parts of a futuristic sci-fi life feel real, so someone can really be a space trucker, notorious bounty hunter, or famous fighter pilot.

My friends and I started out at Area 18, which is a little like Star Wars’ Nar Shaddaa, all neon and vice. From there, we boarded a friend’s ship and headed out to the icy slopes of New Babbage to pick up a different friend. I explored Area 18 with my friends, and we went clothes shopping, picked up some other goodies, and enjoyed the sights.

While it’s undeniable that Star Citizen has spun out of control with scope creep, some of the big building blocks of that vision are starting to come into focus. We browsed our mobiGlasses for some missions to do, ranging from the dangerous (mercenary work) to a simple milk run or maintenance gig. The beauty of the game is that even small tasks, like getting everyone aboard a ship and lifting off, takes some time and effort. There’s enough downtime that we were able to chat comfortably, but the more I explore the galaxy on my own, the more comfortable I become with the existing systems. The world is starting to come into shape.

A player avatar takes a knee inside a cave system, aiming a mining tool at a rock outcrop in the alpha 3.7 update for the Star Citizen persistent universe game. Image: Roberts Space Industries

Yet the more things change for Star Citizen, the more they remain the same. Our initial journey through the PU was interrupted when one of our friends, exploring the mess hall, got lodged in a wall and couldn’t escape. We had to gather around and crowdsource a solution to free him.

It’s clear that Star Citizen’s journey is far from over; players are continuing to invest in the project, despite the long development timeline. But the game truly is coming along, and the original promises are starting to look a little less absurd. While many people have forgotten about the game’s ambitious promises and enormous fundraising launch, the developer is continuing to toil away at this Gordian Knot of a project. They don’t have to try and sell their vision anymore — you can actually play bits of it, and a fanbase is continuing to invest in the galaxy, even though many of them have given up hope for any kind of “final” release.

The next level of puzzles.

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