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‘Starlink: Battle for Atlas’ review: Blissful, space-faring fun



Starlink: Battle for Atlas is pure, blissful fun. 

The only thing that gets in the way is the physical toys, which luckily you can choose to ignore.

I played through Starlink: Battle for Atlas on Nintendo Switch with the Switch-exclusive Star Fox content, and I tried playing with the physical toys and without them, finding the latter to be a much more enjoyable and less-limiting experience.

Over the 20-or-so hours I spent hurtling through space, exploring planets, fighting against the Forgotten Legion, and building up space colonies, I never found myself getting tired of the game thanks to its content-rich worlds and dynamic combat.

Physical vs. digital

When a video game like Starlink: Battle for Atlas has a toys-to-life component, it can be hard to look past. The first question that comes to many people’s minds is: Do I really have to spend money on toys just to play a video game? 7898 d80a%2fthumb%2f00001

Luckily, the answer is no. And unless your money is burning a hole in your pocket or you’re a big fan of collecting plastic spaceships and accoutrements, I cannot recommend playing with the physical toys at all.

When I first started Starlink, I tried playing with some of the toys I was provided. I slid my Nintendo Switch Joy Cons into the special grip, attached a pilot, put a spaceship on top of them, and then affixed two guns to the ship’s wings. It was kind of cool to see it come together, and switching out the physical guns to try different weapon combos was pretty easy.

Ships and weapons change in the game instantaneously and can be adjusted mid-combat.

Ships and weapons change in the game instantaneously and can be adjusted mid-combat.

Image: mashable / ubisoft

If you’re playing Starlink with toys, you cannot use any of the digital items.

And then I died, and in order to continue I had to place a new ship on the controller, which meant I had to switch the weapons as well. This was annoying, to say the least.

And then I wanted to switch to a weapon that I didn’t have a physical toy of, and quickly realized I was not allowed to do that. If you’re playing Starlink with toys, you cannot use any of the digital items you have. This was infuriating.

So, from then on, I played digital only because I wanted access to all of the ships and weapons (which can be switched out very easily in the game’s streamlined menus).

The digital edition of the games comes with four ships and 12 weapons (five ships on Switch thanks to Star Fox), which is more than enough, while the physical edition only gives you access to one or two ships and just a few weapons for an extra $15. 

It doesn’t make financial sense to get the physical edition of Starlink, so just stick to digital and you’ll be in good hands.

Exploring Atlas

The entirety of Starlink: Battle for Atlas takes place in a single solar system in the Atlas star system, which is being taken over by the Forgotten Legion, an evil, space-faring army led by Grax.

There are seven unique planets, each of which are beset by the Legion and it’s your job, playing as any of the pilots who are a part of the coalition known as Starlink, to fight back against them and build up alliances on each planet.

It starts on a pretty small scale as you battle against Legion grunts and help out the locals but it’s quickly revealed that there’s a whole lot more to getting rid of the Legion, including large Extractors that send out enemy forces, giant roving Primes that plant Extractors, and finally behemoth ships called Dreadnoughts that launch Primes onto planets. 

It's all laid out pretty nicely.

It’s all laid out pretty nicely.

Image: mashable / ubisoft

The cyclical nature of beating back small enemies, taking out some Legion hives and Extractors, killing a Prime, and then going after a Dreadnought is easy to sink into. Meanwhile, you explore the planet to construct and improve local bases, some of which reveal more of the map, some mine currency for you to power stuff up, some build up local militaries, and some deliver perks to you.

Once you clear a planet and set up some strong bases, you can fly off to another planet.

Each planet has its own level of difficulty, which gives exploration more of a guided feel to it, and each planet has unique landscapes, plants, and animals to keep things varied and fun to look at.

The planets range from desert biomes to frozen wastes.

The planets range from desert biomes to frozen wastes.

Image: mashable / ubisoft

Spaceflight and combat

None of this would work without Starlink‘s most basic elements — spaceflight and combat — being great. And they are fantastic.

Whether it’s a dogfight in space or a boss-like ground battle against a Prime, the movement in Starlink is super fluid and has enough built-in flourishes like speed boosting, barrel rolls, hops, and quick-turns to give you everything you need to avoid getting hit or make a crucial move. It’s simple and effective.

Extractors go down quick against weapons with burst damage.

Extractors go down quick against weapons with burst damage.

Image: mashable / ubisoft

The combat itself is really where the game shines. Different enemies have different strengths and weaknesses, and each weapon in the game has unique strengths. And finding the perfect pairings makes fights so satisfying.

The combat itself is really where the game shines

Against Extractors, I found a combo that I loved — the flamethrower and iron fist (like a shotgun) — and against most ground enemies I used either a stasis gun or an ice weapon to freeze them where they were and then blast them away with something that does heavy damage.

There are gravity weapons that suck in enemies and can cause damaging vortexes when paired with elemental weapons. There’s a long range ice weapon that hones in on targets. There are short-range weapons that do burst damage. A lot of it comes down to your preferences and fighting style, which makes your loadout feel personal.

Fights are always fun.

Fights are always fun.

Image: mashable / ubisoft

Star Fox on Switch

The icing on the cake is the addition of Fox McCloud from Star Fox, his Arwing ship, and a handful of secondary characters from the beloved Nintendo series. 

The Star Fox content doesn’t feel shoe-horned in, and because you’re allowed to pick whatever pilot or ship you want, you can turn Starlink into a Star Fox game. And the Star Fox-specific content is a fun few hours of extra content that places the antagonist Wolf in Atlas.

Image: mashable / ubisoft

I pretty much played as Fox the whole time, aside from a few jaunts with a couple other characters and ships to feel them out. But just like the combat, what you choose comes down to personal preference.

That is as long as you have the digital version.

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