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Deep Sky Derelicts Review

The Final Frontier

Deep Sky Derelicts, developed by newcomer Snowhound Games and published by 1C Company, sees you traveling through deep space to scavenge long-defunct derelict spacecraft left behind by a precursor civilization. You control a crew of three career scavengers who are promised citizenship by a local lord if they retrieve enough navigation data to find the mothership of these derelicts. To do this, you must navigate the randomly-generated lesser wrecks, braving traps, enemies, and vacuum to make it to the bridge in one piece and return home with your prize.

Combat is turn-based. Every time you find yourself in a combat encounter, there is a small preamble, where you will occasionally be able to defuse the situation before it escalates to violence before the dice are rolled, initiative is assigned to each character, and combat turns begin. Each character starts with a hand of four cards, drawing more each turn. These cards differ depending on the character's class and equipment, each with their own effects and abilities. Unless otherwise stated, each character can only play a single card a turn. When you run out of cards in a character's deck, it reshuffles and you continue to draw. The first side to eliminate the opposition wins.

React and Adapt

Deep Sky Derelicts has a lot of good going for it. At the beginning of the campaign, you can customize your team of scavengers from a variety of portraits, sprites, and (most importantly) five different classes and personalities. Those last two have differing impacts on your play style. Do you run a very aggressive party of weaponry-focused classes, or do you vary it with a smattering of support classes to buff your harder-hitting units? Do you roll a Skittish Medic so they have higher evasion, or make them Crafty so they have a chance to keep their cards after using them? These choices cannot be changed once the game begins, short of firing the mercenary and hiring on a new one.

Equipment, however, comes in spades. Each piece of equipment has a set of perks and stat modifications for your character, and often a new set of cards for that character’s deck. With as much equipment as you get, you’ll never be without options for customizing how you go into battle. Frequently I found myself forgoing pieces of equipment that technically had better stats because the statistical change didn’t matter as much as losing the cards that were essential to my strategy.

Class selection also lends some variance. The level cap is ten, and with few exceptions, you get two skill points per level. Each level unlocks two new skills, about a quarter of which are determined by the specialization that you choose at level four. Each skill — again, with few exceptions — has three levels. Some skills give new cards, which will always be in that character’s deck, but most are just basic statistical improvements and special abilities that trigger under certain circumstances. The aforementioned specializations can be mixed and matched with any basic class, even if they have different primary stats. For example, the Scavenger class is a class with a slight slant towards tanking and damage absorption with a focus on the Scavenging stat. You can either choose to specialize into one of the two Scavenging primary classes, or you can specialize into something completely different, like a Medical class.

Used Future

Deep Sky Derelicts presents itself in a stylized, comic book style. Combat cards are illustrated in dynamic, single frame style. It reminds me of classic Star Wars or Firefly. The wrecks look suitably destroyed and in disarray. Your space station looks like the seedy part of town. Everything comes together to convey the feeling that your group lives on the fringes of society. They are, however, limited. I frequently found myself skipping through the small combat cutscenes just to get to the next turn and end combat faster. Occasionally it was hard to determine which enemy was moving when, especially when combat consisted of multiple versions of the same enemy. This was only compounded by how the AoE attacks are displayed. These show the affected enemies in a clustered group getting hit by the attack. However, the positioning of the enemies doesn't relate to where the enemies are positioned during normal combat.

Targeting can also be rather difficult. When you target a skill, your mouse becomes a targeting reticle and you click on the sprite to launch the attack. The problem comes when you are facing enemies of varying heights. Each side is lined up vertically along each side of the screen. Normally, when there are no more than three characters on each side, it's not too bad. In larger fights, with enemy groups of four or more, the sprites start to overlap. Each sprite has its own sweeping idle animations, meaning that, while the core of the sprite may stay relatively stationary, the limbs can move into the way of other sprites. Many times I wanted to land the killing blow on an enemy only to have the unit in front sway in front of my cursor, thus landing the attack on the wrong unit.

Space Bugs

Deep Sky Derelicts has been in Early Access for about a year. I had honestly expected more polish from a product that delivers in so many other areas. There were many times where I load into an area for the first time and get up, get a drink, maybe prepare myself lunch or a snack, and come back, and found that it had hung during level generation. I would have to force close the program and relaunch it, only to find that it had successfully generated the level and had saved at the start of it. Thankfully, I lost no progress this way, but it started to wear on me as time went on. The final straw was when the game hung and wouldn’t let me force close it outside of actually launching the command prompt and killing it that way.

Then there were the times that levels would spawn with no bridge and therefore no navigation data. My second run at the game (my first failed due to a death spiral that I couldn’t pull out of) ended during the first two derelicts. The game goes in waves, giving you more derelicts to sift through during each wave. Once you clear each, you can talk with your patron and unlock the next wave of ships. This particular run, I spawned with the expected two derelicts to run through, and after revealing the whole map there was no bridge. I could go back to base and talk with my patron, but he wouldn’t unlock the next wave of derelicts. I was stuck with no way to progress and had to start over, losing about an hour and a half to two hours of progress through no fault of my own.

5

The Verdict: Average

Deep Sky Derelicts comes up short due to a lack of technical polish and usability. If the combat layout were friendlier and area generation smoother, I would heartily recommend this game to fans of Darkest Dungeon and Guild of Dungeoneering. As it stands, I would wait even longer for Snowcat Games to fix the handful of frankly game-ruining bugs in an otherwise decent game.

John Gerritzen
Written by
October 03, 2018
Published in Adventure

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John Gerritzen is a programmer by education, author by hobby, and game critic by occupation. While he usually favors RPGs, he will play anything that engages him narratively or mechanically. When he's not playing games for fun or profit, he's usually reading or watching anime.

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