Landing on abandoned/crashed spaceships and scouring them for resources and completing bounties; this is the premise of Deep Sky Derelicts. Which does sound all very engaging but does it hold up to an extensive in depth analysis? Let’s find out.
Deep Sky Derelicts is Finland-based Snow Hound Games’ first indie outing, published by 1C. It’s a turn based RPG with rogue-like and card game elements, currently in Early Access and is available for PC via Steam and GOG. It’s set for a Q1 2018 release.
Deep Sky Derelicts
Story & Narrative
Deep Sky Derelicts has you take on the role of an adept scavenger who’s tasked with finding alien data hidden away on ancient shipwrecks floating in the dark depths of the Deep Sky sector. In exchange of retrieving all data, you’re promised riches and luxury by the expedition leader, a sub-governer.
After talking to the sub-governer, you start off at a hub that has a few places of interest:
- Sub-governer’s Office: You may return back to report on your progress.
- Pawn Shop: Here, you can sell items and junk you find, and buy weapons, item mods and energy cells (more on these later).
- Deep Sky Medical: To heal your party.
- LAIR: A tavern where you can accept side-quests for some extra money and items.
- Loading bay: Which you will use to travel to the different derelicts.
Gameplay & Mechanics
You start off the game by selecting 3 party members from a decent variety of classes (each with their own perks, stats and play styles). For my playthrough, I chose a Bruiser (quite tanky, with hard hitting melee), Medic (specializing in buffs and and debuffs, somewhat iffy attack power) and Technician (armed with a decent ranged weapon, makes use of buffs/debuffs, leaning towards a defensive stance with a focus on shields).
As mentioned at the start, Deep Sky Derelicts is a turn based, dungeon crawler RPG with a heavy emphasis on exploration and tactical combat. The “dungeon” (in this case, the lost and abandoned shipwrecks which you will be exploring) is represented as a grid-layout (using the Scanner feature) on your PDA – the high-tech device that you’ll also be using for checking the party’s stats, rummaging through the inventory and keeping a note of the current objective (via the Mission Log tab).
The dungeons are randomly generated and so are the enemy/NPC encounters, item drops, etc. There are three kinds of interactions in the environment (each represented by a unique icon on the Scanner screen on the PDA):
- Search: You may stumble across a heap of trash among which you can find anything from useless junk like metal scraps to useful stuff like weapons/mods and energy cells.
- Enemy encounters: Running into them will cause you to engage in battle; enemy crowds can range from 1 to 5 enemies at once.
- NPC interaction: Besides the player’s party and hostile creatures, there may also be random NPC scavengers on the ship with their own dialogue, backstory and agenda (and you can even accept quests from them).
The inventory screen can seem overwhelming at first but it’s not an issue once you settle in. You can check your equipped weapons and items, swap them in and out of the inventory, move them around freely using the mouse and recycle unwanted items as well (using the right click).
Moving on to the exploration aspect of the game, I’d say exploration is well, kind of bland and to an extent, a tedious endeavor (at first, anyways). Let’s tackle the bland side first: since the exploration takes place on a grid, it takes away from the immersion since your party is essentially an icon moving from one square to another. It’s also a missed opportunity to show off the game’s nice art design.
Moving onto the tedious part, is the exploration and this will likely put some people off. The Energy Gauge plays an important role in exploration; you start off at 100 and performing every action like moving on the map, searching or taking a turn to act in battle takes away 1 EP; since movement only highlights the path you’re taking, scanning your surroundings can be handy as it lights up at handful of grids for you to check if there’s anything useful around. But use it sparingly since a single scan costs 5 EP; if you mindlessly wander around without paying attention to the gauge and let it drop to 0 before you return back to the exit, it’s GAME OVER as your resources run out and you and your party is left to die among the ancient alien ruins. And did I mention that the game also features permadeath? Other than running out of energy, death also comes by being defeated in battle and if your entire party is wiped out, it’s time to start over.
Therefore, strategic planning is required as you essentially need to enter the derelict, explore to find the objective (and likely engage in combat) AND return back to the ship entrance in one sitting.
Of course you can buy extra energy cells to refill the gauge by a some amount from the Pawn Shop on the hub but they can be kind of expensive and you may find yourself running out of money near the end of the game if you’re not spending it wisely (which is exactly what happened to me). Don’t hold out for randomly stumbling across energy cells when exploring either, since they’re very rare.
As for the combat, it employs a random card-based mechanic and overall is quite deep:
On entering battle, each character will receive some action cards (which are randomly drawn from the combined set of cards that are made up by the Weapon, Tool and Shield cards you’ve equipped. Experimentation is key and coming up with card decks that fit the way you play is quite satisfying. As an example, my Bruiser was equipped with mostly melee attack cards and weapon buffing cards to turn him into a near OHKO beast. Cards also have passive bonuses (like 20% chance to stun). As a tip: Battles become easier when you keep the enemy from attacking so stunning them or pacifying them temporarily is a great tactic. You’re welcome, because the difficulty can ramp up depending on the derelict you’re exploring.
Like most RPGs, dropping an enemy’s health to zero is how you defeat them. However here, most enemies (like robots or hostile explorers) also have a shield meter (acting like a second layer of health) that needs to be taken care of before the enemy can die. So attacking will first take out a chunk of the shield first (and damage is done based on the cards you get). Also, the order in which a character will perform an is decided by an order bar in the lower right. Overall, it’s a satisfying and well-crafted combat system.
On successfully defeating an enemy, you can (most of the times) get random item drops, like junk, energy cells, weapon mods or cards; you’ll also gain experience points and eventually level up and receive skill points to allocate for the skill of your choice (like improving shield heal capacity for the Technician).
Apart from the campaign there is also an Arena mode where you clear waves of increasingly tough enemies. It’s an okay diversion but won’t hold your interest for long.
The artstyle is definitely one of the game’s biggest selling points: the hand drawn, gritty, comic book aesthetic fits the game dark and isolated atmosphere very well.
The sound design in the game is generally decent, with electronic tones that tenses up during intense battles. Not much else to say here.
For a game still in development, it’s only natural to expect technical issues. Here’s what I think SnowHound needs to tweak for the final product:
- Implement health drops; the only way to heal your party is by returning to the clinic (and like I said before, healing costs a ridiculous amount of money).
- Implement increased and more rewarding item drops that can be sold to keep up on your cash reserves, because like mentioned above, it’s the only way to heal and buy stuff; while turning scrap to money and selling weapons/mods/cards you do not need is an option, the money you get in exchange is honestly not enough to cover your expenses. Couple this with the fact that quests in the LAIR are actually limited and you have to return back several times to the hub midway during exploration to heal up and buy items, it becomes an issue in the long run.
- Recycling needs to be overhauled into something a bit more useful as there’s just not enough scrap lying around to be able to use the feature to it’s full potential. I mean, a mere 2 EP for every item recycled is not satisfying at all.
- Speaking of recycling, this was something I didn’t know how to perform at all until the near end of my playthrough, and that was by accident as well. So the game really needs a tutorial (yep it doesn’t have one) to properly explain it’s mechanics and features before sending the player directly to a spaceship that has acid spitting lizards and sentry robots trying to kill you.
- An option to have more than 3 party members would be great too.
In addition to UI glitches (like cards refusing to be clicked on and the stats screen not closing during battle), I also had the game crash and freeze a few times. But these issues will likely be addressed by the time the final build rolls out.
Deep Sky Derelicts has a lot of potential, despite being rough around the edges and it’s very promising. But do I recommend you go and buy this game now? Unless you plan to support the devs, NOPE. There’s not much content here to warrant a purchase (especially since an average playthrough is only 2-3 hours long).
However, I do look forward to the direction Snow Hound takes Deep Sky Derelicts in. If you’re a fan of rogue-like RPGs (especially games like Darkest Dungeon) and games with card based systems, you’ll love this game.