Skylight's Campaign Mode

[This is the 3rd post in a 4-part series describing Skylight. This post describes Skylight’s campaign. Read about the gameplay and ships, and look for a post about the multiplayer in the coming days!]

Skylight offers two single-player game modes: Campaign and Skirmish. The Skirmish mode is totally free-form, allowing you to customize your own fleet and that of your opponent. You have complete freedom to set up whatever kind of battle you want to play!

That’s good fun, but it doesn’t make for a great game experience on its own. When you’re playing for the first time, how are you supposed to know what makes for a fun fight? Where are you supposed to start? How hard is any given battle, and how are you supposed to know whether you’re getting better or not?

The Campaign mode is there to offer structure to the single-player experience. You know where to start, you know where you’re going, and there are explicit labels for the difficulty. Finish the campaign, and you know that you “beat the game”.

Most strategy games feature a linear campaign, with a set series of scenarios for you to play. In the past, I’ve shunned that kind of structure in favor of something more dynamic, especially when each mission felt too similar to any other. In Skylight, however, I ultimately embraced a linear structure, since I felt that each mission could be made unique and interesting in its own right:

In each campaign mission, the composition of the enemy fleet is pre-set, and you can see their fleet while you compose your own. Because the ships of Skylight are so tactically asymmetrical, the enemy fleet matters a lot. And, since you can see it ahead of time, you can react accordingly. It's essentially a puzzle that you have to solve. If they picked all Interceptors, you can counter with Destroyers. If they picked Destroyers, you could counter with Missile Carriers.

This gives you a significant advantage, but it’s not often a simple choice. You can’t just pick “rock” every time they pick “scissors”. Most of the time, the enemy has a relatively balanced, well-conceived fleet, designed to offer a real challenge. The AI can also change from mission to mission, sometimes playing more aggressively and sometimes more defensively.

Even more importantly, there’s a limit on the size of the fleet you can choose in each level. Most of the time, your fleet is the same size as the enemy's, making for a balanced game. In some early levels, you get the advantage of greater numbers. But there are three campaigns in Skylight (normal, hard, and expert), and towards the end, the enemy gets more ships than you do. You’ll need to compose your fleet very carefully, and once in the battle, you’ll need to orchestrate your ships tactically if you want to win.

The campaign also includes a story, but in my typical fashion, it doesn’t take center stage. You won’t get cutscenes or meet other characters, but each level in the campaign includes a bit of text that hints at the narrative context of that mission. Taken together, these missions form a single arc that traces your conquest of the solar system, starting at the outermost moon of Pluto and ending up at the final Battle of Earth.

My hope is that the Campaign mode offers a satisfying experience, something that makes you feel like you played a complete game. After it’s done, you’ll have experienced a lot of different kinds of enemies and tactical dilemmas. The Skirmish mode is there if you want to set up your own levels (or to just goof around with weird fleet compositions), but mostly, I expect the expert players to graduate to Multiplayer, testing their mettle against other players. I’ll be posting more about that in a couple days, just before Skylight’s launch on the 12th!

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A game by E McNeill.