Deep Sky Derelicts is really a hard game to pin down genre-wise. It's survival. It's a turn-based RPG. It's CCG. It's XCOM. It's sci-fi. It's got tactical combat. It's got more than that too. But if, In fact, there was anything to compare it to most closely, it would be Red Hook's Darkest Dungeon. And that's a compliment to both games, believe me. I had the chance to spend some time with an early access build of Deep Sky Derelicts and have a few thoughts to share.
It's Like Gaming Inside a Comic Book
When I first fired up Deep Sky Derelicts, I honestly didn't know what to expect. I admit to not having even heard more than passing news about the game so went in a literal and figurative newb. In a way, that was a good thing because I didn't start playing with any preconceived ideas about what to expect.
The game's art style is really nice. It's literally a comic book with conversation bubbles, distinctly outlined characters and environments and more. The color pallet is muted and awash with sepia overtones. The overall feeling is one of a hand drawn game.
Playing through the story mode, I entered the game on a screen with three random characters in several classes: Tracker, Bruiser, Technician, Medic, Leader and Scrapper. Some archetypes are female, some male. Each class has its strengths and weakness across several basic stats: Weaponry, Tech, Medical, Scavenging and Mental. It's a good idea to ensure that you're pretty well represented in each area because everybody's abilities are needed. I made the mistake of figuring weaponry meant more damage and that fights would finish more quickly. While sometimes true, more often than not, I found myself spewing profanity and stomping back to the start menu to continue from my last save. If you don't like the composition of the initially presented trio of characters, you can hit the dice button in the top right to roll a new random combination OR you can use the arrows next to each one's name to change one at a time to find favorable stats and archetype. You can rename each of the three squadmates and the squad name as well as change their portraits which is kind of a fun touch.
From a story perspective, this is the background provided by Snowhound: "In a grim dystopian future, where mankind has scattered across the galaxy and the human society has split into two distinct classes, you are a poor stateless outcast forced to live off scraps from derelict alien stations and ships in the outer space, yet you dream of becoming a privileged citizen and living on the surface of a habitable planet, enjoying non-synthetic air, water and food. A fabled alien derelict ship somewhere within the Deep Sky sector of space is your voucher for a citizenship and a promise of cozy life on a hospitable planet."
In other words: Work for your citizenship. To do that, you're going to be dumpster diving all over space looking for salvageable materials and to work for THE GOVERNMENT to ferret out some secrets on the Mother Ship. Once you've been assigned the overarching task, your squad is tossed into a hub that provides a quest giver, a health clinic, a salvage vendor (who also recharges spent energy) and your crew ship. A single click enters each of the locations available. The interface is simple and intuitive and all contained within your PDA. Inventory, quests, map and squad control are all there. Campaign mode is about 20 hours, while arena will extend its life much further.
The game consists of traveling to these ship hulks to salvage scrap, items, find / recruit party members and to complete quests. The map interface is simple and utilizes a block system of exploration. These ships are huge too and, since everything (ship travel, walking about inside the ship, combat, etc.) is tied to energy use, you have to keep a close eye on your limited reserve. It's prudent to leave enough to walk back to where your shuttle is to not run out.
When you fight enemies you encounter along the way in these randomly generated maps, you'll use a card system. Each character has a custom deck of cards that shuffle and deal themselves out randomly each time a character has a turn in the fight. Some provide buffs / debuffs, others melee or ranged attacks and so forth. Deck building and prudent energy use will be key to every exploration.
While energy can be somewhat problematic at the start, it is encountering enemies that are far stronger than your intrepid heroes which brings me to this big warning: Death is permanent. You can retreat from a fight, of course, but usually not before enemies have wiped the party.
Deep Sky Derelicts is a lot of fun and, truthfully, it fits the age-old gaming trope, "Easy to pick up, difficult to master". Anyone can jump in and feel successful in short bursts of game time. Those who love the intricacies of nuanced gaming will love plotting the perfect party and combinations of abilities. The replayability of DSD is astonishing. Given its status in Early Access with probable launch in March 2018, the game is really shaping up to be something special with its wickedly fun mish mash of genres. Do yourself a favor. Go pick it up and see what you think!