Did you enjoy Faster Than Light? Did you enjoy Freelancer? Do you like procedural generation, roguelikes and high difficulty curves? Then you’ll enjoy Everspace.
The first thing to know about Everspace is that it’s an early access game; hence the first impressions title rather than an all-out review. But rather than being one of the hundreds of half-baked, half-finished games that adorn the halls of EA and Greenlight, Everspace already feels like a 90 per cent completed project. It has a level of polish to it that even full releases could learn something from.
While it still has a little way to go before truly being able to call itself a full game, most of the time it doesn’t feel like you’re playing a beta – and that is a feeling that only comes around once in a very long while.
Let’s start with a few definitions: Everspace is a sci-fi space shooter in much the same vein as Freelancer and Elite: Dangerous. You have a ship, you have some weapons, you have an objective and there are some bad guys between you and it. The rest I’m sure I can leave to your imagination.
Where it differs from the rest of the pack, however, is the progression of the game. While Freelancer and Elite throw you into an open universe and send you on your merry way, Everspace is a lot more linear. You travel from map to map, trying to reach the end of a sector, only to be shot forward into the next one to repeat it all over again – but this time it’s harder. Rather than a series of story-driven plotlines and side missions to investigate, you are instead tasked with getting as far as you can without dying. Straightforward, but not quite as simple as it may appear.
This is also where the FTL comparison comes in. You aren’t commanding a crew and it certainly isn’t turn-based, but the travel mechanic in Everspace echoes that of Faster Than Light. You head into a zone, you encounter some resources, some enemies, some traders and perhaps some loot opportunities or two, then you zip off to the next individual region of space where you deal with the next, similar encounter. As a result, many of the gameplay decisions you will make in Everspace are the same as the ones you would make in FTL. Do you have enough health to fight these pirates, or are you going to try to run? Do you want to waste some tools getting every piece of treasure on this map, or do you want to save it for later? Are you going to upgrade your shields, or are you going to focus on your weapons instead?
It’s all about management and risk/reward mechanics in Everspace. Every game has this to a certain degree, but like many other roguelikes, Everspace makes every decision much more important by implementing a perma-death system. If you die, your ship explodes and your progress is lost. All the credits you have earned along the way, however, do not disappear, and you can use them to permanently upgrade your own skills and traits, as well as purchase new ships that may fare better. You still get thrown back to the start, but now you have the opportunity to upgrade your ship. It’s a very clever way to make death punishing, but also oddly enough something to look forward to. To borrow a phrase from Dwarf Fortress, losing is fun.
Your first run may be quick and bloody, but on your next you may have a better shield and get a little further before you die. The third, fourth, fifth and sixth runs all benefit from the previous attempt, making it a sort of Fibonacci sequence of exploding death. That’s right: Everspace manages to make maths interesting. That alone should be worth an investigation.
But let’s move on before I get the blackboard and chalk out. The graphics. Most Early Access games tend to look closer to work-in-progress Dali paintings than having anything resembling a decent aesthetic, but Everspace is not one of them. Honestly, this may be the best looking unfinished product I have ever played. No pixelated graphics here, no reliance on quick-and-easy art styles; just pure space magic.
Stars glow, asteroids spin majestically and the enemy ships (and your own) explode so prettily it would bring a tear to your eye if your corpse wasn’t now spinning off into the black abyss. Perhaps a little exaggerated, but the point is that Everspace doesn’t just have great gameplay, but a great look too. More than one, I found myself just zipping in and out of various asteroids and space wrecks, marvelling at how gorgeous Rockfish Games managed to make their product. You’ll get used to it eventually, and spend more time worrying about the rapidly approaching pirate squadron than the scene in front of you. But for the first few playthroughs, there’s something genuinely serene about all that spacestuff.
The devs clearly know the eyecandy they’ve got at their disposal too, as they have implemented an action freeze feature. This lets you to pause in combat (or just flying around), switch to a third person view and capture all the lovely screenshots you like. Check out the image below for an example.
That’s not to say that there aren’t a few issues with Everspace. It’s quite light on content at the moment, particularly regarding the enemies you fight. On my playthroughs, there have only been Okkar (the native population of the region of space you are traversing) and outlaw bad guys to shoot. It may simply be that I haven’t travelled far enough to encounter any others, but the lack of variety here is a clunk moment in an otherwise very fun experience. The developers have highlighted this issue, however, and there should be some brand spanking new foes to blow up in the near future.
Everspace is a great start to a game, and presents itself well. It’s only on a very early version as yet, but it’s still very fun, very playable and surprisingly lacking in bugs, at least in my experience. Further, my computer is starting to show it’s age (I’m still knocking about with a GTX 760 as of the time of writing), but it still manages to maintain a decent 60 FPS on equally decent graphical settings. That in itself is an achievement for an early access game.
I would like to see a little bit more emphasis on the soundscape, however. Space games like Rebel Galaxy have highlighted how important the soundtrack for a sci-fi title is, and at the moment there are a lot of times where Everspace is begging for some kind of background music. It exists, certainly, but you’ll be more likely to be listening to the silence of space. Perhaps they are going for the Elite: Dangerous route, where the creaks and crackles of your own ship are ambiance enough. If so, they haven’t quite hit the mark yet. If not, then there is still a fair bit of work to be done.
Overall, Everspace is an excellent example of a decent early access game. The foundations are solid and merely need to be built upon, and the concepts and mechanics are already more than up to snuff. It is quite an expensive early access title, something that many might consider to not be worth the Early Access gamble. However, you are getting an extremely polished title for the price – even if it is just the bare bones at the moment.
If you like space, exploration, explosions, roguelikes, high difficulty, gradual progression, constant improvement and some very pretty visuals, make sure you check out Everspace on the Steam store.