Deep Sky Derelicts preview

The full version of this roguelike tactical card combat game will hit Steam in May.

In a dystopian future where humanity seems to have conquered space exploration long ago, some have the fortune of being able to live a normal life on the surface of a planet while so many others are stranded in unforgiving, nomadic lives in floating colonies. Indie studio Snowhound’s first PC game, Deep Sky Derelicts, is a scavenging roguelike exploration based game with an exciting turn-based card combat combination.

As developers at Snowhound explained, it’s a “mix of Darkest Dungeon and XCOM with a pinch of Hearthstone and FTL: Faster Than Light added on top”. Deep Sky Derelicts hit Steam’s Early Access in November 2017 and it’s expected to officially launch sometime during this March.

Diving into a run-through, you’re given the possibility of choosing within a set of character classes to build the triad that will compose our party. After a couple of failures, I had my most successful session with a Bruiser, a Scrapper and a Tracker, getting a mixture of a beefy tank, a tactic status changer and the always-needed damage burst. An introductory dialogue teaches you your objectives and motivations for risking your lives: explore four huge and mostly abandoned colony ships (“Derelicts”) and bring back what you’re told. If you succeed, you’ll earn the right to a normal life.

From your base ship you can take on paid quests, buy and sell items, recharge health and energy meters and choose your destination from a minimap. Everything, of course, for a price.

Deep Sky Derelicts

Each Derelict is an enormous randomly-generated space maze where, through exploration, you’ll find either NPCs to talk to, enemies (different types of aliens, robots or pirates) to fight with, or loot-filled rooms to scavenge from. Beautiful hand-drawn environments and characters interact with each other through vignettes and dialogue balloons that reflect an intentional comic book art style, while an awesome techno soundtrack completes the ambience.

Now, here’s the catch: unlike Darkest Dungeon (a clear main inspiration for Snowhound), there’s no limitless exploration as long as you survive combat. The addition of an energy meter slowly consumed by each tile you traverse and each turn you use in fights is one more threat to watch out for. Getting your whole squad killed in combat as well as running out of energy will result in an automatic game over. Keeping in mind how much energy it will cost you to get back to the only entrance and exit of each Derelict is vital, as well as remembering that most of the time it’s safer to go back and live to fight another day. There’s plenty of loot around to get your pockets filled and more often than not you’ll find energy cells to replenish your meter and keep going a little bit more.

Each tile you explore feels like a step into the abyss, as it can trigger an enemy’s attention to start following when you just wanted to get back to your transport. An unwanted fight can seriously compromise your energy reserves and, if you didn’t save any cells, cause an inevitable, claustrophobic death.

Deep Sky Derelicts

Deep Sky Derelicts’ combat system is turn-based and uses cards. Your heroes start with basic gear that provide basic action cards to choose from. Each time you find a new piece of weaponry, mod or tool you’ll be able to modify your card decks and, thus, what you’re able to do during combat. Having too many cards as a result of equipping everything you find will cause a lot of situational or unnecessary options that most of the time will just prevent you from drawing that powerful card you need to finish off your enemies.

Deep Sky Derelicts

The complexity of card-based combat is counterweighted by the simplistic design of different opponents. Unlike in its big brother, Darkest Dungeon, there’s no real depth that makes us wonder which is this guy’s weakness or what it’s resistant to. Apart from a tougher shield, there’s no real thinking needed to figure out how to kill an alien, robot or a pirate.

That being said, it’s definitely important to choose a well balanced and synergistic team, analyzing what each will add to your strategy and how to optimize that plan. Finally, the level-up system provides a quite complete skill tree with two points per level to distribute from.

Deep Sky Derelicts

Even though the premise might be a little short in its explanation, there’s something hidden in each Derelict, and I had this feeling that every tile could reveal a new piece of the clearly well crafted and deep lore. PDAs stashed away on a remote corner of a gigantic abandoned ship will contain testimonies of what’s like to live in an over-crowded colony ship seemingly forgotten somewhere in space, as well as what is it really that we’re looking for.

If its full release will have more story-centred gameplay and a complete narrative arch is something we’ll have to find out sometime this March. For the time being, you can pick up Deep Sky Derelicts in Early Access on Steam or GOG for £12.39/$15.99/€15.99.