Rogue Man’s Sky
As we move forward, games get weirder. Four years ago, you’d never be able to release a game at $30 on Steam that was still in alpha. Consumers wouldn’t have stood for it. The game would be taken off Steam in days. Yet here, in 2016 (and even for a couple of years preceding), this is normal. Independently developed games (and even some titles with a publisher attached) are touting “Early Access” as a good thing. In some cases they’re right: Players can buy the game — usually at a discount — and give developers feedback on the game making process as it’s taking place. Other times, you have games like Godus, in which Peter Molyneux blames Kickstarter for giving them the money in the first place. Everspace, fortunately, sits firmly in the former camp.
At first blush, Everspace does seem like your typical rogue-like early access outing: Take a bunch of popular game buzzwords — crafting, permadeath, procedural generation, loot — and put them in a space game. They even promise a campaign complete with story to come later, which is perhaps the Most Early Access Thing of 2016. It’s hard to be too mad at Everspace, though, because at least (so far, anyway) it isn’t The War Z or Towns or The Stomping Land. It seems to do what ROCKFISH Games set out to do: Make an engaging, difficult, arcade-like space sim that’s fun to come back to over and over.
It’s obvious by now that Everspace is a rogue-lite, but how does it play? Turns out that borrowing aspects from popular games in the genre like Rogue Legacy while setting it to a dogfighting space shoot-em-up is an incredibly fun combo, because Everspace just works. You’re looting and crafting weapons and systems, while accruing currency and trying to survive for as long as you can. Upon death, you’re presented with an upgrade screen in which you can spend the money you gained in the past run on permanent upgrades that persist between runs. The combat feels solid — shooting things isn’t a chore, it never feels balanced against you, and it’s deep enough that I didn’t really understand how it worked until after a few hours with the game. This ended up being one of my main complaints with No Man’s Sky: I wanted a space sim that let me play how I wanted, but several parts of the game were so shallow that they weren’t worth bothering with. This is not the case with Everspace.
It’s hard to leverage complaints against the use of Unreal Engine 4. The game is visually appealing, runs well on my mid-range PC, and is thus far extremely stable (I experienced one crash but I’m pretty sure it was my fault; darn two monitor setup). I’m not so sure I dig the aesthetic, though. It seems kind of boilerplate, with no discernible art style of its own, instead opting for generic sci-fi ships and scenery. Perhaps they’ll correct this in the future, but I’m inclined to think otherwise. At any rate, the aesthetic choices ROCKFISH have made (or in this case have seemingly not made) are secondary to the fact that Everspace looks great and is a hell of a lot of fun to play.
So what, exactly, is missing from Everspace in its current Early Access iteration? Only one ship is currently playable, the campaign is completely absent, and the structure currently is basically “get stronger by killing stuff.” It’s structured, but little else. There’s a loose objective, though it’s fairly meaningless at the moment: Traverse the galaxy by warping system-to-system with your FTL drive. Really, what you’re trying to do is make enough money to be able to significantly impact future runs with upgrades.
If I told you that I were making a rogue-lite space sim with crafting, loot, persistence, and a story to come later (because it’s in early access) would you know which game I’m referring to? Chances are, the answer to that question is almost always a dismissive “No.” Why, then, is Everspace different? While most games of the genre in early access have a firm foundation with a predictable future, Everspace’s destiny is a surprise. I’m not sure where the game will go next, or what they’ll add next, but I’m sure it’ll be great.
FINAL VERDICT: 4/5
Available on: PC (reviewed) ; Publisher: ROCKFISH Games; Developer: ROCKFISH Games; Players: 1; Released: September 14, 2016; Price: $29.99
Full disclosure: This review is based on a review copy of Everspace provided by the game’s publisher.