There was a point, in my very first hour with BattleGroupVR, when I commanded an ally spaceship to attack a far-off enemy from my holodeck-esque map of the battlefield. As I did so, I noticed a giant spaceship trundle past my own ship in my peripheral vision. It then dawned on me that the ship I had just commanded and the one moving past me were actually the same ship, and that the battles and moves I commanded from my deck would play out around me in space.
This realization is what makes BattleGroupVR so compelling, dynamic and unique. This isn’t your standard real-time strategy game. The spaceship that you command your fleet from is also one of the ships right there in the battle. You watch as missiles fly past your ship towards one of your allies. You make a wrong move, send a ship in the wrong direction, and watch it fall under attack in the distance. And when things get really dicey, you can even switch away from the strategic map view and take manual control of your own ship, piloting it away to safety or towards an enemy to attack.
Every minute of the game is dynamic. You can seamlessly switch between the strategic map, commanding multiple ships at once, and the manual controls for your own ship, allowing for some some classic dog-fighting space combat. While commandeering your own ship, you can quickly adjust the distribution of resources, through easily adjustable sliders. Need to make a quick getaway or re-position? Just send more energy to the engine, at the expense of your firepower. Or perhaps you want to double down on both your shields and firepower, which will leave you with little resources left for the ship’s engines.
But you don’t want to spend too long piloting your own ship, lest the rest of your fleet be left on their own with no commands. You can easily switch back to the strategy map for an overview, which you can also adjust and re-size to suit your current needs.
Whether you’re commanding your fleet on the map or piloting your own ship, the battle is always raging on around you in real-time. The scope of the game can be truly breathtaking at times.
The game quickly becomes focused on balancing multiple different elements at once. It was easy for me to get lost in the first-person spaceship dogfighting, but I would then often realize that I had neglected the strategy map. It’s all about striking the right balance and while I didn’t play enough of the game to master that back-and-forth, I still had a load of fun, even when I was losing.
I tried out two modes, Campaign and Skirmish. The former was about what you would expect – you’re able to pick from a variety of levels in the campaign that range in difficulty and objectives. Working your way through them will unlock more content and harder levels, allowing you to upgrade your ship, captains and fleet along the way. On the other hand, Skirmishes are essentially quick custom games with no limitations, allowing you to pick your ship, fleet and captains (and do the same for the opposing side) and go head-to-head in a space strategy battle with an enemy fleet.
Both modes were a lot of fun, but there is some room for improvement overall. The learning curve is quite steep, and the tutorial feels somewhat lengthy and protracted despite all the info being relevant, with no way to skip through the subtitled explanations being given by a humanoid AI/robot instructor.
There’s also sadly, yet understandably, no multiplayer support at the moment. This isn’t a surprise, as implementing multiplayer modes would be a huge undertaking. That being said, one of my initial thoughts while playing my first skirmish was “wouldn’t this be cool if I was actually fighting against my friend controlling the opposing fleet.”
We asked the developers SpaceOwl Games if multiplayer support was planned in the future, and they said it’s something they would like to see as well and support could come “maybe down the line.” However, they also made it clear that this would definitely not be before early access, and that multiplayer co-op or vs modes would only happen if there a playerbase to support implementing them.
Despite this, BattleGroupVR definitely has enough on offer to pique your interest already. I can see strategy game fans getting very invested in this game, spending multiple hours commanding fleets and perfectly striking the fine line between large scale battleground strategy and the manual spaceship combat. While I’ll probably never reach that point of expertise, I still had much more fun messing around in this hybrid strategy game than I have in many other RTS games.
You could be a strategy noob or aficionado, but I’ll wager a guess that you’ll find the hybrid elements of this game dynamic and fresh, even if just for a few hours. Whether the game has legs in the long-term end will largely depend on how much you enjoy strategy games as a genre. For now, though, commanding a space battle that rages on in 360 degrees around you in real-time should keep you entertained for quite a bit.
According to developers SpaceOwl Games, BattleGroupVR is aiming for a mid-year early access release on PC VR, with the full release to follow at the end of the year. It is available to wishlist on Steam now.