Deep Sky Derelicts is a roguelike dungeon crawler in the same vein as Darkest Dungeon. In fact, I would say it is clear the devs of Deep Sky Derelicts truly loved Darkest Dungeon. So, how does this sci-fi variant on the genre hold up as an early access title? Let’s find out.
I haven’t experienced enough of the story to report much on it, but the basic premise is that you are hired to scavenge your way through this sector of space, looking through derelict ships for clues that will lead you to the mythical “Mothership”, where untold riches in the form of new technology awaits.
It’s a simple plot device, but is enough of a motivator to send you out into all those derelict ships.
There are also conversations to be had with some branching choices, which can lead to some interesting scenarios that play out as mini stories. Some of the dialogue between your party and other scavengers can be and usually is amusing, and they did a great job of infusing personality into the characters. Everybody has a certain level of derangement to them that can actually be charming in that Firefly sort of way.
The gameplay in Deep Sky Derelicts is actually quite fun. The card combat system is nicely done. Your deck is built around the gear you’ve got equipped, and that forces you to really pay attention to your equipment’s cards selection in addition to it’s value as armor or weapons. You might feel you need to select a less powerful weapon, for example, because it gives you three great cards to go into your deck. By forcing your hand a bit, the game cleverly forces you to immerse yourself more deeply into the experience.
The actual cards have all have a single use, and there is a wide variety of effects to be had, from basic attacks and defense, to cool buffs and debuffs, awesome special attacks, healing, and on and on. There has been a pretty nice variety so far in my playthroughs. Some, like Inspire, also allow everybody in your party a chance to draw an extra card, which can prove invaluable when caught in particularly heated battles.
It’s basic design is similar to Darkest Dungeon, so you have your space station which functions as your base of operations and provides all basic services (Pawn Shop, Clinic, Bar, Gov’t Building). Services provided include buying/selling/ship repair at the Pawn Shop, healing/revival at the Clinic, side quests (in the form of contracts) at the bar, and main quests from the gov’t official.
You will encounter neutral or friendly scavengers during your travels, and these will offer the potential for mini quests seemingly and also might be willing to trade a little. However, dialogue options with these NPC’s matter, and you can very easily piss off and/or alienate somebody enough to where they refuse to have anything to do with you afterwards.
So, that is all great. However, there are some real issues with the game that can hamper your enjoyment. For one, the energy system is brutal. You get 100 energy points to start a play through, and every single action taken outside of your space station costs one or more energy. Move a space. Energy. Each round in combat. Energy. You can abate this a little if you can afford to buy portable generators and energy capsules, which you will be able to afford with your starting funds, but will find very difficult to replace later. Why?
Because combat is not balanced and heavily favors the enemies in the game. They will often be very, very, very overpowered, even with the starting derelicts. Because of this, you will end up using your resources very quickly with little to no pay off. You’ll end up fleeing way too many battles with one or two of your party members potentially dead and waiting to be revived, something which is available, but which costs far more scrap than you will have been able to collect at that point.
Since you only get your starting three characters, this can be quite cumbersome. You will find the occasional unguarded loot room, but more often, you will end up in unwinnable battles unless the RNG gods are truly with you that particular battle. This can even get worse as it’s very easy to end up trapped in a section of a ship where your only recourse is in fact to fight said unwinnable battles and hope for the best. So far, the best has resulted in a game over each time for me.
If this was better balanced, I would give the gameplay a glowing recommendation, as the core concept is a lot of fun. Unfair balancing makes for a far less enjoyable experience however.
The graphics in Deep Sky Derelicts are stunning in the same way that Darkest Dungeon manages to be the same. Very nice detail in all the artwork and character designs. Stunning use of color and cel shaded, almost sketch art really puts this over the top. Basically horror and sci-fi done immaculately.
The audio is well done in Deep Sky Derelicts. It’s mostly sound effects, but everything sounds the way you imagine it should. One thing that is notably absent however is interplay between your three party members. Occasionally, one will give you advice about something (in written form), but as a rule, they just go about their business in silence. I wish more was done to make the party members feel like they are really travelling together.
There is still time to iron out some of the issues with Deep Sky Derelicts (most notably the balancing) before it sees full release. A roguelike should be difficult and at times frustrating, but it should never feel impossible and that is my take on Deep Sky Derelicts in its current form. Impossible. Even my best run, which is ongoing, has already fairly well been shattered by one character needing to be revived and the difficulty involved in trying to raise those funds with my other two characters, both of whom are also injured. However, beneath that is a stellar game, so I hope the devs take the time to get that right. Deep Sky Derelicts has infectious gameplay and super cool graphics, while also carrying itself in a charmingly quirky fashion. This has a chance to be something special. Just gotta expand the game enough to where the starter derelicts can also be easier than the ones they are going to be adding pre-release, allowing a party to better handle challenges, and scaling enemies, at least in the first four derelicts, seems essential.