I’ve had a lot of roguelikes coming my way lately. Well, it’s been more like non-stop roguelikes and rogue-lites for the past few years—and that’s a good thing. Deep Sky Derelicts is a game I missed its first time around, and that’s a shame. Its part Slay the Spire and part Darkest Dungeon. And since Void Bastards taught me to love the idea of searching abandoned ships full of baddies, I felt right at home in Deep Sky Derelicts. Since its definitive edition was releasing alongside its console versions, I felt this would be the best time to get into Deep Sky Derelicts.
The premise of Deep Sky Derelicts is simple: you take a team of three to abandoned spaceships, and explore them with the hopes of bringing back navigational data. In your way are malfunctioning robots, mutants, aliens, and other scavengers who would gladly kill you for what you have. The life of a scavenger is a hard one—full of careful decisions, resource management, and combat.
Combat is one of the most important aspects of Deep Sky Derelicts, and it’s probably its best part. You trade blows with combatants in turn-based combat. Your attacks, buffs, debuffs and other abilities are determined by the cards that are in your hand. The combat is fun, and though some encounters feel like slogs, most combat is complete within a few rounds. Enemies have interesting counters, and buff, heal, and try to debuff your team, and it never feels unfair—at least early on. And of course, death is permanent—if a member of your team dies, they are dead, and must be replaced.
Exploration is another key aspect of Deep Sky Derelicts, but this is where things start to go south. Each derelict is represented by an overworld map of squares and icons. It’s initially confusing and not very aesthetically pleasing—which normally might not be an issue, except it feels like the bare minimum, which is a shame for a definitive edition, and game that’s been released for a couple of years now. Exploring derelicts feels more like a game of Minesweeper than checking out the rusting corridors of a space hulk.
Everything you do in Deep Sky Derelicts—from exploration to most actions in combat, has an energy cost. Your energy is what powers your weapons, and as for your life support—once that drops to zero, you can’t fight, and your team will slowly die until they can exfiltrate. There are batteries you can find, or keep in your inventory to supplement, but energy can be an issue when just starting out.
In between exploring various space derelicts, you will be spending your time in the hub world. This is where you can buy upgrades, sell items, hire mercenaries, heal your team, etc. Everything you do costs money—luckily, there will be lots of things to find and sell. Unfortunately, inventory management is a bit burdensome.
As with most roleplaying games, inventory management is integral. One of my favorite parts of Deep Sky Derelicts is the fact that different items you equip—and the mods you put on those items—determine not only the damage and resistances you have, but also what cards you will have in your deck for combat. Unfortunately, the inventory UI is just dense, and takes some getting used to. I wish there were different icons for weapons and their different types, as well as special identifiers for mods and such. As it is, you have to hover over each to get relevant information.
Most of the brilliance of Deep Sky Derelicts is within the first few hours of any given playthrough. As the game goes on, it seems like any new and interesting cards you find are just versions of earlier cards, just with bigger numbers to offset the bullet sponges the enemies become. And while combat initially is fun, punchy, and fair, it’s too easy to die to a random stun-lock at later levels. I know there is a level of randomness, but even if you stack the odds in your favor, an unlucky draw can cripple a run.
The entire experience is brought together by an extremely heavy-inked, gritty art style. I absolutely adore the muted tones and bleakness of Deep Sky Derelicts. The combat encounters look like they could be a page taken straight out of the Hellboy comics.
Deep Sky Derelicts is fun, but flawed. I love its concept, art, and combat. But the inventory management and end game can be a slog. Exploration, something that should be exciting in such a game, just falls completely flat for me. I wanted to like Deep Sky Derelicts more than I did, but it just didn’t click for me.
Deep Sky Derelicts Definitive Edition is out now on Steam, PlayStation 4, Xbox One, and Nintendo Switch.
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