It’s easy to assume that because Starlink: Battle For Atlas is geared toward younger audiences, it isn’t for you. The toys-to-life component and the cast of Saturday morning cartoon characters are both major aspects of the game that might fly right over your head–it’s definitely where I sat for much of the game’s pre-release marketing.
But after only a few hours with the game, Starlink’s strengths quickly pushed through to me: It’s a satisfyingly accessible spaceship combat game, with seamless exploration that takes the best cues from games like No Man’s Sky and Elite: Dangerous, and comes with all the trimmings of Ubisoft’s brand of open worlds (for better and worse, according to our review.)
There’s one specific thing that’s really piqued my continued interest in Starlink, though: At E3 in 2018, I saw a behind-closed-doors demo of the then most recent technical demo of Beyond Good & Evil 2. And if you want to know what this mysterious sequel is going to feel like, playing Starlink is your best bet.
BG&E2 is a game that still has an air of mystery about it, especially if you haven’t been following the development blogs and livestreams very closely. There’s a lot to describe about what I saw (read the preview if you’re interested) but essentially, the game has an ambition to be a massive and multiplayer open-world space exploration game, and Starlink is just that.
The demo I saw at E3 showed a co-op duo exploring, sneaking, and fighting in an underground tomb, and over the course of 30 minutes, seamlessly transition into city, planet, space, and galaxy exploration and combat. They hoped onto vehicles and got into dogfights above the city, flew high in the sky to marvel at the enormous curvature of the planet, blasted off into the stratosphere to reach their mothership parked in space, and hit hyperspeed to start heading towards new planets.
At the time, my only points of reference were No Man’s Sky and Elite Dangerous—both games with impressive scope, and both games I thought of as outliers in terms of what to expect from massive, open-world games. But now, a few months later, Starlink has shown me a much closer example of what Beyond Good & Evil 2 looked and felt like to me, both technically and structurally. Starlink’s seamless and gradual transition between ground-based combat and questing, free-range dogfighting, and space travel has distinct parallels to what Beyond Good & Evil 2 is trying to achieve, though the BG&E2’s pace felt slower, making its scope–the world, the galaxy–feel much larger.
There’s other Ubisoft technology I could see in Beyond Good & Evil 2 pulling from, as well. The enormous, persistent map of The Crew 2 is an example of how they’re possibly going to systematically render their world, allowing multiple people to exist at opposite ends of a land mass. The sheer size of Assassin’s Creed Odyssey’s map makes me believe that populating the enormous planet I saw in the BG&E2 demo is a feasible feat–albeit one that could only be achieved with the enormous development manpower the company wields.
And if you’ve played Assassin’s Creed Odyssey, released only a couple of weeks before Starlink, you might have noticed that Ubisoft is attempting to ape, or at least try their hand at integrating a lot of the major ideas from other open world games into their own. There were arguably various levels of success there, a lot of these components get me excited about how they might be adapted to the Beyond Good & Evil 2 narrative. Branching quests from The Witcher 3, with their varied consequences, has the obvious benefits of enriching world building. The recruitment system from Metal Gear Solid V would make sense in building your crew of Space Rebels. The nemesis system from Shadow of Mordor could potentially be incredibly exciting if you had bounty hunters tracking you down across the galaxy. In the same way, Starlink is the latest, and most directly analogous experiment into exploring Ubisoft’s capabilities in adapting the No Man’s Sky and Elite Dangerous model of open-world galaxies for their grand space opera.
Ubisoft is pulling Beyond Good & Evil out of the cult-classic status, and it’s likely to become a major flagship release for them in the future. But in the meantime, their open-world releases suggest that they’re taking steps towards learning how to build the enormous open-world galaxy they need to tell their story. The lofty ambition for the game that I saw in that E3 demo is now a much more palpable idea in my head, with Starlink providing a tangible jumping-off point. So, if you have any interest in Beyond Good & Evil 2, that Ubisoft toys-to-life game might be more exciting to you than you think.