It seems more and more that I’m playing sequels to games I’ve not experience the first instalment of. The younger me would have probably never entertained jumping in to a follow up without knowing the whole story… an older me knows there’s just not enough time in the world to stick to that philosophy. Besides, I’ve been hankering after another space shooter since Chorus released a couple of years back. Where Everspace 2 is a sequel, it’s a slightly different game than the first, promising a more looter shooter focused experience, with the team at Rockfish Games taking feedback from social media and user reviews to figure out what people enjoyed the most. Jettisoned is the roguelike gameplay loop, locked in is the fast paced space combat, and using what they’ve learned from publishing their last title, successfully funding the development through Kickstarter, and evaluating the core mechanics through Steam Early Access, the game is finally available in a finished format across PC and console. It’s hard to pin down the exact genre it sits in because it blends a number of them together, but really the question isn’t about classification, it’s about whether it’s any fun.
Taking this entry as my first port of call in the Everspace series, the story seems to recognise that quite a few players are probably not going to be familiar with the characters and universe, so it doesn’t try to explain them from the beginning, though there’s plenty of codex data to wade through if you’re inclined. This “dumping” you into a fully fleshed universe can sometimes be jarring, though here it manages to lean more towards mysterious and intriguing as you let the details wash over you and absorb what’s going on in the star systems you’re be visiting. Playing the role of Adam Roslin, a clone pilot trying to go undetected by the Colonial Fleet, you end up entangled in a heist with outlaws, as well as starting to unravel events that are building to generate all out war across the systems between Mankind and the Okkar. With a trusty fighter craft, a set of flying skills that would embarrass Han Solo, and an entourage of rogues and scoundrels lining up to support the high risk/high reward mission, it’s up to you to explore the far reaches of space and make your own place in it.
Everspace 2 is first and foremost an action focused game. You will be spending about 90% of your time in combat with other craft, ranging from fighters to frigates, vying to get the upper hand. It can be intense too with multiple craft coming from every angle, unleashing arsenals of projectile and energy weapons in an attempt to cut your mission – and life – short. Fortunately then the controls are all about this, and it feels quick, responsive and satisfying to play. Is it the most logical control scheme? That I’m a bit unsure of because whilst the PC version definitely supports HOTAS setups, this isn’t a flight sim, and on console you are stuck with only two options that don’t quite put everything in the right place. For instance, I love the booster on the right bumper, the adaptive triggers work a treat, but there’s compromise to the vertical controls that don’t feel quite natural. Swapping things out for the throttle on the analogue sticks works better, though the roll is then set to click in the stick and move it, meaning you can’t easily and confidently accelerate, move and roll at the same time. It might sound a bit pedantic, but there’s a lovely smooth set of mechanics underpinning the flight and it feels like it’s hampered a tad by slightly awkward button assignments that restrict their use. However, before long you get used to it, and the auto-roll option, and settle in to enjoy blasting bandits and cruising around the many deep space environments available to you.
The basic structure is one of bite-sized areas with linking “corridors” to simulate the feel of intergalactic travel, and with short loading times it does bring a scale to the game. For instance, if you’re orbiting a planet exploring an asteroid field, you’d need to use the jump drive to move to a faster speed to get to another location, which prompts a load into what is essentially a fancy destination select. To move between star systems it will involve a jump gate, again triggering a fancy loading screen that simulates the distance moved, and you do realised that the maps are all pieced together rather than being one giant open playground. In fairness, if you want that freedom then there are other options like No Man’s Sky or Elite Dangerous, depending on your level commitment. Everspace 2 is more controlled and guided to allow the story beats to pay off as much as deliver a gorgeous looking set of detailed areas to fly around in. It also means the locations visited are better curated and all serve a purpose, whether it’s searching derelict hulks on the fringes of a system, or navigating caves planet side to discover alien artifacts. The level of detail on display is pretty impressive when you get away from the frantic combat and get check out the scenery at your leisure.
Those dogfights though are persistent and to keep an upper hand you’ll have to fully engage with the levelling and loot mechanics, and this is where Everspace 2 begins to look more like a RPG/looter shooter. Earning XP is the basic way of improving your ship stats, and attaining levels awards points to invest in the special abilities you can equip to your ship. Charge the abilities through combat and you can unleash devastating attacks or inhuman manoeuvres to gain an advantage. That isn’t the only way though as most enemies drop some kind of loot that ranges from cash to weapons, and assuming equipment matches your current level you can swap out parts on the go. Blasters, missiles, shield, booster unit and even cargo space can all be changed at will providing you’ve got something in your inventory to put in the gear slot. Never fear if you haven’t picked anything up, as you go you’ll unlock blueprints for these standard pieces of kit, as well as crafting materials, which means you can simply build what you want. More blueprint unlocks are required for rarer items which are inherently better, though basic components can work well enough in a pinch. Dismantling unwanted gear gives the materials to utilise elsewhere, and can even be employed to increase the rarity of an existing installed part, or lower it’s level restriction so you can use it earlier. There are limits here, you can’t be level 5 and unlock a level 20 item, though it’s not a quick levelling up process so gaining one or two notches up is a clear advantage. When you get over-levelled for your kit there’s a decent set of flags to prompt you to go on the scrounge too.
If upgrading kit and the ship stats wasn’t enough, you can delve into the cosmetics as well, swapping out external parts and fully overhauling the paint scheme. There are few options to start with, though these unlock as you snag paint colours from defeated enemies and gain decals as you complete certain tasks or level up. Better yet, if you get bored of your vessel and have some spare credits around, you can plough the cash into a new ship entirely that might be better suited to your playstyle or specific missions. These typically cost a lot of money yet there’s an option to trade in what you’re flying against it, so unless you want to be a collector it’s easy to get a new ride. Staying with upgrades… at every 5th level, Adam gets a new trait to pick that adds a buff depending on how you want to play, and with a selection of three at each stage there’s a chance to experiment to find what works best. You might think that’s enough, but no, Everspace 2 has another set of enhancements to manage – your companions. As the story unfolds you’ll engage with and recruit various personalities to come and join your cause, each brings a unique set of abilities (perks) that you can invest resources into for considerable improvements. For example, there’s one perk that enables tractor beam upgrades which increases distance and pulls more objects at once, and it’s a great one to focus on given the amount of looting. These are also expensive in terms of materials and you’ll end up spending a lot of time searching for mining locations and opening storage chests to get enough.
This might sound like there’s a lot of heavy menu management, and now I’ve written it out, there is (and I’ve not even covered the trading and inventory side which is pretty self explanatory). What I found really well done is that Rockfish Games haven’t made it a chore. There are plenty of places to buy and sell parts and kit, you can always dismantle or destroy to free up space, most of the upgrading can be done at any point when you have the right materials, and swapping parts is a press of one button – it’s all very intuitive and slick. You’re always aware that you’re playing the stat game looking for green numbers over red, but because it doesn’t take much time you’re not too distracted by it. My over-riding memories are of dogfighting, enjoying the story told in comic book style cutscenes, and exploring the locations; not trawling through pages and pages of random stuff I’ve collected and don’t have a use for. If a primary weapon had a better chance of knocking a fighter out of the sky it was a no-brainer to change it over, regardless of whether it was a blaster, laser, flak cannon or rail gun. In theory the energy/projectile stats are important for knowing what’s going to knock out shields and what’s going to rip through hulls, yet sustained fire will always do the job you want it to… until the weapon overheats or you run out of missiles. Top tip though, keep a flak cannon handy for mining, they make short work of digging out the minerals.
Visually Everspace 2 is a great looking game – sharp and colourful in a place where environments are typically black with grey blobs floating around. It sells itself well, especially when laser bolts are lighting up all around. The audio delivers too with lots of great sci-fi sounds, a particularly welcome use of crunchy explosions (with the associated haptic feedback), and the voice acting isn’t offensive either. With a 30 hour story it won’t outstay its welcome to those wanting to just experience that, but if you’re a completionist you can expect triple the playtime to see and finish everything, so it’s pretty good value for money in that respect. There’s no doubting it’s an epic tale too, with a galaxy spanning story that does offer up a wide variety of mission types, including some pretty interesting puzzles to solve. If there’s anything I haven’t been too keen on it’s the aforementioned control mapping, though that’s purely my preference, and maybe that Adam feels a bit too clean cut despite what he’s effectively doing. Sure, put your Manga head on and visualise the characters that way and it makes sense, it’s just it’s a dirty business being an outlaw and the naiveness he conveys despite his experience doesn’t gel enough to really engage with him and his quest. That in itself can make you tune out of the bigger picture, but you’ll be drawn back in for the combat because there’s no way that’s going quietly into that good night.
A PS5 review copy of Everspace 2 was provided by Rockfish Games PR team, and the game is available on PC, Xbox Series S|X and PlayStation 5 for around £45.
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