EA SCOUT the last line of defense for buying on Steam's Early Access
by Quinn Levandoski
previewed on PC
INTO THE DEEP END
Right now Deep Sky Derelicts doesn’t mess around with much of an introduction. Once you boot up a new game you’ll quickly name your crew, name each of your three squad mates, and give each of them a class. A couple of lines of brief dialogue later and you’re sent out to start exploring derelict ships for information, people, or whatever else someone wants you to do. At this point I do think it’s a bit overwhelming, and I’m hoping in the future we get some sort of tutorial mission to explain how things work. It took me quite a bit of time to really get into the groove of everything, from combat, to resource management, to exploration. In a game like this, where failure means game over, that grew a bit tiring. I think most of those growing pains would have been more easily managed had there been just one guided mission to point out some of the game’s major mechanics.
The general gameplay of Deep Sky Derelicts goes something like this: after receiving a mission, you’ll need to fly to one of a number of derelict stations to find the goal of your search. Of course, searching around the grid-based environment is a lot easier said than done. Being far from civilization proper, you’ve got limited energy, so when that runs out your crew is stuck to die and float for eternity. Moving around the grid costs energy. Searching areas takes energy. Combat takes energy. This resource management takes front seat in almost every situation, forcing you to consider how and when you interact with the environment in order to make it out. I like the idea in concept, but to be frank I grew tired of always feeling rushed. Yes, strategic elements are good. Yes, I appreciate games that have different layers to simultaneously consider. Sure, weighing risks and rewards can add positive tension. It just didn’t click with me though, and I found myself wishing I could simply explore and enjoy the game’s combat. The system does function as intended and seems fairly well balanced though, so that doesn’t necessarily mean it won’t click with you.
CARDS AND CHALLENGES
The combat is a mix of turn-based and deck-building. Every encounter, your three squad-mates are each dealt a random hand of a few cards, which they can then use to fight the enemy. Drawing more cards costs valuable energy though, so knowing when to fight with what you have, when to try and draw for better cards, and when to run, is a decision that must be constantly evaluated. I found the combat in its current balance to be a bit perplexing. I’ve played through over a dozen runs at this point, and I’ve yet to meet an enemy group that seemed like they were at my level. Every single group had more health and shield, and possessed stronger offensive capabilities. Every single one. Do I just have terrible luck? Maybe. Am I supposed to stay away from certain derelicts until I’m stronger? Not as far as anything’s told me. To be honest, it’s pretty frustrating, and it probably goes back to there not really being a tutorial that, perhaps could show me something I’m missing. That aside, I think the card-based combat is a fun system, and I look forward to deck building with more cards.
I love the general aesthetic of the game, but it’s a shame that the vast, vast majority of time out on missions is spent just looking at a basic grid. It’s not that the grid doesn’t serve its purpose: the boxes do just fine for showing the layout of the map, and various encounters as you discover them, but my goodness is it a bore to look at. With a great art style already locked in, I would have loved to see the ships I was exploring. The characters and monsters are beautifully designed, but their appeal makes the contrast of dull blue squares even more evident. I understand that a total overhaul of the way the game is presented is impossible at this point, but with the amount of time spent looking at the navigation grid, here’s hoping the developers can make what they have, look a bit more engaging. Music and sound effects could use some spicing up as well, as right now the audio is largely non-descript from top to bottom.
There’s fun to be had with Deep Sky Derelicts, even in its current state. The core concept of the game is solid, and even if I don’t love how pervasive the energy system is, the character and background art is beautiful. There’s a lot of potential with the deck building, and having 6 solid classes allows for a nice amount of crew customization. That being said, I don’t think it’s quite in a place yet to warrant an Early Access purchase. The game is fairly hard to get into without any guidance, and I still don’t know if I really understand every tool the game has for me to use. As more varied explorable areas, customization options, missions, and cards become available, I think there’s going to be a solid product here, it’s just a bit too early to live up to its price tag right now.
The game has potential, but we're not ready to jump in with both feet. If the game interests you, look, but don't touch - yet.