In Deep Sky Derelicts, no one can hear you die over and over again.
There’s a little known fact around here. Some might consider it a well guarded secret. Whatever you call it, I’m about to let you in on it: I really rather like Darkest Dungeon. It’s tough, but with a theme that fits the challenge level really well. It has a wonderfully bleak art style which gives every character an incredibly distinct look. There are fantastic (and creative) mechanics that create interesting twists on classic turn-based RPG gameplay styles. In short, it’s pretty damn good. Deep Sky Derelicts quickly caught my attention with it’s similar art style and supposedly punishing turn based gameplay, so I was more than happy to give it a go! It’s currently in Early Access, and here’s how it’s getting on.
Deep Sky Derelicts sees you leading a group of scavengers on a mission to find the legendary Mothership for… reasons! To do so, you will need to visit derelicts in space as to gather the location data of further derelicts deeper in the sector. Surviving these derelicts is the real trick though, and if you’re to stand a chance you’ll need to complete contracts to level up your characters as well as earn money to outfit them with weapons and gear. There’s a fair bit of detail to the quests, and meeting people leads to various dialogue options that deepen the context of the story you’re currently involved with, as well as this the options you select can change the way you complete the contracts, which is a really nice twist on the normal formula.
The game is centred around a base which acts something like the hamlet in Darkest Dungeon. You can collect contracts, hire characters if you want to swap out one of yours, and buy and sell items and upgrades. Deep Sky Derelicts differs by not having you upgrade the base and merely having it as a central location. Once you have taken on one or more contracts, you head to your transport and select a derelict to explore. The vessels themselves are huge, with many, many rooms to explore, meaning getting around a derelict and actually finding your objective could take a long time. Thankfully you have two things to help: a map that allows you to move quickly around, and more importantly, a scanner that can reveal the contents of nearby rooms, including enemies, items, or people. Using this requires energy, as does moving around and fighting, and should you run out of energy, your characters’ life support will shut down and they will start to die. If you can make it back to your transport however, then you can head back to base to buy a recharge, or you can use certain items to give your a short term boost when you need it.
Combat is turn based, with you selecting a card for a character to play, including attacks, buffs, debuffs, and heals. Cards are based on the items your characters have equipped, with better items giving you access to more and better cards to use meaning you may cause more damage, or have an additional debuff caused by your strikes. I really liked this system as it made me think more carefully about which weapon to use rather than simply grabbing whatever looked like an upgrade. You can check the cards they provide beforehand, allowing you to make an informed choice about which cards you’ll lose and what you’ll gain. This mechanic reminds me of deckbuilding games in which you need to cut out the weak cards and refine your deck over time. However, being as it’s based on cards, you will be at the mercy of drawing the right offensive or defensive abilities at the right time. Enemies hit very hard and should you lose all your characters on a mission then it’s game over. Did I mention this has rogue-like elements? When I say game over, I mean game over!
So yes, this is a very hard game, which is fine in itself, however I feel that at this stage the game is somewhat under-explained. Whilst there are tool tips to explain what the key words on cards mean, and there is a brief explanation of what your objective is, there really isn’t any guidance early on. This meant my first 5 or so runs met with a very swift end as I desperately tried to learn the ropes without any idea of if I was doing something wrong. Whilst there is something to be said for learning by doing, I think some people will bounce off this game due to the level of difficulty and lack of information. This may well change as the game develops.
There’s an excellent art style here, that works very well for the “dystopian future” look Deep Sky Derelicts is going for. The characters look great generally, but the attacks look fantastic. Every time someone uses a card, you’ll get a brief “comic strip” panel showing the attack and the results of it. These look great and really stand out as a different way of presenting these actions. They’re very effective when combined with the crunching sound effects from physical attacks.
The environments are less impressive and mostly just blend together. I couldn’t tell you if one derelict looked any different to another, which I suppose makes sense in the game’s context. The enemies are varied, and behave differently depending on what they are. Monsters will leap and claw at you, whilst janitor bots will use vacuums to cause area damage. Generally it looks great!
As it stands, Deep Sky Derelicts cannot be completed as the game is still in Early Access on Steam. Unlike a lot of Early Access games though, Snowhound have a fully laid out road map for the game’s upcoming patches meaning you can pick this up in its current state confident that you know what will be coming up. If you want to hold off though, the game is due for full release in September. But, as it stands, there’s a lot of fun content to be had here.
This is an Early Access title that’s certainly worth keeping an eye on if you’re after something challenging. Just be prepared to die a lot along the way.