Roguelikes may have enjoyed their moment in the sun in recent years (just ask Hades, our Game of the Year for 2020), but Everspace 2 shows that procedure generation is not the only way forward. The original Everspace is a cool space fighter roguelike, but the sequel has changed course towards a more traditional action-RPG style, and its series of missions over an open area of space feels much more in the vein of freelancer or Rebel Galaxy Outlaws as a result. But it sticks to its free movement system, which makes its fight stand out from other space shooters in style. There is already quite a bit of it to explore at its early access start, and it keeps things interesting by mixing up some puzzle solutions to break up the flashy dog fights.
The story that is here is a pretty strong start: it picks up our clone pilot from the first game, except with the interesting twist that this time we are in his last life: if he dies now, he̵
Each weapon has both an energy and kinetic damage rating, so battles are mostly about switching between them as needed to knock down enemy shields or armor, occasionally spitting the homing missile, dumbfire rocket or mine as you go. You also need to control your cooling down effectively so you can activate your ship’s special abilities at the right moment to blast or paralyze the most powerful enemies or just take a quick escape. There is some good selection here because you can swap and customize your abilities: one of the starting forces is an EMP explosion that deactivates all the enemy craft around you for 10 seconds, so you can pick the most dangerous ones for free, and I amplified it with a power-up that reduced its cooling by two seconds for every enemy I killed under its impact. The second starter is a free-release-prison card that increases your ship away from danger at high speeds so you can get started when it gets tough; I juiceed this up to go 80% faster, but only half as long. You unlock more of these abilities as you go, and I quickly learned that using them well is what enables you to survive battles against groups of high-level enemies.
However, your ultimate ability is tied to your choice of ship, and right now there are a handful available to buy once you have built up some credits flying your starting battle. Your launch ship fires an electric beam that is chained to other targets and can wipe out a group of warriors and their drone companions in an instant, while the hulking ship I upgraded to activates a tower that automatically shoots at everything around you for 20 seconds while continuing to burst forward. I was a little disappointed that the weapon ship did not handle significantly differently, but it gave me much more meaty armor stats and allows you to carry more primary weapons at the expense of equipment that can be equipped for consumables (although it’s pretty pointless because you can stop and replace them at any time in the middle of battle).The enemy’s diversity is not enormous, but it’s good enough to prevent things from getting too repetitive: I knew I had to approach a battle in a different way when I saw a heavily armored enemy with what similar to a space shotgun, or when I had to take certain out drone types before they could trap me or self-destruct up close. Large capital ships are rare in the early history missions, but it’s fun to pick up their towers when they show up.
Then, of course, you gather the sweet, sweet loot in the wake of the satisfying explosion effects. There is a pretty good selection of pew-pew-pew lasers available, from quick-firing pistols that take a moment to turn up to sniper and shotgun explosions, constant beams and more. The all and unusual, rare and superior equipment comes with some very useful bonus effects. Some of my highlights included a shield generator that blows out a minor EMP wave when the shield collapses, disabling something around me just long enough to lose a pursuer; and a superior Gatling cannon inflicted more damage when my ship was in sunlight and even more so when I was fighting enemies at a higher level than I was. I also like the upgrade system that allows you to increase the level or rarity of a piece of gear you want to hold on to by dismantling other pieces of the same rarity, even if levels at this early stage come and go fast enough to limiting gear to just one upgrade limits its usability. Maybe in the latter levels it will be more important to gradually upgrade, but there is not yet enough content in Everspace 2 to take us that far.
In addition to combat, the fine level of motion control allows the Everspace 2 to do much more with puzzles than you see in most space shooters. A lot of its looting rewards are hidden behind obstacle courses and tucked away in corners that an X-wing could not easily reach. You are sent to do things like collect key items and move them into place to unlock containers and passages where you have to navigate your ship through cramped spaces, rolling to fit through closed doors, all on a ticking clock. Some of these puzzle activities led to more downtime than I would have liked because your sensors are not very long distances at first, so you have to cross around and look for things to interact with, and sometimes areas are too dark, and I had to use my weapons as an echo sounder to see where the walls were. But it’s great to have something to do in a game like this besides shooting everything I see.Everything looks and sounds good, including the brand new planetary environments. The visual variation and eye-catching terrain detail they add is striking; after staring into the void for a while, it’s a completely different look to fly low through a ravine in bright sunlight. This does not mean that the space areas are visually monotonous – far from it. Everspace 2 does an excellent job of being beautiful to look at, with colorful scenery and atmospheric effects highlighting large asteroids and platforms in the distance to entice you to explore them, and you are regularly sent into caves and massive shipwrecks .
What is jarring is the transition between zones. Jumping in and out faster than light travel causes a short loading screen – the kind of thing that most games these days hide 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 move smoothly between atmosphere and space and back again without them five years ago, these seams have become harder to ignore.
In total it took me approx. 13 hours of burning throughout Everspace 2’s early access history, and it’s often stopping to collect XP and loot unexplored locations that appeared on my map as I crawled between missions. It also comes to an abrupt end during what feels like the start of a new mission rather than at a logical breaking point. The other obvious sign that this is an ongoing work – apart from very occasional bugs and the watermark in the corner of the screen that says it – is that a couple of its storyboard-style cutscenes are placeholders that just give you the gist of things instead of getting the voice actors to play them out. And even though the end screen encouraged me to explore the remaining side missions and activities, I certainly lost some motivation to paint for better prey after the plot ran out and only managed a few more hours.It’s also when it becomes clear that Everspace 2 does not have much of a commodity market. Yes, you can buy and sell small quantities of things like spirits and ramen at different prices in different ports, but there is no system to keep track of it all, so creating a trade route does not feel like a convenient way to make money. right now. In addition, you will never be attacked in transit between ports, so even if you could do so, it would be an extremely tedious way to earn a living.