Arcen Games have had a trying few years, but the plucky, quirky studio have always seemed to bounce back when you least expect it. They've seemingly found their footing again after their initial attempts to fund a sequel to AI War (arguably their best game) fell through, when we last heard about Starward Rogue the company was facing layoffs, after the game failed to sell nearly as well as hoped.
Two years later and Arcen believe that the time is right for a second debut. Accompanying a steep discount on the original Starward Rogue, they've rolled out a major expansion that aims to flesh out the twin-stick shooter/dungeon-crawler hybrid with all the content you'd expect from near-full-priced expansion.
Developed by a team of contractors and community modders that Arcen have named their 'Extended' team, the Augmented expansion is a massive slab of new content for the game, adding a bucketload of new items, enemies, room layouts, bosses, playable mechs and traps to the mix, as you can see in the trailer above.
After giving the expanded version of the game a quick spin, the cardinal sins of Starward Rogue seem largely untouched; the lack of feedback and effects on basic things like teleporters (you still just appear in another screen, instantly, without so much as a puff of smoke signalling your arrival) is a glaring omission, and projectiles that feel like they should be animated or even just rotating remain frustratingly static. That said, the game is still a mechanically interesting explore-o-shmup adventure. Moreso now, with the addition of new enemies and room types to mix things up a bit.
The five new mechs (two of which come free in a patch for the base game) in particular go some way to change up the flow of the game. They tend to lean towards heavy min-maxing, with the Warhog being a slow, armored, turret-deploying brute with a shotgun, while the Penumbra is a glass cannon, armed well, immune to environmental hazards and capable of phasing away from danger, but starts the game with only a single hit-point. The melee-heavy Paladin puts a fresh spin on the gameplay as well, with a directional shield that allows it to tank oncoming fire, but only from one side, creating some interesting new tactical situations.
If it was the programmer-art aesthetic and lack of visual spit-and-polish that put you off Starward Rogue, you're probably not going to find what you wanted here, but for those who dug deep enough to get into the appreciably meaty (if oddly paced) game will find a lot to like in this expansion, especially with regards to the new mechs. Starward Rogue is 75% off on Steam, with the expansion weighing in at £4.67/$6.29, after the obligatory 10% launch discount.
As an interesting aside, the expansion's press release taught me that 'Arcen' is pronounced 'Ar-ken'. I've been doing it wrong all this time.