My back was against the wall. I had seriously fucked up and hadn’t seen that my Enforcer was in danger. Now, my entire party was running close to empty right at the finish line of the Behemoth fight. No shields, no armor, just raw health and AOE attack coming next turn. I had to hope that my damage output this turn was enough to then finish the berserker off after it’s attack. I braced for the first attack from the Chimera. The tendrils poured out and red numbers flash across my screen. I hear a“phoom” sound; down goes my Valkyrie and my Aegis. Luckily, I had my Aegis use guard on the Enforcer sustaining his health. I still had two party members up as the Chimera came in for the second attack. It hits my Commando… and they survive with a sliver of health. My turn. I queue up Salvo on my Commando, enduring a “break” on the behemoth, then a “burst shot” from the Enforcer. Those moves do the trick and the Chimera finally goes down. I’d finally vanquished what had wiped my party for two runs.
It’s moments like that that make Star Renegades so great. The further you go into a run, the more difficult it is to push through your opponents. You start finding that you won’t be able to get out of a fight without taking a few hits and your strategies have to adjust to balancing damage with defensive tactics. Star Renegades is a new rogue-lite, an extremely popular genre nowadays. This game falls firmly in the more strategy oriented rogue-lite camp. You control an ever growing party of sci-fi characters that all have unique abilities in combat. You navigate around distinct maps and engage in turn based combats with enemy parties that are also composed of a variety of characters and classes. It’s not so dissimilar to deck builders; your characters and their abilities are deployed in a similar way that you would use cards. The combat and enemy persistence across runs really sets Star Renegades apart.
Star Renegades is all about time management. It reminds me a lot of Into the Breach, except instead of moving and pushing pieces around a board it’s a tactical RPG. Combat actions are represented on a linear, horizontal line that show what order each characters’ actions will go into effect. Each turn you’ll see what actions each enemy is taking, which character of your party they’re targeting, and a number corresponding to their Stagger. Stagger corresponds to how many times their actions can be pushed back on the timeline. For example if they have the number two listed, two separate character attacks can push them back. Staggering has two positive bonuses; pushing them back on the timeline allows your character’s actions to happen sooner and if you knock the enemy completely off the timeline they’ll “Break.” Breaking an enemy opens them up to crits from all of our characters meaning more damage to shields, armor, and health and they won’t take an action that turn. Breaking an enemy is so goddam satisfying and impactful. Each attack during a turn has a slow down and zooms in for each hit on the character. If you Break an enemy, there’s a loud “phoom” sound and gigantic letters say “BREAK.” It makes you feel so powerful everytime.
The goal in combat becomes managing enemy Stagger. Enemy Stagger meters only regenerate after they perform an action, meaning if you break an enemy on one turn you won’t be able to the next. The further you go in a run the harder it comes to Stagger so you have to work out what attacks to take in a turn and what enemies you need to Stagger. Each of your party members have different types of attacks as well that do variable amounts of Stagger and damage. Light attacks for example are weaker but will happen earlier in the timeline and usually hit for a high amount of Stagger. Heavy attacks are just the opposite, happening later in the timeline but hitting for a higher damage output. Linking different party members actions for maximum Stagger and damage becomes a puzzle. In one combat encounter, I faced a large bane-esque mech that’s slow but did high damage. I was able to have my Commando unit use their light attack to Stagger, my Aegis then use their light attack to break its armor, and then my Enforcer to use their flurry attack to shred as much health as possible. The next turn I couldn’t Stagger the enemy, so I used guard with my Aegis to protect my Enforcer that the enemy was targeting, my Commando’s normal attack to shred more armor, and then my Enforcer’s flurry attack to kill. Then I just sat back and watched and celebrated my accomplishment.
I cannot overstate how good that feels. When you line up a perfect turn, the game makes you feel like a strategic genius. It’s especially gratifying when the game really presses you. These tough fights come in the form of the Behemoths, end world bosses for each map, and another come are elite enemies. These elite enemies are procedurally generated for each map and have their own strengths, weaknesses, and special traits. These fights are optional and you can avoid them as you move around the map. There’s also no guarantee that you will kill them in battle; if it drags on long enough they’ll run away. The worst part about not killing them is they only grow more powerful from run to run. This is where Star Renegades uses its “Adversary” system, aka the Nemesis system (finally another game using it!). Each time you fail a run, these elite enemies gain new traits and abilities for the next. It’s a nice little taunt the game throws in and I get a little angry each time they get promotions.
Luckily Star Renegades also lets you unlock upgrades each run. You’ll gain different currencies during your playthrough that allows you to purchase new character classes, weapons, and armor. Unlocking new character classes allows more flexible and different styles of play. Each run starts with you choosing three different characters to start with. Do you want to bring three bulky characters? Maybe one tank and two big damage dealers? How about a balanced party with one healer in the mix? It’s been really rewarding experimenting with different combinations and the game doesn’t punish you for doing so. As long as you can adapt your strategy, you can work your way through most battles.
Star Renegades has been a gratifying addition to the ever expanding list of rogue-lites even amongst the two heavy hitters that were recently released. It’s spin on blend of turn based gameplay and time management makes it so satisfying to play. I look forward to the run where I finally vanquish the Imperium.