Depth of Extinction preview (PC) – Pixely bite sized Xcom meets FTL

What do you get when you cross FTL with X-com? My money! Depth of Extinction is due to hit Steam in February. I found it on a trip over to itch where there are advance copies left. It’s complete and stable but I’m going to treat it like an early access game. They still have months until official release.

depth of extinction pc preview
Simple, replayable and good where it counts.

Should you buy it?

Yes, it’s a good game and I enjoyed my time with it. I’ll do another run when it’s officially released to see if they’ve added anything and try other classes. Regardless I consider it CDN$15 well spent.

It’s mostly X-com with FTL movement and relatively short playthroughs. A full run takes 5-10 hours but it’s procedural and designed for replayability. The urge to try again and again didn’t grip me with the same intensity FTL did. To be fair this is an early release without the mechanics (unlocks, scoring, etc.) in place to foster unhealthy obsession.

It’s also quite a bit easier than FTL, I finished on my second run. On the other hand there’s a lot more meat on the character progression and turn based tactical battles are by their nature more involved.

The Game

depth of extinction pc preview - nodes
Not as rigid as FTL – there’s nothing chasing you and you can move backwards and revisit nodes.

After the intro your tiny crew is given a random quest to do something on the other side of a post-apocalyptic world. You bounce from region to region and node to node, FTL style, until you reach your destination and the final mission.

Nodes give some hint on what they might contain (armor, weapon, fuel, etc.) and you’re always given a choice whether to continue or explore. Landing usually triggers a small turn-based, tactical battle using the crew you’ve gathered (slaver nodes being the primary source of new crew members). It’s ironman and permadeath but soldiers heal between missions and aren’t terribly squishy after a few levels and a bit of gear.

Combat is where you’ll spend the vast majority of your time. It’s a good compromise between the old style X-com, where you had tremendous control at the cost of ease and the new versions that streamlined to the point of losing tactical flavor. It’s clean, easy to control and has great situational awareness. But it’s also repetitive with similar tiles, enemies and objectives.

Stages of Fun

depth of extinction pc preview - combat
It’s a bit muddy but once you get use to it quite useable and efficient.

I went through stages of enjoyment. The early game was great as I discovered the mechanics. Then I felt some tedium. My soldiers were still young and the repetition was wearing on me. I wanted to skip nodes but without knowing how powerful the final boss was I visited most sites. Once my soldiers leveled up a few times and took on distinct roles with more tactical options I enjoyed myself until the end of the run.

It’s just the nature of this style of combat. The way X-com fights the tedium is by having a stream of unusual enemies and giving you things to research which you then want to try out in combat. DoE does present original enemies throughout but they lack tactical variety, all essentially being 1-shot/turn combatants. And while there are cool, distinct new weapons to try there are no mechanic changing abilities (psionics, etc.). That’s not a complaint, I really enjoyed how grounded and realistic the combat is, but it does remove some novelty which fights tedium.

The Expendables

By the mid-game your team feels like a squad of competent specialists. I don’t know why virtually all of these squad level games don’t nail this quality; it’s the “thing” we’re trying to experience as players. DoE does it great. Once level’d they perform their specialized roles beautifully. And I never hated my troops the way I hate my point-blank missing x-com super soldiers. Here anything within a reasonable radius gets hit 100% of the time.

depth of extinction pc preview - auto hit
Obviously this should hit 100% of the time. So nice that it does.

That one simple mechanic lets you plan out turns properly but with enough RNG for medium shots and cover to keep things interesting. The AI makes decent use of the environment so it’s not as automatic as it sounds. It just means that when your psycho touches the enemy with his shotgun you can be sure of gibs and won’t have to do crazy gymnastics with the rest of the team to save him from unfair return fire.

The rest of the mechanics are solid and balanced. Overwatch is satisfying, run & gun works right. Your quick soldiers can cover a lot of ground and you always feel like you have options for dealing with the enemy. I enjoyed my time killing things.

The Little Bits

I hope they flesh out all the little bits that surround the game itself. The core combat is satisfying and the missions are as quick as this sort of game allows. What I hope they add is just more variety of everything. More nodes and more potential outcomes, more loot and more enemies.

depth of extinction pc preview - auto hit
Why must we turn everything into a baby? Fine, the setting would be the baby of Bioshock and old fallout.

The setting and lore could use beefing up as well. It’s a mix of ideas we’ve seen before but there’s enough there that I want to know more; about how the world ended up the way it did, how the underwater city functions and about the factions I’m fighting.

I’d like to see more treasure, especially dropped by enemies but I get why that might be hard to balance with the FTL style. Still, it can be a letdown to kill a dozen raiders to finally reach the chest and find a single shotgun.

I also think it needs some tuning. The node distribution feels off with not enough fuel (which isn’t nearly the problem it is in FTL since there’s nothing chasing you) and merchants. The combat should be more difficult. Enemies get more durable but  just fire a single shot per turn. It would have been more interesting if they had access to skills. Once you outfit your crew with armor they feel too safe, only really in danger if you go full Leroy Jankins.

Great Progression

DoE wrings a tremendous amount of distinctness out of a very simple progression system. All characters have access to the same handful of stats which also determine special abilities. They also get a single class specific skill to upgrade.

depth of extinction pc preview - deadly wussy
By the end of the game I absolutely loved my wussily named but deadly sniper – Chestnut Ross.

It doesn’t sound like much but most of the stats are useful and the class specific skill gives great abilities. I found myself putting a lot of thought into each level. You end up with soldiers that move and fight the way you imagine they should. The sniper’s ability to return fire whenever a friend is fired upon makes him feel like a proper, bad-ass squad marksman.

The Sprayer (now that’s a focused class!) emptying a full clip was the first time “full-auto” felt like the hail of death that it should in this kind of game. The output was so excessive that I cackled gleefully at the three charred corpses and splintered furniture it left in its wake.

Art & Sound

depth of extinction pc preview - pixel art
They say we’re experiencing pixel art fatigue. I still like it – it’s an economical, efficient style.

It’s a pixel based indie game. The sprites are attractive but stiffly animated. The static art is great and I wish there was more throughout. Weapon effects are light but things die in a satisfying way. I’d like more variety in tiles and location themes but that’s a massive amount of work.

Sound is sparse but not annoying other than the voice prompts your soldiers constantly chirp at you. They don’t fit the tone and are spoken much, much too often.

The music can be intrusive. It’s not bad, just too pounding at times. I know nothing about music but some games manage to have music that’s compelling when you pay attention to it but fades into the background when you want to focus. When I reviewed Ogre I exchanged a few emails with Matthew Walker whose music did a particularly good job of that and ever since I’ve been noticing it more and more.

Prospects

I think things look good for DoE. If they spend their time fleshing things out and giving us more reasons to replay – some unlocking, achievements and overall progression – I can see people sinking swaths of time into it. It’s clear about what it is and delivers on the most important part of the promise. I’d be surprised if turn-based, squad-level, tactical fans don’t enjoy this.

 

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2 Comments
  1. Ben 7 months ago
    Reply

    Quick question: You mention that a run takes 5-10 hours. If I wanted to stretch that out indefinitely, could I? I suspect the answer is yes, given that you also state that nodes can be revisited, but I would like to make sure. Thanks!

    • Galp 7 months ago
      Reply

      So maybe not quite indefinitely because once you finish a node the encounter is gone (you can go back so you can get to other nodes but it doesn’t respawn missions) but for a very long time. There are over 20 regions and each has roughly a dozen nodes. To complete the run you only have to go through 6 or 7 regions and about the same number of nodes in each region. So even though I stopped at almost every node on the way I still took a pretty straight line. If you zig-zag and circle (there’s no overall time component to rush against) you could make a run last a very long time.

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