Did you ever sit there and think to yourself “I wish I had a turn-based RPG card battler with a dash of rogue-like elements such as procedurally generated dungeons (or spaceships, in this case!) and maybe a little permadeath to spice things up a bit?” No, I haven’t either. But now that I have played Deep Sky Derelicts, I wish I would have gotten my hands on it sooner.
To succinctly sum up the story, you are a Stateless scavenger in the distant future. The Sub-Governor offers you a chance at full citizenship on a swanky world if you can bring him the location of the Mothership: a mythical spaceship said to hold an ungodly amount of advanced technology and treasures. In order to accomplish this, he wants you to put together a small team to scour the many derelict ships lifelessly floating about the vast expanse of space. The idea is to find the bridge of each procedurally generated derelict and secure whatever data you can and bring it back so experts can comb through the data for info and extrapolate a location. The problem is that these ships are full of dangers, whether it be from traps, old robots, aliens, or even rival scavengers going after the same data.
To complete this perilous mission you’re going to need a good crew. You can hit the randomize button if you don’t feel like taking the time to customize your three scavengers. There are only a few cosmetic customization options. You can name your team and individual crew members, change their portraits, and choose your class-centric outfit. The only two options that impact your gameplay are your class and personality options. Personality is basically just a small perk. The aggressive trait adds 5% to melee damage and Skittish gives your character extra evasion, just for an example. There are only five in total. The benefits are small, but if you play your cards right they can be pretty handy. There are seven classes to choose from, each with their own unique class cards, stats, and starting equipment.
While each class has their own special cards, you can gain access to new cards through the weapons and gear you equip to your characters. The way it works is that each piece of gear has its own cards to add to that specific character’s arsenal. Each time you find a new item, you’ll have to check out not only the attributes of it but also whether the cards it adds are worth using. Often you’ll find yourself weighing the pros and cons of each gear piece, trying to balance out your options to make sure you don’t fill out your deck with weak cards or have underpowered items equipped. I thought this was a cool way to manage the card deck aspect of the game. I usually don’t enjoy combing through legions of cards, so the simplicity of this system is a relief. Find a weapon, check it out. The attack cards are good? Equip it. Simple enough to manage. You can also equip two mods to each piece of equipment, further increasing your combat capabilities and adding more cards.
Before we get into the exploration and combat aspects, let me quickly explain the area that serves as your main hub. The space station has a few different shops that you will constantly be using. The pawn shop is a place where you can buy and sell stuff (duh) but you can also completely refill the energy you will expend while exploring. The Lair is a dive bar where you can hire new scavengers in case you decide to boot one of your party members for a change of pace. You can also take on contracts for credits here, though honestly, they don’t ever seem to have many on offer. The research station allows you to upgrade your energy and scanning functions. Very important to do that ASAP as it will help keep you in the game longer. The medical clinic is where you’ll probably be spending most of your money if you’re as careless as I am. This is the only decent way to restore a member’s HP and boy can it get pricey, especially if you have to revive someone. I don’t really like the fact that they gimped most other forms of HP recovery. The Medic class doesn’t even have the ability to restore an ally’s health; they can only grant them a temporary HP bonus. It does add a level of challenge and serves to make the whole affair of exploring ships much more dangerous, so there is that. You can also check in with the Sub-Governor in his office whenever you gain new info. Reporting enough data opens up a new batch of derelicts to explore. Last but not least is the spaceship you can use to open up the space map and choose your destination from the batch of unlocked derelicts.
Once you dock, the shit starts to hit the fan. Opening up your PDA displays the outline of the ship. The layout reveals more as you proceed in the form of grey squares denoting rooms. You burn energy with each square you move and once that energy is gone, your life support cuts out. This means your shields drop and you take damage with each step. You have a very small window of opportunity to get to the nearest dock point and get back to the space station. It may or may not help if you yell GET TO DA CHOPPA while making your retreat. You can purchase and find items to restore energy, plus if you get really desperate, you can start recycling your inventory for very small energy gains. Energy has many vital uses, from exploration to battling, so it will need to be managed very carefully. Scanning the area costs energy but reveals a small chunk of the map, including any special events, traps or enemies in the area. While exploring, you can adjust your movement from normal to stealth or rush mode. Rush uses the least energy to run around but also allows enemies to ambush you every time. Stealth is the exact opposite. It burns up more energy than any other option, but it allows you to turn the tables and ambush any enemy you encounter. Once you enter the same square as an enemy, it’s time to rumble.
The combatants act in order of who has the highest initiative. You can play one card from your hand each turn; though more can be played depending on special abilities and ‘energizing’. Your shields are your best line of defense since they can recharge fully after each fight, whereas your HP will not. Using the special ‘boost’ option costs energy but it allows you to draw two cards and play one immediately, which can help turn the tides if things aren’t going your way. There is also a mechanic that allows you to spend some energy to launch an attack using the environment. They usually deal weak damage, but often inflict nasty debuffs on the enemy. I found that the difficulty can spike unusually in some cases. One time I was killing everything in a derelict with ease. I was a three-man wrecking crew. The next derelict I jumped to only had a slight increase in difficulty level and yet the first encounter wiped me out easily. When defeated, you can reload your last save as long as you aren’t playing on hardcore mode. One really annoying issue I had a few times was with the game not reloading properly after dying, forcing me to restart the application. Deep Sky Derelicts has a great comic book-style visual aesthetic and when it comes to the fighting. Each time a person attacks or unleashes an ability, it is displayed just like a comic book panel. Earning enough experience from fighting and clearing contracts allows you to level up your scavengers, spending ability points on their class-specific skill branch.
I admit the game had me a bit annoyed at first. I wanted to jump in quick so I just hit ‘randomize’ and promptly got thrashed in the first derelict because I didn’t notice the displayed difficulty level was too high for my current team’s strength. After reading through each class and lovingly creating a new team, I had a lot more fun. I would end up staying up later than planned because I would keep telling myself “one more ship, just one more ship.” The only downside is that even with good strategy, you can still find yourself in a pickle due to the random nature of the game. I’m sure most people who play roguelikes know to expect this kind of thing though. I think Deep Sky Derelicts caters more to RPG and roguelike enthusiasts than it does to fans of card-based games. If you want to engage in some turn-based warfare with a twist all the while courting Lady Luck, then suit up and hop into a game of Deep Sky Derelicts. Just remember to pack enough energy cells.
*Note. A copy of this game was provided for the purpose of the review.
Final Score: 8/10
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