Review: Everspace 2
It’s always a compelling prospect when a development team, hot off the considerable challenge of releasing a video game, makes an attempt to switch things up with a forthcoming sequel. It can also be equally off-putting; would an alteration of core elements mean a loss of what made the experience click in the first place?
Fans of the 2017 roguelite Everspace would be forgiven for heading into the sequel with similar feelings of trepidation, particularly due to developer Rockfish Games’ bold decision to eschew said roguelite elements entirely and craft Everspace 2 in the mold of an open-world looter shooter instead.
Of course, it’s a fear that’s been possible to allay for some time now considering that Everspace 2 has been in early access since 2021, but for those who have yet to delve too deeply into the game or are waiting for its full launch on April 6th, 2023 on PC (with a planned PlayStation 5 and Xbox Series X|S launch later this year): you can rest easy. Everspace 2 is excellent.
The premier backdrop to Everspace 2’s narrative is the conflict between the rapidly expanding Colonial fleet and the alien Okkar faction, which erupted after the former attempted to take control of a specific region of space called Cluster 34. At the game’s start, the cluster is in a state of tenuous peace as a demilitarized zone after having been previously controlled by the Okkar.
Like any self-respecting science fiction protagonist, Adam Roslin is doing his best to lay low in the DMZ and avoid attention from both sides. His status as a runaway military clone makes trying to make good on a new life for himself rather difficult, however, and when a straightforward job goes south, he’s forced to partner up with a stranger and earn his ticket out from scratch.
As you’d expect from the setup, a lot of the story beats touch on subjects like corporations running amok in nigh lawless space and individuals trying to eke out a living in an area that affords them no protection or benefits. As you steer Adam through the various systems of Cluster 34, you’ll meet plenty of allies, foes, and shades in between, all of whom bring something new to the table and add depth to the DMZ. The writing is particularly well executed, and drives home the fact that these characters are people with their own histories and hang-ups that come to the fore in a realistic manner.
It’s general sci-fi goodness in other words, but by that same token, it also leaves the narrative as a whole feeling a bit familiar as it goes along. Science fiction tropes are alive and well in Everspace 2, and while that isn’t a criticism in and of itself, it does make it more difficult to get overly invested in its plot.
There aren’t many sci-fi concepts here that you haven’t seen elsewhere, and the game’s consistent attempts to drum up suspense about Adam’s safety in cutscenes can get a bit tiresome, but the story is still never something you’re simply slogging through to get back to the action. It’s all solidly executed and worth watching unfold, and that’s no mean feat given its 30+ hour runtime.
You May Fire When Ready
The gameplay is where Everspace 2 really starts to impress, and it does so immediately. By space shooter standards, I was surprised by just how much influence I was granted over my ship. As you’d expect, you can pitch, yaw, roll, and boost your way to success, but what really stands out is the way Everspace 2 factors in momentum to the gameplay while still allowing the player to stop on a dime. You have tight control over your ship at all times, which makes for fun instances of just barely skirting away from a projectile thanks to this high degree of player freedom.
This freedom extends to the itemization the player is given over their vessel, as well. True to its nature as a looter shooter, you’ll receive a constant influx of new items as you explore Cluster 34 of various levels and rarities, and experimenting with new ones is one of the most addictive aspects of the game. From short range scatterguns to long range lasers, every style of weapon feels quite different to use from another, and the randomization of firing patterns and effects ensures you’ll eventually find the one that simply clicks for you.
One of my personal favorite combinations was the Teleport and Magnetic Repulsor devices, which allowed me to instantly warp behind my enemies and promptly fling them into the nearest asteroid when used in tandem with one another. It took me a bit of gameplay to discover this specific combo, and the game greatly fosters experimentation like this by making it a breeze to switch out parts on your ship. You’re also able to switch to another ship entirely whenever you like, which brings with it its own passives and functionally feels similar to choosing a class in a more standard RPG.
I also found myself thoroughly impressed by the sheer amount of content in the game as I worked my way through it. There are several systems broken into myriad smaller systems to visit, each offering unique quests, optional objectives, and aesthetics. There’s a real sense of discovery in exploring Everspace 2’s locales, especially when you happen float into the interior of a destroyed freighter or abandoned asteroid base to pilfer it for all its valuables. It’s incredibly easy to spend far more time than necessary to finish your main objective in an area as you attempt to salvage new loot and see everything there is to see.
In that sense, one of Everspace 2’s biggest accomplishments is the way it lets you partake in that classic space privateer fantasy. It’s keenly felt when you get sidetracked by a random event like a distress call or a ping on your map asking you to check out an undiscovered region, and it’s bolstered further by meaningful tertiary systems. Buying an obscene amount of ramen for pennies in one star system and selling it for a large profit in another is something I hadn’t expected the game to let me do, and it was a pleasant surprise.
It isn’t all perfect, however. Because the combat is such a blast, it’s easily the thing you’ll be wanting to do most in a given play session, but some quests will task you with methodically exploring wreckage or traveling long distances for a bit instead of melting other ships with your miniature Death Star.
The inclusion of different types of gameplay is important in preventing staleness for any title, but the downfall of these stretches is in their pacing. They often drag on for just a bit too long, thus wrenching you away from the space shooting you’re there for. The most egregious offenders are certain puzzle solving sections, which usually amount to searching a large open space for a tiny object you have to carry to another point on the map in order to earn that coveted 100% completion.
Ocean of Stars
One of the biggest challenges to overcome in any space shooter is creating open areas that capture the vast emptiness and cosmic beauty of space without feeling boring or overly similar to look at, and Everspace 2 completely succeeds in this regard. There’s an impressive number of unique assets on display across each of the systems, and they’re utilized in such a way that no two areas feel similar.
The smaller, more minute details play a huge part in realizing this feeling of variety. Running a mission above a massive planet and looking down to make out its unique geography or taking in the mazelike interior of a long-abandoned space station is something that never lost its luster at any point in my playthrough, and it was helped all the more by missions that take the player past a planet’s atmosphere and nearer to its surface.
This is all to say that Everspace 2 does an excellent job at both establishing its atmosphere and fully pulling you into it. The model work, texturing, and sound design all work in tandem to make it feel like you’re exploring the fringes of the universe. There’s a loneliness when you’re carrying out certain quests that’s inherent to the feelings conjured up by the best science fiction, and that’s not something every game can claim.
As for the soundtrack, bass-heavy grooves and synthesized harmonies are common fixtures, with many of them landing on the more upbeat side. They often recede into the background when your focus is on melting the ship in front of you, but there are plenty of tracks that carve out their own space in the action as well.
Science Fiction for the Soul
Rare is the sequel that shifts genre from its predecessor, and rarer still is the sequel that lands said shift in a successful and seamless way, but this is exactly the case with Everspace 2. It’s packed to the nines with twitch shooting to keep you engaged, a satisfying loot grind bolstered by diverse item choices, a gorgeous rendition of space to zoom through, and a sizable amount of unique content. Moreover, it’s all wrapped up in a well-executed (if somewhat familiar) science fiction narrative. There’s certainly a blemish or two—chiefly the title’s struggle to pace non-combat sections—but Everspace 2 provides so much of a good thing that it’s hard to mind.
~ Final Score: 9/10 ~
Review code provided by Rockfish Games for PC. Screenshots taken by reviewer. Featured image courtesy of Rockfish Games.
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