Forsaken Portals by Pottgames
Forsaken Portals brings a decidedly indie spin – complete with effective but flat two-dimensional graphics and a simplified yet innovative turn-based combat system – to that most epic of genres, the open-world space sim.
X Marks the Spot
The genre is a favorite of mine, at least in theory if not always in practice. The combination of imaginative science fiction and space opera in the vein that’s captivated me ever since early childhood with the freedom to forge one’s own destiny in the game world – bold pirate, brave military commander, intrepid explorer, hard-working asteroid miner, or cost-conscious merchant – is so full of promise!
It’s also a tough one to pull off, due to the inherent complexities both of creating a believable and inhabitable game world – or rather game universe, given that we’re looking at multiple star systems – and the mechanics through which the player explores it.
Forsaken Portals take a tried-and-true plotline familiar to players of the X series – a pilot sent on a one-way voyage now forced to find their fortune in an unfamiliar but highly populated galaxy full of alien factions.
Developers Pottgames wisely take a simplified approach in terms of technology and presentation; if you’re expecting the intense 3D space battles of EVE Online or the cockpit view of the latest X4 expansion, look elsewhere; this one is more like the early Elite games, with simplified graphics serving the function of giving your imagination a skeleton to build upon.
That has its own charms, however, and the top-down view of spaceships and space stations against a background of colorful planets within the Alpha Centauri system can provoke some stunning imagery, no ray-tracing or graphics card update required.
This also helps the “openness” of the open-world space sim act as the star of the show, giving players the opportunity to do everything from scientific and engineering research to taking on mercenary contracts and even building a network of personal space stations from which to launch further exploration into hitherto-unknown reaches of the galaxy.
Fight and Flight Deck
The simplified presentation – and at times, abstraction – extends to ship-to-ship battles. Instead of a flight sim cockpit loaded with complicated controls for real-time dogfights in the airless void, Forsaken Portals opts for a simple card-based combat system.
As two ships face off, each has a deck from which to draw weapon cards, which can be added to slots on one’s ship for an energy cost. Each turn sees your energy pool grow and more cards added to your “hand,” and after you’ve added weapon modules to your ship, you can fire upon your opponent’s weapon modules or – if they’ve got an empty weapon slot – directly at their hull.
Additional cards can create additional effects like direct damage – no activation time or weapon slot required – or enhance the damage of existing weapons.
It’s not an obvious choice for a space sim, but somehow this simplified Magic: The Gathering approach works, giving plenty of opportunities for strategy – you can even create new decks at some space stations – without complicating things to the point of distraction from the rest of the game.
Altogether, the disparate components of Forsaken Portals come together to make a pretty decent space game. At times, though, the aspiration outruns the execution, and not every new idea here is a great one.
For one thing, while the tutorial text and mission design do a great job introducing most of the different concepts, from navigating to resource location to crafting, there are a few obvious missing spots. At the very beginning, for example, the tutorial mission teaches you how to set navigation way-points and engage your high-speed turbo propulsion, it doesn’t actually tell you how to move.
For another, a lot of tasks on station – like crafting and installing new modules for your ship and even managing your inventory – require you to navigate your station from a first-person perspective. While this is an interesting diversion for the first couple of minutes, it rapidly turns into what feels like time-wasting busywork as you march back and forth between various locations and terminals. I’m really hoping the developers make that optional and add a more automated interface as Forsaken Portals works its way through Early Access.
Still, there’s a lot to be excited about with this one, and even in Early Access, there’s already a ton of things to do. Pottgames clearly made the right choice emphasizing content over presentation, and I strongly recommend this for fans of the more thoughtful, mellower side – rather than the hardcore pilot simulation side – of large-scale open-ended space sims.
Forsaken Portals is available via Steam Early Access.
Watch the official trailer for Forsaken Portals below: