Everspace 2 Early Access Review
Roguelikes might be enjoying their moment in the sun in recent years (just ask Hades, our Game of the Year for 2020), but Everspace 2 shows that procedural generation isn’t the only way forward. The original Everspace is a cool space fighter roguelike, but the sequel has changed course toward a more traditional action-RPG style, and its series of missions across an open region of space feel a lot more in the vein of Freelancer or Rebel Galaxy Outlaw as a result. But it holds onto its free movement system, which makes its combat stand out from other space shooters in style. There’s already a fair amount of it to explore at its early access launch, and it keeps things interesting by mixing in some puzzle-solving to break up the flashy dogfights.
The story that’s here is a fairly strong start: it picks up our clone pilot from the first game, except with the interesting twist that this time we’re on his last life: if he dies now he’s dead for good. So far not much is made of the fact that the galaxy hates clones now and most who learn his true identity will shun him, but it feels like a setup that might add something to his quest to make it as a mercenary and escape the lawless region of space in which he finds himself marooned. Granted, the main character’s a tad on the bland side, as you might expect from a disposable clone – he only really shows passion when he’s ranting about ramen. However, his companion characters – including the returning AI sidekick – have a bit more personality. Even the one-off characters that hand you side missions at spaceports have above-average flavor and voice acting. There are no opportunities to guide the story with dialogue but at least it seems like it’s going to somewhat intriguing places.
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Primarily, Everspace 2 is about combat. Having more recently played more traditional space fighter games like Star Wars: Squadrons and Rebel Galaxy Outlaw, it was a minor struggle for me to get back into this particular groove of flying: instead of opening up a throttle to move forward at a constant speed like an airplane, here your ship moves much more like a character in a typical shooter. If you aren’t pushing a button, you’ll come to a stop (unless you disable your inertial dampeners, in which case you’ll keep moving but have to thrust to change direction). This Descent-style dogfighting is plenty of fun once you get the hang of it and lets you do a lot of strafing maneuvers you don’t see elsewhere. Somewhat unusually, Everspace 2 definitely seems much better suited to mouse and keyboard controls than gamepads because of the number of inputs required to make good use of it, but the gamepad controls are certainly workable.
[poilib element=”quoteBox” parameters=”excerpt=This%20Descent-style%20dogfighting%20is%20plenty%20of%20fun%20once%20you%20get%20the%20hang%20of%20it.”]Every weapon has both an energy and kinetic damage rating, so fights are mostly about switching between them as needed to knock down enemy shields or armor, spitting the occasional homing missile, dumbfire rocket, or mine as you go. You’ve also got to manage your cooldowns effectively so you can activate your ship’s special abilities at the right moment to blast or cripple the most powerful enemies, or just make a quick getaway. There’s some good variety here in that you can swap out and customize your abilities: one of the starting powers is an EMP blast that disables all enemy craft around you for 10 seconds, letting you pick off the most dangerous of them for free, and I augmented it with a power-up that reduced its cooldown by two seconds for each enemy I killed during its effect. The other starter is a get-out-of-jail-free card that boosts your ship away from danger at high speed, letting you get going when the going gets tough; I juiced this one up to go 80% faster but for only half as long. You unlock more of these abilities as you go, and I quickly learned that using them well is what allows you to survive fights against groups of high-level enemies.
Your ultimate ability, though, is tied to your choice of ship, and right now there are a handful available to buy after you’ve built up some credits flying your starting fighter. Your starting ship fires an electric beam that chains to other targets and can wipe out a group of fighters and their drone escorts in one fell swoop, while the hulking gunship I upgraded to activates a turret that automatically fires at anything around you for 20 seconds while you continue to blast ahead. I was a little disappointed that the gunship didn’t handle significantly differently, but it did give me much beefier armor stats and allows you to carry more primary weapons, at the cost of equippable consumable item slots (though that’s fairly meaningless because you can pause and swap those out at any time in the middle of combat).
Enemy variety isn’t huge but it’s good enough to keep things from getting too repetitive: I knew I had to approach a fight differently when I spotted a heavily armored enemy with what amounts to a space shotgun, or when I had to take out certain drone types before they could ensnare me or self-destruct at close range. Large capital ships are rare in the early story missions, but it’s fun to pick off their turrets when they show up.
Then, naturally, you collect the sweet, sweet loot from the aftermath of the satisfying explosion effects. There’s a pretty good variety of pew-pew-pew lasers available, from rapid-fire chain guns that take a moment to spin up to sniper and shotgun-style blasts, constant beams, and more. They all and uncommon, rare, and superior gear comes with some very useful bonus effects. Some of my highlights included a shield generator that blasts out a smaller EMP wave whenever the shield collapses, disabling anything around me just long enough to lose a pursuer; and a superior Gatling railgun inflicted more damage when my ship was in sunlight and even more when fighting enemies of a higher level than I was. I also like the upgrade system that allows you to boost the level or rarity of a piece of gear you want to hold onto by dismantling other pieces of the same rarity, though in this early stage levels come and go quickly enough that restricting gear to just one upgrade makes its usefulness limited. Perhaps in the latter levels it will be more important to incrementally upgrade, but there isn’t yet enough content in Everspace 2 to take us that far.
[poilib element=”quoteBox” parameters=”excerpt=The%20fine%20level%20of%20movement%20control%20lets%20Everspace%202%20do%20a%20lot%20more%20with%20puzzles%20than%20you%20see%20in%20most%20space%20shooters.”]Beyond combat, the fine level of movement control lets Everspace 2 do a lot more with puzzles than you see in most space shooters. A lot of its loot rewards are hidden behind obstacle courses and stashed in corners an X-wing couldn’t easily reach. You’ll be sent to do things like pick up key items and move them into position to unlock containers and passageways where you have to navigate your ship through tight spaces, rolling to fit through closing doors, all on a ticking clock. Some of these puzzle activities led to more downtime than I’d have liked because your sensors aren’t especially long-range at first, so you have to aimlessly cruise around looking for stuff to interact with, and sometimes areas are excessively dark and I had to use my weapons as sonar to see where the walls were. But it’s great to have something to do in a game like this besides shoot everything I see.
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Everything looks and sounds great, including the entirely new planetary environments. The visual variety and eye-catching terrain detail they add is striking; when you’ve been staring into the void of space for a while, flying low through a canyon in bright sunlight is a very different look. That’s not to say the space areas are visually monotonous – far from it. Everspace 2 does an excellent job of being pretty to look at, with colorful backdrops and atmospheric effects highlighting large asteroids and platforms in the distance to entice you to explore them, and you’re sent into caves and massive shipwrecks on a regular basis.
[poilib element=”quoteBox” parameters=”excerpt=It%20took%20me%20about%2013%20hours%20to%20burn%20through%20all%20of%20Everspace%202%E2%80%99s%20early%20access%20story.”]What’s jarring is the transition between zones. Jumping in and out of faster-than-light travel causes a brief loading screen – the kind of thing most games these days conceal with a flashy animation effect. It’s not a huge deal but I noticed it every time; ever since No Man’s Sky managed to smoothly transition between atmosphere and space and back again without them five years ago, these seams become harder to ignore.
In total, it took me about 13 hours to burn through all of Everspace 2’s early access story, and that’s factoring in frequent stops to rack up XP and loot at unexplored locations that popped up on my map as I warped between missions. It also comes to an abrupt end during what feels like the start of a new mission instead of at a logical break point. The other obvious sign that this is a work in progress – aside from very occasional bugs and the watermark in the corner of the screen saying so – is that a few of its storyboard-style cutscenes are placeholders that just give you the gist of things instead of having the voice actors play them out. And though the ending screen urged me to explore the remaining side missions and activities, I definitely lost some motivation to grind for better loot after the plot ran out and only managed another couple of hours.
That’s also when it becomes apparent that Everspace 2 doesn’t have much of a commodities market. Yes, you can buy and sell small quantities of things like liquor and ramen for different prices at different ports, but there’s no system to keep track of it all, so setting up a trade route doesn’t feel like a practical means of earning money right now. Besides which, you’re never attacked in transit between ports, so even if you could do this it would be an extremely dull way to make a living.