Star Renegades‘ calling card is its reactive turn-based combat, which encourages the strategic use of well-timed interrupts and counters to paralyze your opponents’ defenses and overwhelm them with powerful combo attacks. It’s a battle system that I love but don’t often see in many games–there’s a more approachable version in Child of Light and a tactical variation in Othercide, but that’s all that I’ve experienced so far.
Star Renegades’ spin on the formula adds an interesting relationship-focused twist, both in terms of the friendships and connections between the characters in your party, as well as your squads’ relationship to enemies they’ve fought before. Your squad can grow stronger through their deepening connection to each other, and just as easily, your squad’s actions will have an impact on the makeup of the opposing army you face.
In Star Renegades, you oversee the members of an elite squad that’s a part of a rebellion against a technologically advanced alien army that’s controlled by an AI only referred to as Mother. You can only commit to a certain number of actions before your squad has to rest for the day, and while camping out for the night, each character can do something for themselves or someone else–choosing to do the latter will deepen the relationship between the two characters. Squadmates can become close acquaintances before becoming friends and then eventually something more.
“It depends on the hero pairing, but many of our relationships can proceed well past the platonic level and into the physical,” Star Renegades lead game designer Peter McLaren told me. “And, it being the future, polyamory has no stigma whatsoever. If the player can swing it with the resources they have, there are no limits to the number of partners a hero can take on. After all, they might all die in the next fight, right?”
McLaren’s comment refers to the roguelike influences on Star Renegades. There’s no permadeath in regards to individual characters during a playthrough (McLaren said the team “found that it didn’t bring a ton to the gameplay loop”), but you do have a timetable for objectives you need to hit. Your band of heroes is led by J5T-1N, a robot that carries knowledge from an alternate reality that has already lost to the alien invasion. So you know about certain world-ending events before they happen. Fail to stop them in time and J5T-1N will travel to the next reality where you can once again tackle the invasion. Each reality isn’t an exact match, though, and this translates into procedurally generated levels. So even if previous realities provide you a rough idea of what to expect, you’ll still have to be prepared for small changes.
This means it’s in your best interest to spend your time wisely, whether that’s moving towards stopping each world-ending threat, picking your battles, or pairing up compatible squadmates. And yes, there’s more to a deepening relationship than some cute banter between two friends with benefits–characters who are close to one another will develop special partner-based attacks and lead to you further expanding your squad.
“I don’t think I’m spoiling anything, but many of our heroes are only unlockable by the relationship pairing between two other heroes,” McLaren said. “The, uh, ‘science’ behind it is complicated, but let’s just say that their bodies unite to, uh, produce another hero in another quantum reality. It’s pretty gross, if you think about it.”
And there are the relationships you forge with enemies to consider, too. Star Renegades includes a Nemesis-like system where the make-up of the enemy hierarchy will change over time depending on which leaders are killed (and possibly resurrected by Mother), which ones defeat your current squad and are thus promoted, and which flee from a fight and are demoted for their cowardice. And when you run into an enemy you’ve met before, they’ll remember how the last confrontation went down and react accordingly.
“[Your] adversaries will often, if the combat isn’t going their way, attempt to weasel their way out via emergency teleportation extraction, which acts as a bit of a black mark against them in the eyes of [Mother],” McLaren said. “This act of cowardice won’t aid them in their ultimate quest to get promoted up to their max possible rank, so they’ll seek restitution. The next time you run into them, they’ll remember their ignominious retreat the last time they encountered you. This will lead the adversary to aggressively attempt to redress that embarrassment, including being much less willing to retreat a second time.”
He continued: “Similarly, enemies chosen for resurrection by Mother will also be more aggressive in attempting to kill you–they’ll remember being ignominiously snuffed out by you in their previous life, naturally. Additionally, enemies that have succeeded in killing you get promoted, giving them new powers, behaviors, and lackeys, which collectively influence their decision-making.”
This ultimately all results in a turn-based RPG where you’re encouraged to not only consider which classes will pair up nicely when going into battle, but also think about which heroes can forge strong partnerships and how enemies pose different threats based on your history. It seems like a fun system to play around with and I’m intrigued to see how long-term relationships, developed over the course of hours, might impact my team composition and combat strategies. Star Renegades is set to release for PC on September 8, with console ports for Xbox One, PS4, and Switch scheduled for later this year.