I’m up to the first (only?) Loki stealth mission, I think about a third of the way through the campaign, give or take. I’ll do a full review when I complete the campaign, but for now, spoiler free initial impressions:
The most impressive thing that I’ve noticed so far is the level of detail in the release – it is remarkable. By far the most impressive, immersive Freespace campaign I have ever played, including things like BP and ST:R. In my mind, this comes from two things. First, the absolute attention to creating a universe for the player to inhabit in mission – the mods chosen, the mission designs, the priorities given to the player, even the visual palette changes – these all feel like a campaign focusses on a world we hadn’t previously seen in FS1 or 2 – the civilian world where most people would be living their lives. It still feels like Freespace, but it puts serious meat on the bones of the universe established in the first two games.
This is also helped in a big way by the newsroom and system viewer. Antares feels big and complicated and real – almost a character in its own right, in a way that, location wise, FS2 only ever managed with the nebula.
The voice acting is generally pretty great (if there are a few jarring mispronunciations here and there, but that’s unavoidable), and the missions are tightly FREDded (I’ve had one where it stalled on me – obviously a ship got destroyed unexpectedly or something, but it went fine on my second run through) and diverse enough to keep me interested, both in terms of challenge level and what you’re doing in the mission.
The story so far has been good – I’m enjoying the evolving smuggling/corruption storyline and the Hammer storyline and wondering if/how they’re going to come together. But I felt elements were a tad... rushed isn’t the right word, maybe undersold? I’m thinking mainly about the detour out of Antares; I got the impression that we were being ordered out of Antares permanently, but then we were back within a mission, apparently against order. It didn’t quite feel like the motivations (or the repercussions) for this were explained much at all. Perhaps later in the campaign?
If I were picking things to gripe about, I’d say that I’m not really loving the battlesnails. I get that they’re supposed to be a fun achievement type thing, but I feel like they’d be better suited to a feature you only get when you’ve beaten the campaign and are playing through again, but I recognise that that’s a personal stylistic choice each campaign creator will make differently.
The one thing that I do have a bit more of an issue with (and don’t get me wrong, I’m still loving the campaign) is the tech room. I really enjoy scrolling through the tech room as a way to get a feel for the worldbuilding, but that doesn’t quite work in BtA. Several of the ships have blank (or near blank, “Blah Blah”) tech descriptions, or descriptions that are obviously anachronistic (the one that jumped out to me was the Endymion, which still has the description I originally wrote for it, which is only appropriate for the very early TV War). Slaves of Chaos and the demo both did such a fantastic job of worldbuilding in other ways, to have it be neglected here was a little disappointing. And, utterly, utterly minor though it is, I also kind of wish the ships were in a logical order, as opposed to new ones being tacked on the end.
To be 100% clear though, the issues I’ve come across have been extremely small, and haven’t prevented me from enjoying what is an extremely polished, high quality Freespace experience. Based on what I’ve seen so far, BtA has earned its place in the rarefied company of the very best examples of what the FS engine and the people behind it can do, along with ST:R, VD, BP and the like. Congrats to Mjn and the rest of the team - I’m really looking forward to the rest of the campaign.