Eternal Starlight from White Noise Games is a new take on sci-fi RTS gaming in VR with hints of roguelike added to the experience. It’s out on Steam for all supported PC-based headsets, and can also be purchased through Oculus for the Rift and Quest – we tested it on the latter.
The game’s developers cite Homeworld as one of their sources of inspiration for Eternal Starlight, and because we still regard that game as a benchmark in the sci-fi RTS genre we were extremely eager to go hands on with this one. While we had no doubts that VR could work great in giving players a sense of the vastness of space and the battles that take place inside it, we were wondering how it would translate to a VR game with motion controls rather than a mouse and keyboard combination.
Narratively, mankind has reached for the stars in search of a new home on the planet Promixa. Space travel has also allowed us to reach other civilizations, and as these things go that has resulted in conflict. Some races are friendly, but others are out to get you and claim the resources of Proxima for themselves – so it’s up to you to defend your new home.
There’s a nice mix of human and alien technology with which to do so, as you gradually build your space armada and engage in battles. Roguelike influences mean that you’ll lose resources and ships when you fail though, so that’s going to affect your strategy. Battles aren’t as massive in scale as we would’ve expected though, since missions have you taking just one big flagship into battle, supported by however many smaller and medium-sized ships you can afford.
Ships can be upgraded as well, and your support ships can be individually controlled – they don’t all have to keep flying next to you to protect you, but can also go off on their own. You’ll gradually learn the ins and outs of all this as you play, sometimes through trial and error. This also applies to your relationships with other races, which can grow if you complete missions for them – giving you additional support in harder battles that are up ahead. You can divide your support evenly, or focus on one or more races more than others – there are benefits and downsides to each approach.
There’s a core narrative about a race that’s planning on attacking Promixa in the very near future, essentially giving you seven day runs each time you play, with the risk of losing your fleet every time – a roguelike loop that’s addictive and keeps you on your toes. Missions are short though, and usually consist of a single objective that you can complete in a matter of minutes being continuing on and tackling the next one. As a story campaign, don’t expect a Wing Commander type of conflict with the Kilrathi here – this one is much more centered on gameplay and less on storytelling.
Most of the gameplay happens from a zoomed out perspective so you have a decent overview of where your fleet is and what’s happening. Here you can grab hold of your ships and plot their actions and courses, but you can also zoom in to see the action unfold from close up. Hand tracking is also supported on the Quest, but depending on your point of view and how busy a certain area of the map is this can also lead to mild frustrations when it’s hard to do exactly what you’re trying to do. The option to use thumbsticks, although less immersive, certainly became a tempting one after a while.
Visually, games like Everspace 2 and Star Wars: Squadrons have recently set benchmarks for how deep space combat can look. Eternal Starlight, running on the Quest, has a more basic look that’s less detailed and more cartoon-like. Understandable considering the technical limitations, but important to factor into your expectations – the Rift version didn’t look a whole lot richer when we tried it either, but perhaps we’ll see improvements through patches.
Eternal Starlight feel like a good fit for the Quest with its condensed take on sci-fi RTS, which is aided by its roguelike mechanics. At the same time that makes it a game that’s not for everyone, but if you’ve been hoping for deep space strategy then this is a solid step in the right direction.