Everspace 2 is a significant departure from the previous game in the series, but that isn’t necessarily a bad thing.
I really liked Everspace. It took the at-the-time woefully underserved space sim/shooter genre, modernised the controls for console, and gave it a roguelike motif. It was fast-paced, easy to pick up, and had a pretty solid story to boot. This sequel changes a lot of that, but Everspace 2 is still a solid game in its own right.
In the original game, you played as a clone of Adam Roslin, but with only a few of his memories. Over the course of the game, you discover who you were, and what you need to do to get your life back. This is how Everspace got around its roguelike element. Every time you died, you spawned again in a new body, complete with previous memories. It’s a nice narrative way to handle dying and reappearing over and over again. Spoilers for the end of the story, but in the end you end the cycle for your clone and set off for a new life.
Everspace 2 takes place sometime after this, with you playing as Adam Roslin again. Which version of him you are is unclear, but he knows he’s a clone, has memories of his previous lives, and is aware that death means the end for him now. Working for a mining company, his group is attacked, with him and his friend being kidnapped. Finding a new ally, Adam escapes, retrieves the near dead body of his friend, and flees into space on a stolen ship. This sets up the plot, as Adam tries to save his friend’s life, and pursue the life-changing score that his new ally claims is waiting for them.
The story is solid enough, with some nice callbacks to the previous game. It’s quite cliched for a space narrative, but that isn’t really a significant negative. There are better narratives to be found in the array of side quests you can discover by exploring the star systems you find yourself in, but the main narrative drives you along well enough.
That exploration takes place on a couple of levels. You spend the bulk of your time in small areas, often asteroid fields, around space stations or derelict ships, or in orbit around a planet. Here you’ll find loot to collect, minerals to mine, and shops to buy and sell at, as well as characters and enemies to converse or fight with. These are not terribly big, and if you stray too far, your ship will just be turned around and sent back into the area.
If you want to go further afield, you need to use your jump drive that allows you to travel between these areas.There’s little interaction here, with you just pointing the ship where you want to go and pressing A, and then waiting often for over a minute until you arrive, which was a bit irritating. Occasionally you’ll get pings for distress calls and undiscovered areas to explore if you want to change course. These are often worth visiting for extra resources, as well as some fun puzzles to solve to access more valuable loot. I honestly quite liked finding these areas, as they felt curated rather than the randomised areas of the first game. Some of the puzzles felt good to get through, although a few of them were little more than finding the power cell to open the gate.
It helps that a lot of these areas look gorgeous. Yes it’s space, and space is mostly empty, but you’ll always be in an area with at least something of interest to see. Asteroid fields are frequent, and whilst they look pretty with some great lighting effects, they become tedious. More fun are starship graveyards, or destroyed bases for you to duck and weave through. I particularly enjoyed times where I would be in a planet’s atmosphere, fighting through caverns or swooping over settlements. There’s a surprising amount of variety considering space is so vast and devoid of anything.
Of course, this wouldn’t be a space game without its fair share of fighting, and Everspace 2 has an awful lot of it. Arriving in an area will often result in your being attacked by drones or star fighters, and these tend to be replaced the longer you stay in a region. Quite often I would have cleared an area out to explore it, only to be accosted by another squadron just turning up. With that said, the combat is pretty enjoyable. You’ll have plenty of foes to fight off, and a huge array of different weapons to do that with. Often you’ll just use whichever has the highest damage or most interesting status effect, but I did tend to gravitate more towards the faster firing lasers and missiles.
Most of the time you’ll be taking on several enemies at once, and you have some advantages to tip the scales in your favour. Modules allow you to pull off quick and powerful abilities like dashing forward or temporarily becoming invisible. These are really worthwhile and seeking out powerful ones is a smart move. You also have an ultimate ability that is tied to the class of ship you’re using, and these tend to wipe out enemy squads in seconds. Well worth holding onto for emergencies. Some elite enemies have access to these too, so it pays to be ready for anything.
The combat is fun, but I didn’t want to actively seek it out, even though there’s a levelling system. I tended to find it a little slow-paced at times, especially when playing in my preferred cockpit view. When you play in third person there’s a much greater sense of speed and dynamism to the combat, so I ended up using that camera, in spite of me not particularly liking it. Pitched battles when you’re holding off squadrons of enemies whilst trying to destroy a space station were always a treat though. Any chance to do that, I took!
Something that adds a lot of variety to the combat is the number of different ships available. You’ll be stuck with your starting ship for the first few hours, which do feel like they drag on honestly, but once the game opens up a bit, you can buy new ones from traders. You can end up with a fleet of ships to hop in and out of when you head to home base, or you can sell them to get a new model. They feel quite different too, with powerful, armoured Vindicators being quite sluggish when compared to the hard-to-hit but fragile Stingers. I liked how they all had different wings and cockpits that you could find to customise the look of them. I was less a fan of having to find colours for ships before you can use them for customisation. Apparently, Adam doesn’t know what purple is until he finds a crate with it in.
The visuals here are even more impressive than they were in the original, especially on PC. Sunlight glints off metallic hulls in a natural feeling way, and flying through a gas swamped asteroid field feels suitably tense. I was a fan of the ships having different cockpits when you tried out a new one, but again the cockpit view is probably the most awkward way to play the game due to it massively obscuring your vision. Environments benefit most of all thanks to the visuals. Even a drab array of space rocks has a burst of colour somewhere thanks to a nearby star or planet.
The sounds are equally good. The music is suitably spacey thanks to a synth approach to the soundtrack that reminds me of 80s sci-fi movies, especially when combined with the visuals of flying through friendly populated space stations. Weapons and explosions have great pop to them, and the voice acting is mostly excellent.
One downside that I have is one that I also had with the original game, and that’s that I just can’t seem to find a control layout that I liked. Perhaps I’m just missing the days of flight sticks, but trying to play this on a controller just never felt right, regardless of how much faffing around I did with the button configuration. Either the movement was on the wrong side, or the thrust and reverse felt in the wrong spot. I’m sure with enough time I could get one that I’d cope with though. I fully recognise that this is a me problem.
Another is that the story does drag a bit early on. For the first few hours I just didn’t really care about what I was doing. I felt like there was little freedom and that I was stuck with the same ship and weapons for too long. Once I got past this early stage there was a lot more to love, but it might put a less patient player off to start with.
Everspace 2 has a really solid sci-fi adventure for those starved of space sims these days. There’s a fun, albeit cliched, story and an array of interesting side quests to undertake and characters to meet. It helps that the space combat is enjoyable enough, although not really being exceptional. There’s a crafting system, legendary weapons to discover, and mysteries to find. I don’t think this will suddenly turn someone onto the genre, but it will certainly entertain those who are already fans of it.