Roguelike and roguelite games have seen a resurgence in the last few years, especially with the explosive popularity of independently developed and released games. While many of these games deliver grueling yet satisfying gameplay, they lack in longevity as gamers tire of the endless grind for higher scores and faster runs. Enter Everspace, a roguelike space shooter from Rockfish Games, originally released on PC last spring and finally released on the PS4 this May. Everspace stands above more recent roguelikes thanks to its exhilarating gameplay, deep resource system, and unique take on a roguelike narrative.
Everspace eases players into its systems at just the right pace- it won’t overwhelm players with everything at once but it doesn’t thrust players in without context either. The opening cinematic, presented in gorgeous moving comic format, contextualizes the mission enough to push players on their way while keeping much of the galaxy’s mysteries secret. The tutorial then leads new players through the control scheme, resource management, combat, and portal traversal.
The controls do feel a little clunky at first and the fine tuned camera movements can be a bit nauseating but I adapted to both before the tutorial concluded. I would’ve preferred forward and backward movement be mapped to the left stick rather than the left triggers and the lack of control customization meant I was stuck holding down the left trigger to accelerate for most of the game. The camera takes a bit getting used to as well as it gyrates with even the slightest ship movement, so motion sick gamers may need to brace themselves for their first few runs.
They take getting used to, but the controls allow for precise control of the player’s starship. The key to this precision comes from the ability to easily strafe and dictate altitude with the left stick. This gives the starship a tank-like feel without sacrificing a sense of speed or nimbleness- in fact, it made me feel more nimble more often than not. This unique control choice especially came in handy during dogfights and hot pursuits, allowing me to turn on a dime to get into a more advantageous position or angle myself behind an asteroid while I repaired my ship.
Once the tutorial is completed the game really begins, as players move through Cluster 34 towards mysterious coordinates lying at the edge of the galaxy. This is a roguelike, so it’s damn challenging and death sends the player all the way back to square one. Even though I died many times in my first few runs, I never felt discouraged or even really frustrated- the core gameplay is just too damn fun.
The intense dogfights in Everspace are what make the game so unforgettable. They’re chaotic, blisteringly fast, and require varying levels of tactical prowess to fly away unscathed. I can only best describe it as perfectly capturing the feel of being Han Solo piloting the Millenium Falcon- your ship kicks ass, and you know it, but what really makes it so outstanding is the pilot. Players will often be vastly outnumbered in these fights, having to rely on great flying, a hair trigger finger, and quick thinking in order to come out on top.
Make no mistake, these fights are a helluva a challenge, but they strike the perfect balance of being aggressively tough while remaining fun. Sure, jumping into a new sector and being greeted by seven Outlaw Scouts sucks, but the feeling of leading those Outlaws on a harrowing chase through tight asteroid tunnels as you pick them off one by one is incredibly exciting. I sat alone in my room shouting at my TV in amazement at least 30 times over my 20 hours of play time.
Even more exhilarating than out-maneuvering a large force is the feeling of narrowly escaping through a jump point just as shields fail. Jumping from area to area is as simple as flying in the direction of a predetermined marker, making it an ever present option for almost every scenario. No game in 2018 has gotten my heart racing like Everspace does when I’m hurtling towards a jump, shields failing, and 12 fighters at my back. I’ve always wanted to be Han Solo, and Everspace truly made me feel like the famous smuggler despite not having the Star Wars license.
Combat plays a massive role in the minute-to-minute Everspace gameplay, but there’s equal emphasis placed on exploration and resource gathering. Combat is a blast but it’s also costly, causing players to expend resources to craft new weapons, upgrade existing armaments, and repair key ship systems- like life support, engines, or primary weapons- that will spell doom if left unchecked. This adds a layer of complexity to the combat while giving the game a shot of space simulator to boot.
Players need not pause the game to examine the status of their ship either, instead, the on-board monitors perfectly detail what is damaged, how much longer until utter failure, and even warn of incoming threats without being overbearing. This keeps the player completely immersed in the experience, only pulling them out once they’ve found the resources to repair their ship, which is done in the pause menu. Juggling a dogfight with ship repairs and dwindling resources made for some truly exhilarating, challenging moments that I haven’t experienced in any other game this year.
Resources come from a variety of avenues, adding a layer of freedom to resource acquisition that doesn’t necessarily force players into exploration, but merely encourages it. Searching wreckages from a recent intergalactic war may yield plentiful loot while luring you into a firefight unprepared, while simply mining offers a safer avenue that won’t yield anything spectacular. Resource management rarely feels like a chore, instead, it offers a break in pace between battles that allows the player to take in the allure of the galaxy.
Resource management only becomes frustrating when it comes to fuel. Flying within sectors takes no toll on the fuel gauge but jumps between sectors eat up fuel at an astronomical rate. This wouldn’t be much of a problem if fuel were easier to find, but fuel is probably the most scarce resource in the cosmos.
Since the only way to jump is with fuel, searching endlessly for fuel becomes common during deeper runs and gets especially frustrating when you’ve searched every corner of an area and come up empty, having to resort to battling neutral ships in the area simultaneously hoping they drop fuel when defeated while not causing too much damage. The other option is too make the jump anyway, which can also result in catastrophic damage to the ship. Fuel management doesn’t add depth to the experience, it simply adds an unnecessary level of resource management to an otherwise well balanced system.
Dying in space sends you back to square one, however, players can spend their accumulated credits on impactful perks and upgrades that truly effect gameplay- perks that remain even after death. This makes the grinding feel worthwhile, rewards death, and will keep players making runs even after hours of unsuccessful attempts.
With other roguelikes like City of Brass, death was extremely frustrating and gave me no sense of progress, but in Everspace death offers players a new lease on life, re-entering the game stronger with better chances of success. Even when I made a deep run to the seventh and final sector only to die just at the cusp of completion, I was less upset at the prospect of starting over and more excited to upgrade my ship and give the galaxy another go.
Each run offers a completely new experience from the last, thanks to procedurally generated environments, enemies, challenges, and events. Challenges add an extra cash incentive for certain styles of play, like mining a specific amount of resources or eliminating 10 enemy fighters. Events, like helping a commercial freighter fight off pirates or locate a missing item for a merchant, add a sense of agency to the galaxy while adding diversity to each run. These missions aren’t anything special, but they help make every run unique and offer up opportunities for extra cash or resources while disrupting the usual combat-to-exploration flow of most areas.
The galaxy itself is absolutely gorgeous, rendered beautifully in the Unreal engine. Each area is stunning and diverse, sometimes littered with asteroids and lightning storms and other times up close and personal with the rings of an uncharted planet.
This galaxy is certainly a treat to look at it, but excessive exploration will reveal a sense of confinement that does take away from the experience a bit. A player can fly from one side of an area to another in less than a minute and explore the entire area within ten minutes. Luckily there’s enough to do in each area to distract players from the tightness of space, but I just couldn’t help but feel that space should feel more, well, spacey.
Probably the best surprise of Everspace is its strong narrative and impressively deep lore. The story isn’t groundbreaking by any means, but it succeeds in holding my interest through countless failed attempts at reaching the end game. The story places the player in the shoes of an unnamed protagonist who is quickly revealed to be a clone of a scientist named Adam Roslin, who found himself embroiled in a conspiracy to reignite a war between the human Colonials and the extraterrestrial Okkar. The clone awakens in a Colonial ship with unspecified coordinates set at the edge of the galaxy, coordinates that the player follows from sector to sector.
The narrative plays out in a non-linear fashion that allows for maximum suspense, and while I wasn’t invested enough for my jaw to ever drop, the twists left me genuinely surprised. The narrative also cleverly contextualizes the roguelike gameplay- the player has to go back to square one each time because they’re just a new clone, awoken to hopefully reach the mysterious coordinates at the end of the game.
Adam and his friend turned enemy Seth Nobu are decent charactesr, but it’s the onboard AI HIVE that really steals the show. Much like K-2SO or L337 from Star Wars, HIVE is rife with personality and his interactions with Adam’s clone provide some genuinely hilarious conversations.
HIVE also dispenses a healthy dose of lore that truly makes the world feel alive and populated. Players who really want to understand the world of Everspace can dive deeper in the pause menu’s codex, which features in-depth explanations of every location, ship, faction, and event encountered. I usually don’t read through codexes much in games, but the world at play in Everspace is so intriguing I found myself flipping through every codex entry as I unlocked them.
Roguelites are a hard genre to get right- a developer has to strike the perfect balance between challenge and fun in order to keep players interested. Everspace exists right in the middle of that balance with a space shooter that is certainly challenging, but so much fun players won’t even care that they’ve died eight times in a row without a successful run. Even without the Star Wars license, my time with the game allowed me to live out my Han Solo fantasies better than Battlefront ever did. Rockfish Games has a true gem on their hands here with Everspace thanks to incredibly exciting gameplay, deep resource management, and an intriguing narrative spin on the roguelike formula.