Deep Sky Derelicts Review

The search for the fabled mothership awaits in Deep Sky Derelicts! A game that blends retro, sci-fi comic book aesthetics with procedural generation and card turn-based combat. So how does the full release stack up when compared to its early access days? Find out in the review below.

Deep Sky Derelicts Review

INTRODUCTION

Almost a year ago we previewed Deep Sky Derelicts while it was in Steam's early access. This turn-based spaceship exploration survival hybrid left us with a positive impression and hopeful that the developer would double down on everything that was good about the game and add some things that we felt would make it a worthwhile experience. So did they manage to do that and is Deep Sky Derelicts worth checking out? Let's find out.

Deep Sky Derelicts is available for purchase on Steam.

STORY

Deep Sky Derelicts has a simple premise and not much has changed here from back when it was in early access. You get to create your starting crew as you assign their class, portrait, in-game appearance and a trait that will boost one of their stats. The bare minimum of the story is there for you to piece from the intro conversation with your main quest giver. A story of a class-based society where you are either a citizen of the triumvirate or you are not. If you are a citizen, you'll lead a normal life on a nice planet and enjoy all the technological marvels of the future. Then there's everyone else – the workers, the scavengers, people living in space, doing the dirty work for the citizens.

Deep Sky Derelicts Review - Story
Your crew falls into the latter category and you are spurred on your quest by the sub-governor of the triumvirate with the promise of being granted the citizenship. The mission? Finding the fabled mythical Mothership containing all sorts of technological marvels that will benefit the Triumvirate.
From that moment on, you are on your own. A single spaceship on a space station with not so much as a single credit of help from the Triumvirate. You need to board all sorts of different ships in search of the information on the most illusive spaceship in the galaxy. Your life continuously complicated by the lack of credits, resources and other crews which were also extended the same offer as you.

Deep Sky Derelicts Review - Derelicts
The search for the mothership will sometimes be broken by the occasional side-quest that will usually feature no story, just a fetch objective and a minuscule reward in form of money or information. All in all, the lack of story can make Deep Sky Derelicts a shallow experience that provides the player with no motivation to go through it aside from experimenting with crew and combat compositions.

GAMEPLAY

The most important decision when creating your three-man crew is the choice of class and diversifying them means the difference between a short and a long playthrough. These remain the same as in the early access with the tracker, scrapper, bruiser, technician, medic, and leader. Each has different stats which decides their gear and how potent certain attacks or skills are when used. Some classes deal more damage with weapons, some do a better job healing themselves or the members of the party and some do a better job when trying to avoid a fight. You can also assign a bonus skill of sorts that will further buff things like melee damage, evasion and other.

Deep Sky Derelicts Review - The Crew
Starting out, your main two resources will be life support energy and money. Life support energy is used for both movement and combat aboard the derelicts. Money, on the other hand, is used for upgrading your gear, buying weapons as well as healing and reviving your crew. While life support is replenished each time you visit the space station hub, money is gained by completing contracts, side quests or by selling loot your find aboard the derelicts. Since you gain small amounts of it by doing all the mentioned activities, having no money can effectively mean game over as you won't be able to do much of anything if your crew members die.
Once on a derelict, you are presented with a grid-like map of its layout. Each square in a grid is a room on the ship and these come in a couple of varieties – empty ones, the ones with random loot or rooms that are occupied by an NPC. These can be either side quest givers or enemies. There is also an occasional room with a neutral NPC that will initiate a conversation where your answers can make them either of the three categories above as they'll give you quests, loot or attack you.

The life support system coupled with the grid exploration can be extremely atmospheric. It keeps you on the edge, especially when your crew is fatigued and without resources and where one more enemy encounter can mean game over.

Deep Sky Derelicts Review - The HUB
Once you do get into a fight the turn-based meat of the game rears its head. The combat is based on an approachable card system where each piece of gear equipped to your crew gives you a couple of cards to work with. These are randomly handed out to your during combat and come in a few flavors – attacking, applying status effects and buffing or healing your crew.
The random card handouts, while lessening the tactical potential of the game, keep the combat unpredictable, ensuring you don't build an overpowered deck of cards and use it in the same way in each combat encounter.  Despite this, there are some obvious issues when it comes to class balancing as after experimenting with a crew or two, you'll probably find the best combination that will make any other crew composition utterly meaningless.

Deep Sky Derelicts Review - Cards
Each class has a set weapon type that will somewhat limit which gear and subsequently which cards can be equipped to it. There are however upgrade modules for each weapon and a slot for a utility tool and a shield core that will allow giving your class of choice some abilities that are not in line with its archetype. This greatly helps with crew customization, invokes experimentation and what ultimately makes the whole system a lot of fun. While the derelicts are procedurally generated and cards are plentiful, one playthrough will be enough for you to see it all. The Mothership endgame ramps things up in terms of difficulty somewhat, and it even forced me to reload a save or two to get better equipment before tackling it.

VISUALS AND AUDIO

Deep Sky Derelicts is a comic book come alive in terms of visuals. The gritty dystopian feel of the non-citizen factions is perfectly conveyed with the use of washed out colors for each frame and characters. The hub and the combat arenas across the derelicts all feature visual elements that scream: "we are barely holding it together and didn't hire a maid to clean up the place in forever".

The combat actions are presented by a large variety of comic book panels depending on which character is attacking and defending or what card is being played. While they lack animations it actually perfectly fits the overall aesthetic of the game. It all instead comes alive by the use of some hard-hitting sound effects for some of your attacks as well as damage indicators that pop up on the panel.

Deep Sky Derelicts Review - Combat
The UI shares a similar comic-book aesthetic. Menus feature large, well-placed icons and everything is generally well presented. Even in the hub area, there's never a case of "what's clickable" despite different service areas blending in with the background.
The music, on the other hand, is fairly minimal with deep space dystopian vibes across the board. The final release also doesn't feature any voice acting which is in line with the comic book aesthetic but its inclusion would help with making the inconsequential dialogue in both the main story and the side quests a bit more interesting to follow.

CONCLUSION

It took me around 10 hours to go through the game and I must admit that I loved my time with Deep Sky Derelicts. While it might not appeal to everyone, the game succeeds in providing a player with a gameplay loop that falls under "just one more turn" category type of addicting. It's not a quantum leap from when we previewed the game, but it's still much improved – especially in the number of loot and cards available with which you can really customize your approach to combat. It boasts some unique comic-book visuals and a surprising punch to the combat. It's just too bad that the game doesn't provide any context for all the derelict exploring aside from the minimal premise.

PROSCONS
+ Card combat system– Weak story and shallow missions
+ Comic-book sci-fi visuals– Class balancing issues
+ Somewhat addicting gameplay loop– Lack of voice acting and minimal music
6.7
Fair

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