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EVERSPACE 2: Hands-on at PAX South

Red Thomas Posted:
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The last few months have been incredibly busy for me, so I didn’t really have time to prepare for PAX South in the same way I normally would.  I usually show up with an idea for at least a handful of games that I’m interested in checking out.  I might also have a game-agnostic article idea, like last year’s article about the PAX experience from someone holding a media badge.

This year, I had none of that.  I just walked in cold for the media hour to see what I could see.  One of the first games to jump out at me was the EVERSPACE 2 area.  Not that I’m necessarily a huge fan of the series.  I missed their crowdfunding event and I never actually played the first game.

Strangely, it’s a game that falls inside the normal wheelhouse of my typical coverage.  Smaller studio, non-standard gameplay ideas, quality graphics, and an interesting sound design are all things that typically call to me.   I think at the time I was just rogued out, though.  So many games had come out advertising rogue-lite gameplay, that I think I was just burned out during the period where the game was popular and it got by me.

Whatever the reason, EVERSPACE flew past observed but un-played, but it’s successor at PAX caught my eye.  I noted they had demos available and decided to walk up and sit down.  I’m glad I did because there are a few things about the demo that hint at a very interesting game being developed.

Limited Demo

From what I was told, the demo at PAX has a lot more in common with the original game than it does the second in the series.  The demo was exclusively the combat side of the project, but then that’s a large part of the eventual design concept and was effective at catching my initial interest.

I really liked the planet I ended up next to at one point. The atmosphere and terrain from space looked really nice. Source: Steam Page

I logged in and had the option to pick between several different available ship types and then launched from a station into a hostile environment surrounded by enemy spacecraft.  I spent several minutes flying around in the third-person view and dogfighting the enemy craft around me.

The demo did a good job of showing off the nimble feel of the flight model, which I could see being fun on a game controller.  I’m more of a mouse-and-keyboard guy, and I did still feel like the combat played well that way, too.  I ended up not using many of the items I had in my bar, but I didn’t really need them and never knew what they did in any case.  It’s a demo and they’ll keep the difficulty scaled back in order to make it feel a lot more comp-stompy, or at least that’s been my experience with most other demos at events like this.

I also liked that the demo hinted at the eventual scale of the game without really letting you explore it all.  While the majority of the game is still a mystery waiting on release, I was able to fly around one sector with several playable zones in it.  They’re all accessed by hitting a super-cruise button that shifts you into the higher-speed warp.  From there, you can look around at the various systems and head that way.

There’s a map for easy reference, which showed me a number of the other sectors which I wasn’t allowed to visit, and several points of interest in my own demo sector.  I’m not sure what the total playable areas will eventually be, but I found the few around me in the demo were numerous enough that I didn’t feel limited in any way, other than not being able to try out other sectors on the map.

I did fly around to a few different areas, bumping into new stations, NPC factions, and even more hostile pirates in an active engagement with a neutral faction.  I enjoyed jumping around and learned that the launched game will also include a lot more faction management.

Super-cruising point to point in the game will also feature a system that borrows a bit from the previous games.  You have the option to warp directly to a point once you enter that super cruise phase but flying manually allows the player to be interdicted by hostile forces or stumble into beneficial encounters.  It’s an interesting mechanic that makes it worth taking the slower route, while not forcing the player down a choice either way.

I’m not sure how it’s supposed to happen, but apparently there’s supposed to be atmospheric flight, which could be very interesting. Source: Everspace website

Great Visuals

The demo was enough to let me get a sense of the art style, though.  That’s something that I immediately appreciated about the game, and I believe is at least in part a holdover from the original.  The background looks fantastic with deep space looking appropriately alien and with excellent choices in palette.

At one point, I warped to a point of interest right next to a planet and spent a little time flying around near it.  It was wonderfully rendered with hazy atmospheric effects on the far horizons and a textured surface, partly obscured in areas by cloud-cover.  I learned later while looking through the game’s material online that there’s a plan to have atmospheric flight in EVERSPACE 2, and this looked like a planet that’d be fun to chase a ship into.

Ships are also nicely textured with really good-looking lighting effects casting off the glossy ship hulls.  While a lot of the graphics looked, at first glance, a little like the first version on the game, a closer look reveals that they have been updated with better resolution and effects.  Of course, metal and light effects in space games aren’t anything really new, and then a lot of it can be done in pre-rendered layers.  Not quite anything to get super excited about, but I think the team made smart use of their time and budget to produce something that looks great without the GPU cost to render real-time.

Very attractive color choices, smart use of environmental effects and lighting, and good use of the warp mechanic as a transition solution allows the game to flow very smoothly from one area to another.  What I saw was enough to make me interested in seeing more of the game later when there are more areas and factions to explore and interact with.

I’m not normally interested in looter-shooter type games, but there are enough other things about this game that fall into categories that normally interest me to catch my interest. Source: Steam Page

Interesting Game

In the end, EVERSPACE 2 is a game that I’m interested in and will be keeping an eye on.  The looter-shooter style game doesn’t typically appeal to me, but I do enjoy space games with great visuals.  If the score is up to the level of the graphics, I’ll probably get it just the enjoy the experience in doses.

Since the demo was short and only included combat for the most part, it’s hard to really get a feel for how much I’ll actually like the game.  The crafting system and an economy will both be features of the game but aren’t really expected to be as robust as I’d normally want in anything that gets much of my time.  I’ve been told that the story should be much more robust in EVERSPACE 2 than what players experienced in the first generation, so weighs the game back the other way.

The developers say this is what they always wanted to make, but their budget was limited with EVERSPACE and only allowed for a rogue-lite game.  Some of those same systems will be featured again in EVERSPACE 2 to create an interestingly dynamic mission system that will be pseudo-random, but in most ways this game is the open-world and story-rich game that was the driving force behind the studio in the first place.

I like seeing smaller studios try something interesting to get their feet wet and proof a few concepts, then swing big for something else after the successful first run.  Of course, that second attempt is more ambitious and it’s not uncommon for studios to swing hard for the wrong pitches.  Whether ROCKFISH Games takes it out of the park or not will be something we’ll just have to wait to see.  I can definitely say that liked the demo enough to wait around to watch them at bat, though.


Red Thomas

A veteran of the US Army, raging geek, and avid gamer, Red Thomas is that cool uncle all the kids in the family like to spend their summers with. Red lives in San Antonio with his wife where he runs his company and works with the city government to promote geek culture.