Snowhound games after starting on mobile platforms come at us with a game called Deep Sky Derelicts on Steam's Early Access. It's a game that's small in the overall scope but filled to the brim with interesting ideas and mechanics taken from games such as Darkest Dungeon, XCOM, Hearthstone, and FTL: Faster Than Light. Since all of these are excellent games in their own right, let's check out if Deep Sky Derelicts combines all elements into a satisfying whole.
Right off the bat, Deep Sky Derelicts has a fairly simple and familiar premise. In a grim version of the dystopian future, mankind, as a spacefaring race is heavily divided into two classes. The privileged citizens that live on nice planets and enjoy the luxury of all that futuristic technology can provide. You, the player, fall into the other group, the scavengers, and outcasts who live out most of their lives on spaceships where conditions are just awful. Think, Mad Max in space kind of dirty.
Once you create your team of three, you are immediately greeted by the sub-governor who offers you and your teammate's citizenship, provided you can find the fabled mothership which supposedly houses advanced technology that can benefit the Triumvirate. Now, this might seem like a fairly straightforward task, but since the mothership is generally considered just a myth, you have your work cut out for you as you must board derelict ships to hunt for leads in order to find its whereabouts. This is the only general instruction you get and off you go, thrust into the unforgiving world of Deep Sky Derelicts.
You'd think that some funding by the Triumvirate could come a long way in your search, but no. You are left to fend for yourself and earn money by taking on contracts on the space station. Oh, you are also warned that you are not the only one tasked with finding the mothership, foreshadowing likely rivals and maybe even allies down the line. These side missions break the larger search a bit, and although they sometimes feature visually interesting characters and creatures – what they have to say is just not very interesting and fails to contribute to the overarching search in a meaningful manner. Let's hope this gets ironed out for the full release.
When creating your squad, the game lets you pick a class for each of the three members. These include a tracker, scrapper, bruiser, technician, medic, and leader. Each of them has different stats for weaponry, tech, medical, scavenging and mental which are fairly self-explanatory.
The bulk of your game time will be spent on procedurally generated ships of all sorts. Once your three-man squad boards one – you start out on a grid that presents the ship's layout. You have a finite amount of life support energy that you then spend for movement or scanning ahead to see what's on the squares adjacent to you. From a story perspective, I found this system works well since you are actually exploring an unknown ship and it gives the game a certain atmosphere of possible horrific encounters in the dark corridors. It reminded me of Alien a bit, which is no small thing. From the gameplay perspective, it creates tension as it makes you pick and choose the right path to finish your objective while still having enough for a return trip to the exit point.
Each square falls into one of three categories – an empty one, the one with loot, or one with an AI character. Some of the latter you meet aboard these ships are immediately hostile toward you, but every once in a while you come across characters with a neutral disposition that you can then turn hostile or friendly depending on your dialogue choices. It's a nifty way to mitigate some battle fatigue for your team while sometimes gaining you information or useful loot. The meat of the game is laid bare when entering combat – a turn-based affair that's all about stats, equipment and a bit of randomness in the form of a card system.
The cards represent actions which include but are not limited to – attacking, applying status effects, defending, healing and many other. They are also class and equipment dependent which makes the entire system feel flexible while encouraging experimentation as you can create interesting twists on the usual class roles or even go completely outside of them. There is also the big "but" with the fact that no matter how thoughtful you are when preparing for combat, keep in mind that drawing cards is pure RNG which makes things a bit less tactical but more difficult and unpredictable.
Although I died plenty of times, it never felt frustrating even with the RNG element but more due to my poor actions, ill-equipped squad or me overestimating my life support reach. There is the option to upgrade and heal your team as well as resupplying their life support, but you have to return to the space station to do so, spending a lot of cash in the process. Cash is another important aspect, and not having it, sometimes effectively means game-over as you won't be able to do much of anything. This is another element that encourages derelict exploration as the loot you get and don't need can be sold for additional cash.
VISUALS AND AUDIO
Take one look at the screenshots provided and you can tell that what Deep Sky Derelicts surely doesn't miss is personality. A sort of gritty and dark, comic book come alive is the best way to describe the visuals. Although the game is light on animated elements, like your squad wobbling a bit when engaged in combat – it's not to the game's detriment. FTL comes to mind in the lack of animated elements during the gameplay and no one can point that out as a negative next to the fun factor the game provided. Deep Sky Derelicts is much the same in that regard.
There's rarely a case of "what's clickable?", as is often with games that feature a similar visual aesthetic with important elements being clearly highlighted and changing visually when under the cursor to further pop out of the background. The game stays true to the comic book visuals even in combat as each action you take is presented like a panel with appropriate sound effects and damage indicators. They provide the necessary audio-visual feedback of your actions but I would certainly like if there was a bit more variety in these panels as they get old pretty quickly despite being visually appealing.
On the audio side of things, the music and sound effects fail to deliver the same level of personality that the game's visuals do. Sure, a couple of tracks get their deserved spot on the "creepy dystopian space" music chart but there's just not enough variety to mark it down as a significant positive. The lack of voice acting contributes to the comic book feel, but since characters rarely have anything interesting to say – the text bubbles become a chore to read. Appropriate voice acting could alleviate this issue or remove it outright.
I liked the time I spent with Deep Sky Derelicts, however short it was. I certainly intend to play a bit more as the procedural generation coupled with flexible class and combat system offers a ton of replayability. There is also the arena mode that along with the campaign offers the possibility to go through endless combat scenarios for pure experimenting. All in all, everything here is a very solid base to further build upon.
I just hope that the final version will improve on the writing and the way the story is presented, possibly with the inclusion of voicework. If you are a fan of turn-based games I can certainly recommend the game, even now. For others, wait a bit for future updates or the full release as the game has plenty of potential to appeal to a wider audience.