Halcyon 6 is a sumptuous video game stew. It’s got hints of XCOM, FTL, 4X space games, and JRPGs, plus gobs of humor and personality. I’ve taken to calling it 4XCOM for short. I’ve only played for a couple hours, but this feels like the sort of game that will keep me hooked for weeks.
Halcyon 6 came out yesterday and rocketed to the top of the Steam top-sellers list. Structurally, it reminds me of XCOM 2, but set against a backdrop of a galactic flesh monster apocalypse. From an experimental starbase (structured an awful lot like XCOM 2's ship), you manage the final, dangling sinews of the Terran Federation after the aforementioned flesh monster apocalypse tore out the galaxy’s throat. Where did these monsters come from? Why? And what’s all this about angry space gods and living planets? ARE WE ALL DOOMED??? Those questions hang over your campaign, but moment-to-moment, you’ve got more pressing concerns to worry about.
In Halcyon 6's universe, humanity is hardly alone. There are six alien factions. Some think Terran experiments birthed the devil race—covered in more spikes and eyeballs than a freshly exploded Halloween store aisle—and they’re pissed. Others are more open to diplomacy, which means precious resources for you. There are also pirates picking at the remains of civilization like vultures, and they want to snatch up all your shit and play jump rope with your entrails. Charmers, those pirates.
As with XCOM, however, the real heart of Halcyon 6 is your crew. You create fleets of ships, headed up by captains with all sorts of personality quirks. For better or worse, they accrue more as a result of battles, Darkest-Dungeon-style. The game’s personality really shines here. For instance, one of my officers, Elaina Park, apparently got afflicted with Benjamin Button disease in her previous career, meaning that she aged backward until she was an infant, at which point she started aging forward again. I’m not joking. This is an actual part of the game. So one of her characteristics is “Very Old.”
Personality seeps through in other areas, too. Battles occur in ships (which you build and upgrade) and on the ground, with characters quipping all throughout. The actual mechanics of combat remind me most of JRPGs, which might strike you as a strange genre cocktail, but it works! And in a clever twist, most attacks inflict status effects, which in turn can be exploited and buffed by other attacks and status effects. So a weakened a hull will make a bash attack stronger and so forth. It’s an intuitive system loaded with possibilities.
For the most part, the whole game is impressively intuitive. I wish stats and information were presented a bit more clearly in a few places, but the game does a pretty good job of telling you what you need to know and giving you space to experiment with the rest. There are plenty of missions, and it’s all fairly easy to wrap your head around. Far more so than some of the 4X space games that inspired it.
Halcyon 6 takes quite a few space walks on the wacky side, but it never loses a general sense of foreboding. There’s a lot at stake, and other factions/aliens/monsters can go after your territories, meager though they might be. It’s a big galaxy and a big game, spanning multiple acts. I feel like I’ve only scratched the surface, and I can already feel my weekend disappearing, Back To The Future-style, just thinking about it.
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