Distinct games spawn their own sub-genres. Deep Sky Derelicts feels like the first of many Darkest-Dungeon-likes to come. Replace the dungeons with derelict spaceships and you have a good idea of what you’re in for. That’s not a bad thing and it definitely adds enough new bits to feel like a homage and not a rip-off.
Should you buy it?
If you like supporting developers or getting a good game at a discount then sure. There’s not enough to justify the price yet, you can burn through it in a couple of hours, but it’s a solid base. If they spend the next 6 months polishing and adding content it will be a fine game if not quite as indelible as Darkest Dungeon.
You recruit and lead a small squad of salvagers cleaning out abandoned spaceships. Movement is through an unfolding grid of squares, most empty but some containing encounters, loot or story elements.
Darkest Dungeon used your party’s deteriorating mental states as a limit on how far you can explore and to add risk as you push those boundaries. Deep Sky Derelicts instead uses limited life support energy for the same effect. Each step on the grid uses 1 energy unit from your starting 100. It’s more rigid but still a good trick, creating tension as you strain to search the last few crannies and avoid a return trip for more energy.
Combat also burns energy. Instead of static powers each character has a CCG deck with cards specific to their class and equipment. Arming a scavenger with a sniper rifle might give two high powered, single target cards for your deck while a shotgun gives weaker spread attacks.
The CCG decks give great flexibility and customization but add a layer of RNG (I like RNG – many don’t). After gaining a bit of equipment and a couple of levels I was able to turn my bruiser into a proper tank, my tracker into a DPS glass cannon and my medic into a drug pusher that buffed instead of irritating everyone with his weak attacks.
Hits are damaging but shields make everyone more durable than Darkest Dungeon. It’s still a hard game. I suspect most of your deaths will come from your impulse to push just a little bit farther. I could see melting becoming a real frustration and my foes weren’t powerful enough at this stage to require playing with the card meta but I think the designers have a good eye for balance. This should be the right level of challenging but not unfair.
Economy & Loot
The money balance also seems tight but adequate. Constantly resupplying energy, healing and buying occasional equipment drains all your reserves if you don’t maximize each excursion. You need to find loot, advance the story and not waste time walking down dead ends.
The nature of the CCG elements, where each piece of equipment comes with a few cards as well as stats, makes the loot interesting. And again, there is great room for customization with equipment having mods with their own cards. A fully decked out gun could have 9 cards and dramatically change the tone of your deck.
Story & Flow
The story revolves around helping a shadowy figure retrieve data from the derelict ships to piece together the location of the homeworld. Augmenting this big search are smaller missions, some given at base and others discovered while exploring.
At first I thought the grid movement and sparse derelicts boring. You can only see one grid square around you unless you use your scanning power (which costs 5 energy). It grew on me and in a strange way effectively conveys the right mood despite being so spartan. It’s not a maze but there are enough twists to feel like semi-blindly exploring a big spaceship. There’s enough at stake that you’ll gamble and put thought into it.
Likewise the story elements that emerged from meeting abandoned and deteriorating ship A.I. or strange space creatures were charming. The tone is light and the interactions largely cosmetic but it’s nice to have a few specific goals while exploring the wrecks.
It trades Darkest Dungeon’s extreme atmosphere for a less striking but attractive comic book theme. Things are firmly sci-fi but of the dirty, grimy sort – no immaculate Enterprises here. Your ship looks more like the cab from Fifth Element and everything looks used and grungy.
There’s a certain artistry required to make the awkward little skeletons that make up this style of animation system. Because everything is laid over rigid bones things don’t move quite naturally, there’s no perspective or deformations. Derelict does a good job, things look nice and often cool or interesting but I’d love more impact. The sci-fi laser blasts and explosions don’t feel like they hurt as much as they should.
I think this will be at least a very solid game. The systems are more intricate and interesting than Darkest Dungeon but it currently lacks the same atmosphere and superb writing. That game’s brilliant narrator magically kept you engaged throughout fairly repetitive gameplay and I’m curious if Derelict has a different trick with the same effect.
This small 2-hour playthrough did more than enough to convince me to play the game and review it the moment it gets an official release which should be in early 2018. There were no critical bugs, the UI could use a few quality of life improvements but it’s already serviceable and efficient.
Created by: Snow Hound Games