Rarely does a series completely overhaul its formula and still stick to the same basic elements. The Fleets of Sol, a psuedo-sequel to The Battle of Sol takes its predecessor’s setting and trades frantic dogfights for fleet command. It’s an odd choice, because while I was rather fond of The Battle of Sol, it always struggled to make capital ships and frigates feel like they had any sense of weight or presence within its battle-spaces. At this juncture, The Fleets of Sol feels about as empty as space can get, and needs some serious work if it’s to live up to its name.
Though it occupies the same fictional universe, TFOS is noticeably stripped of any plot or character. Gone is the cheesy-but-loveable Starship Troopers-esque banter between pilots, so too is anything resembling a story. In fact, if you haven’t played The Battle of Sol, you wouldn’t even know this was a game about humanity searching for another planet whilst battling religious fanatics; there’s simply nothing to clue you into that fact.
TFOS drops you right in the midst of controlling fleets. You have your capital ship (which also harbours fighters), some support ships, as well as the odd civilian transport. Your goal, which is oddly relayed to you only via a text box in the game’s main menu, is to rescue a certain number of civilians and bring them back to your home base.
Without any narrative reason to take part in these battles, everything feels a little redundant. We don’t see these civilians, they don’t speak to us – they are simply numbers on a screen we need to tick off. Most battles can be won easily by spamming missiles at your enemies, and by ejecting your fighters so that they can do the work for you. It’s a good job too, because there are very few other abilities at your disposal. I couldn’t help but wish I was back in the cockpit of a fighter once more – at least that felt like it had purpose and direction.
This makes every fight feel like a quiet, muted explosion of nothingness. There’s no voice acting, the few sound effects present are copied from The Battle of Sol (as are all of the visual assets); the only noise to accompany each mission is the same repeated drum-heavy battle-march. Effectively, The Fleets of Sol has you moving from place to place, with little knowledge as to why, and forces you to execute more or less the same commands time and time again.
On a fundamental level, there are too many leftovers from TBOS present here. The camera only ever revolves around a single ship, rather than giving you a full view of the battle-space, and targeting enemies functions in the same simplistic way. This all worked well for a dogfighting game, but feels quite out of place in a strategy game.
There are also plenty of bugs present – an expected woe for an Early Access game, but one that needs to be taken into consideration. After each mission, the game reminds you to repair your ships using salvage. After one battle left me with my capital ships battered into 50% hull integrity, the next battle saw their hull’s repaired by a whopping ten thousand percent, which rendered the following fight an unmitigated walk in the space-park.
There’s definitely something good inside TFOS. If a story is implemented, along with more varied missions, more options in battle, and a greater sense of urgency and purpose, then I can see The Fleets of Sol resembling something like a smaller scale version of the space battles from Star Wars: Empire at War. As it stands though, this feels rushed out of the Early Access gate, or like an excuse to re-use assets from The Battle of Sol, but without including much of the stuff that made that game work.
Rather like its fictional fleet of survivors, The Fleets of Sol is a long way from home.