Space: a beautiful place to die.
Punishing roguelikes are all over the shop these days, but when one is as fun and satisfying as Everspace, there’s always room for more. Taking the helm of an upgradeable spaceship – and accompanied by helpful and sarcastic on-board AI named HIVE – Everspace is a sci-fi, run-based blast through space, and one that relies on the player dying over and over again.
And it’s made clear from the start that you’re going to die. A lot. Early runs can last as little as a couple of minutes as you get to grips with the ship-to-ship combat, but you’re constantly improving as you go. Between runs, you can invest any credits that you’ve found into different perks. Like Rogue Legacy, the credits disappear as soon as you start a new run, so there’s no excuse to hold back. Perks require varying levels of investment to upgrade fully, so it can take a while until you start seeing drastic improvements on your ship. But, eventually, you build a better battle plan, one that lets you warp deeper into the far-future demilitarised zone – and the non-linear narrative framing the whole experience.
The story, complete with decent voice acting and artwork, takes place after a brutal war which has apparently done nobody any good. Sectors of space are now patrolled by outlaws, a neutral mining company, the deadly Okkar faction and numerous alien NPCs. You play as a clone named Adam Roslin. In fact, you play as many clones. Every run sees a new clone launch out into space, aiming to achieve the singular goal of remembering their own past (or, the past of original Adam), finding out what they did after the war, and where, exactly, a mysterious set of coordinates are leading them.
The self-awareness of the clones as they die and begin again, along with the lore-heavy world-building and story, add a lot to the repetitive roguelike experience. When you arrive in a new sector, you find out a little bit more about the original Adam Roslin, and are drip-fed more info about what happened during and after the war. HIVE will comment on new enemies and races you run into, and the in-menu codex stores all the detail you could ever want to know about the surprisingly rich surrounding universe.
To progress, though, you’ve got to fight. Even on easy difficulty – where you earn fewer credits as a handicap – making progress is tough. I found the Switch controls easy to handle; after a few runs I was strafe-boosting, evading and tracking targets smoothly, but that’s not enough to keep you safe.
In each overriding sector, you have to make your way from zone to zone, each one filled with different hazards and a randomised selection of supplies. You can mine ore and crystal, harvest plasma and shoot open containers to find more tech and weapons for your ship, but the most valuable supplies by far are fuel and nanobots. You expend fuel every time you warp to a new zone, and nanobots will let you repair your ship’s hull.
Many a run has ended for me due to nanobot shortage – but it’s rarely felt frustrating to see my ship explode; it’s the way of things in Everspace, and there are always some positives to bring into your next run. What is frustrating though, is making it five or six sectors in and suddenly being overrun by a massive freighter you have zero hopes of defeating. You inevitably explode, then find yourself starting the next run from sector one – and the sheer thought of all the work it’ll take to get close to where you were is tiring.
Patience is really key; you have to learn that you’re not going to get anywhere fast. It takes repeated investment into your ship to build a decent foundation, and then exploring the equipment and weapon crafting/upgrading system to keep that foundation competitive with the ever-strengthening enemy.
Fortunately, zooming through space and dog fighting against beautiful backdrops filled with planets, asteroids, wrecked freighters and distant stars is never dull. Everspace is a great game to jump into for a few minutes at a time – and that is a significant reason to choose the Switch version over any other.
For the most part, I played in handheld mode. I felt it made everything easier to focus on, the ship easier to control and the tiny text much easier to read. The sleep function of the Switch does take a lot of the pressure off when it comes to any roguelike; knowing you can just put the console down for a few hours then come right back to where you were, without committing to a full run, makes it a touch less stressful. But it still doesn’t stop a successful breeze of a run turning sour in just a few seconds. But that, as explained by the very helpful menu and tutorial instructions, is what this experience is all about.
While repetitive by its nature and structure, Everspace does have a lot of choices to make runs feel different. You have multiple ship types for purchase – I stuck to the starter ship for 80% of my playtime – and there’s a seemingly never-ending line of NPCs who need Adam to do their jobs for them. Some zones will have natural hazards or extra objectives you need to take care of before you can warp to another area, and there’s an abundance of new weapons to try on for size. There’s a lot to this seemingly compact package, and that gives Everspace a lot of stamina.
If you want a roguelike that’s punishing, satisfying and built around fun aerial combat, Everspace is a good choice. The sci-fi story tries to do something different to other run-based games out there, and while there are moments where you’ll swear you’re never going to play it again, you’ll soon be picking it back up and launching off into space once more.
[Reviewed on Nintendo Switch]