Maybe it’s the backdrop – an armistice zone between humanity and a lizard-like alien race are colonial-fueled conflict rife with space pirates, abandoned facilities, environmental hazards and a handful of diverse, often warring factions. Maybe it’s the story – a simple but effective “uncover your past” amnesia story about a series of clones of the same man, each learning more than the last about their “original’s” life and professional and personal affairs, and how those affairs led to where the game starts you. Maybe it’s the gameplay – punishing but rewarding and visually stunning space combat where death is part of the experience. Regardless of the factors, I know one thing – Everspace is a damn fun game.
Aside from some quality time with Bloodborne that I enjoyed, I’ve never been overly fond of the types of games roguelikes call to mind – “run-based” affairs where you’re pitted against an environment full of people and things trying to kill you (the environment itself often gets in on the action directly or indirectly) with the expectation that you’re going to get your ass handed to you as part of the learning experience. I absolutely understand the intent and the appeal behind these things, but roguelikes and similar games like the Souls series are games I simply don’t have the time and patience for.
Part of it is my own personality and preferences for, well, not losing, but part of it I think also comes from the fact that I tend to be easily immersed in my games – I quickly inhabit the character I’m given and the situation I’m placed in, so to then tell me that “dying is part of the experience” sort of brings it back to this metagame thing that just rubs me the wrong way.
Fortunately, Everspace actually finds a way to integrate this into the gameplay and the story. Everspace puts you in the shoes of a clone of a man named Adam, a former Colonial officer and scientist who worked on a program for the fleet – a cloning program to create soldiers and pilots for the war with the Okkar, the previously mentioned lizardfolk (among other threats). Your character knows he is a clone right off the bat, and your ship’s AI, a sardonic posh British fellow, often mentions flat-out that every deployment/run is a chance to learn and explore.
It is this acknowledgement of the gameplay pillars in-universe that helped me get through the learning curve of Everspace. Each run consists of getting through six sectors of increasing difficulty and danger, consisting of a randomly-generated array of jump points which make up the game’s levels. Each level within a sector is a small area with invisible boundaries that is populated with any number of concentrations and dispositions of AI-controlled craft, facilities and scatterings of resources and loot.
Sometimes you’ll luck out and come across a system with neutral, friendly or entirely absent forces chock full of goodies like new weapons, upgrades and crafting materials – usually you aren’t that lucky. Several factions prowl the asteroid fields, stardust and solar storms of the cosmos, itching to gun down not only you but each other. I would often jump into a system to find myself either in the middle of or watching from a distance a heated space dogfight, which in later levels often include larger capital ships and transports – juicy targets rife with lucrative goodies if you want to take the risk.
Friendly and neutral factions also dot the levels, and leading superior foes to them for some backup is a valid and effective tactic – the corporate mercenary pilots of G&B Corp saved my hide more than a few times, and even though there is no communication with these other pilots, there’s something charming and satisfying about doing a victory lap around the shattered remains of enemy ships while your improvised wingmen soar triumphantly back to their posts (this is where my propensity for immersion and roleplaying comes in).
Inevitably, though, you’ll bite off more than you can chew at some point. Sometimes it’s your own fault for picking a fight you had no hope of winning, other times the pursuing Okkar forces, who are actively chasing you and will always eventually appear on top of you with only about 20 seconds of warning in each new system, will jump in and tear your apart. Occasionally it will be a sadder, less exciting demise as your ship’s life support shuts down because you couldn’t repair the damage in time, or you chance a hyperspace jump despite not having enough fuel and watch your ship explode instead – that actually happened and was a particular doozy given that, while I knew your ship could be damaged by jumping without enough fuel, I wasn’t expecting that.
Upon meeting your end in the cold emptiness of space, you are taken back to the launch menu where you can use all of the cash you collected on your previous run to attach permanent upgrades to your ship, buy a new ship type or customize the cosmetics and loadouts of existing ones. Any cash you don’t spend here is lost when you redeploy, so strategically planning your purchases to maximize both usefulness and efficiency in spending is essential to long-term improvement and enjoyment of the game. These upgrades consist of the expected shield and hull (health) boosts, as well as new slots to carry more primary and secondary weapons, gadgets and consumable items, as well as improvements to the map to show hazards and enemy threat levels before you decide where to jump to and abilities that improve relations with neutral factions.
These permanent upgrades to your ships are supplemented by the new weapons, gear and temporary upgrades you find during your runs – with your limited space for weapons and the wildly varying functions and situational applications of weapons, the game encourages and rewards experimentation (the beam laser is never a bad choice though – pick it up if you find it), and finding some punch-packing hardware to take down enemy types that previously wiped the floor with me were great. Also, I highly encourage you -once you’ve decided to end a run and bank your cash- to take a plasma torpedo and make one last run at a transport of some kind for some last-minute raiding. Watching a big ship come apart in one shot is immensely satisfying, and you get the added challenge of seeing how long you survive against the reinforcements they call in.
Scouring the nooks and crannies of asteroids, ancient space stations and facilities both abandoned and active is the meat of the game, and the gorgeous lighting and vibrant color scheme make it all the more gratifying. Particularly standout are the effects and details Everspace puts into the various natural hazards one can encounter, such as black holes, tracker-obscuring dust (which mercifully prevents the Okkar from tracking you to offset your own sensor blindness) and, my personal favorite, solar storms. When in a system undergoing solar storms, the star in question periodically releases devastating waves that damage any ship or unit not in solid cover from it. The first time I encountered one, I was low on fuel with several damaged subsystems, with Okkar patrols and Outlaw drones hot on my trail. In lieu of a final stand, however, I instead sought cover from this sudden storm, and watched with glee as both sides were annihilated in a brilliant yellow-orange malestrom. After that I was free to collect the overwhelming amount of loot, which included fuel for the next jump and the ever-desirable nanobots, a rare commodity essential for ship repairs.
The game is full of these memorable little vignettes – many of my stories I’ve told to friends about this game have been about epic or stupid deaths, but just as many have simply been little moments and experiences where the game’s systems came together to create even just fleeting-but-special stories that keep me coming back. My favorite and most memorable run so far saw me flawlessly destroying every threat in my path with a devastating loadout of accumulated firepower and technical skill after many hours with the game, only to finally be bested in a rather-expertly laid ambush. The Okkar sent many “elite” marked units after me supported by debuff-oriented support drones, and I fought them all off only to be eliminated in a moment of lapsed awareness by a lowly enemy scout.
Unfortunately, the same praise cannot be heaped on Everspace’s actual plot. Doled out in tiny chunks at random times throughout your runs, Adam’s clones run into various characters who have ties to his past. Some are helpful, while others will attack you once their exposition dump is over. Every so often a series of stills will be shown while a narration plays, explaining another piece of the puzzle. Occasionally there will be a conversation between your clone and your shipboard AI regarding some new discovery in the environment or about the previous slide show or character encountered. The pacing for these encounters and reveals is simply too sporadic and unsatisfying for the story that is being told – it’s not a bad story by any means, but the picture you ultimately paint with these maddeningly-infrequent puzzle pieces, which require a lot of time and patience to get to, just doesn’t feel worth it. The story just doesn’t have the same satisfying drip-feed reward system as the gameplay.
Additionally, enemy variety leaves much to be desired. While the dogfighting is kept somewhat fresh by discovering new weapons, gadgets and gear and which combinations and situations are best for each, each enemy faction is comprised of a paltry variety of ships. Some of them have unique functions that can throw a wrench into things and make it interesting, such as Webber ships that slow you down with “nets” and Scanner Drones that disrupt your shields and targeting systems, but aside from the odd capital ship, boss character and other oddball encounters I won’t spoil, the enemies you spend the bulk of your time fighting quickly grow tiresome, with their only upgrades usually tending to just be hardier variants that require more damage to take down.
This wouldn’t be as bad if your ship’s energy, which is taken up by both propulsion and your primary weapons, didn’t run so low so quickly, even with upgrades. An upgrade or even just a ship that separated these two systems to use different resources would be welcome, because while I get that the idea is to force you to be smart about energy management, the numbers you are pit against mean you are forced to fight and often die anyway. Your ships are seldom fast enough to outrun or find cover from foes once engaged, and the amount of fire required to take down one ship, combined with the high lethality of engagements, means energy conservation is a pipe dream on most occasions. The inability to run away from most situations is a bit annoying, considering the sheer amount of traveling progress lost with each death.
Further discussion along these lines would likely degenerate into complaining about the nature of Everspace itself, which I do not want to do because I respect what it is – I’m not here to begrudge a roguelike for being a roguelike. I’d just like to see some more options for getting away from a fight you don’t want to finish, considering even the smallest and most innocuous of battles can get out of hand in a flash, and some more creative and varying enemy designs beyond “guys with lots of health that swarm you.”
In spite of these issues, Everspace is still definitely worth checking out. Naturally, this recommendation extends to fans of the genre, but given my lack of affinity for the genre I suggest anyone with a love for space games, flight combat games or anyone looking to branch out give this one a try – if you’re like me, you might find yourself with a new addiction.