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Star Citizen still doesn’t live up to its promise, and players don’t care

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It’s 2022, and I just got into Star Citizen. An uninitiated spacefarer might be surprised at how much there is to explore.

It all started when a friend purchased starter packs for me and my friends. Despite being a skeptic who has largely been disinterested in the game, I was surprised to find a galaxy I could actually explore. Spending a few hours in the world of Star Citizen is intriguing, breathtaking, and frustrating all at once. I found myself taking time to just stop and watch advertisements for fictional mercenary companies, or sitting and bathing in the neon glow of a futuristic plaza. It is a game that is far more advanced than many people think, despite falling short in many respects.

Many people aren’t aware of how far Star Citizen has come — which makes sense, as it has so far still to go. It is, in fact, not actually a singular game but a franchise consisting of a persistent universe (PU) and an unreleased single-player campaign game called Squadron 42 that still doesn’t have a release date (and hasn’t since 2016).

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Mark Hamill in a flight suit in an early image from Star Citizen’s Squadron 42 product.

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Image: Cloud Imperium Games

The game has been infamous for its slow and delayed development cycle; for many people, the title has become just a meme, and its harshest critics online have even claimed the game is a “scam”. As the years have passed, the gap between those who are following Star Citizen and those who are disinterested has grown. If you’ve given up — or never boarded the hype train — then you might only know about Star Citizen from snarky headlines like “CIG reels back Star Citizen’s roadmap because players ‘interpret anything on the release view as a promise’” or “Star Citizen dev defends missing roadmap feature by 4 years.” It’s easy to doubt whether the game is even playable — after all, even though it’s been nearly a decade, the developers are still discussing features as basic as, er, loot.

Yet the game is not lacking in resources. The game’s fundraising campaign continually breaks records, even as it adds on deep-pocketed investors. Fans and investors bought into Star Citizen’s big promise: it’s a “forever game” consisting of a massive sci-fi universe filled with players, each on their own individual journeys. Roberts Space Industries (RSI) and Cloud Imperium Games (CIG) have together raised hundreds of millions of dollars for the development of Star Citizen, which has gone towards game development, in-game cinematics, voice work and motion-capture for characters in the campaign from celebrities like Mark Hamill (and Gillian Anderson, and Andy Serkis, and on and on), and lavish in-universe commercials showing off how neat certain ships are.

RSI and CIG have been raising funds since 2012 for Star Citizen, and for its critics, the franchise is seen as the definition of vaporware. Star Citizen promises to be a forever game for its fans — a massive sci-fi universe filled with players, each on their own individual journeys. There’s a huge variety of ships, from humble starter vessels to massive military transporters. One player might take up residence in the med bay, like Star Trek’s Bones, while another might stick in the pilot’s cockpit.

As the years have passed, the gap between those who are following Star Citizen and those who are disinterested has grown. If you’ve given up — or never boarded the hype train — then you might spot snarky headlines like “CIG reels back Star Citizen’s roadmap because players ‘interpret anything on the release view as a promise’” or “Star Citizen dev defends missing roadmap feature by 4 years.” It’s easy to doubt whether the game is even playable — after all, after nearly a decade, the developers are still discussing features as basic as, er, loot.

But when a friend purchased starter packs for me and my pals, we dove in. And despite being a skeptic who has largely been disinterested in the game, I was surprised to find a galaxy I could actually explore. My friends and I started out at Area 18, which is a little like Star Wars’ Nar Shaddaa, all neon and vice. From there, we boarded a friend’s ship and headed out to the icy slopes of New Babbage to pick up a friend. While it’s undeniable that Star Citizen has spun out of control with scope creep, some of the big building blocks of that vision are starting to come into focus. It’s possible to be a bounty hunter or make a shipment, jump into a space battle or explore a planet.

A player avatar takes a knee inside a cave system, aiming a mining tool at a rock outcrop in the alpha 3.7 update for the Star Citizen persistent universe game.

Image: Roberts Space Industries

The more things change for Star Citizen, the more they remain the same. Our initial journey through the PU was interrupted when one of our friends, exploring the mess hall, got lodged into a wall and couldn’t escape. We had to gather around and crowdsource a solution to free him. The game’s fanbase are also still continually quarreling about the pace of development; the front page of the game’s Reddit is currently crowded with threads like “We should be worried when they STOP working on this game all together” and “The number of tantrums thrown in this sub over the last few weeks has made me reconsider if this is a community I want to join.”

It’s clear that Star Citizen’s journey is far from over; players are continuing to invest in the project, despite the long timeline. But the game truly is coming along, and the original promises are starting to look a little less absurd. While many people have forgotten about the game’s ambitious promises and enormous fundraising launch, the developer is continuing to toil away at this Gordian Knot of a project. They don’t have to try and sell their vision anymore — you can actually play bits of it, and a fanbase is continuing to invest in the galaxy, even though many of them have given up hope for any kind of “final” release.

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