Genre: Indie, RPG, Strategy
Developer: Snowhound Games
Publisher: 1C Entertainment
Release date: March 24, 2020
Mix and matching genre is the new hot thing for a good reason. With the right combination and execution, a new experience can be created. Many people, myself included, like the idea of this. How can we not? These experimental fusions games can provide one with the familiarity they so crave while adding various other aspects that may not necessarily be exclusive to video games to make it more unique. Of course, it’s not all as easy as it sounds. Developers cannot simply just stitch random chunks together without much thought and expect anything but a Frankenstein’s monster at its core. A game I recently reviewed, Giraffe and Annika, exemplifies this. Thankfully, this is not the case here. Deep Sky Derelicts: Definitive Edition, although not without issues, is a highly entertaining dungeon crawler composed of borrowed building blocks that work surprisingly well together.
[This review is based on a copy of the game provided by the publisher which I believe is missing the New Prospect DLC normally included with the standard Deep Sky Derelicts: Definitive Edition bundle.]
Deep Sky Derelicts: Definitive Edition is a dungeon crawler RPG with a turn-based card battle mechanic and some roguelike elements. The gist of the story is that in the far space-age future, your mercenary team of 3 is getting an offer by the sub-governor of the hub world to explore and retrieve data from derelicts, alien spaceships, that contain unseen technologies in exchange for a life of comfort. That is all there is to the story upfront. More insights into the story and its setting can be extrapolated from dialogues and the text-heavy datapad items found throughout the game.
Derelicts traversal and Energy
Although you will always start at the hub world where the shops reside, the meat of the game lies within the derelicts. Once inside, the area can be traversed via Open PDA tab which will open up the map. The map initially starts with barely anything as nothing has yet to be explored. The party of mercenary, represented by a circle, can move by simply clicking on any visible tiles. Any tiles that the party has moved to will be automatically mapped. An alternate way to map out the surroundings is to push one of the scan buttons located on the right tab. The scan function will reveal not only the areas but also units and interactable of unknown alignments for a short time. Once upgraded, it can even reveal traps or even give the player more accurate information of what would have been perceived as unknowns. Knowing is half the battle, as such, scanning is ultimately the smarter way to tackle the derelicts than running in blind.
Before delving further, I should mention the energy system which is the lifeblood of all derelicts-related activities. Energy represents the resource required by the spacesuit life support system to operate. Almost every action done inside derelicts takes energy including moving, scanning, and battling. Running out of energy could spell a slow death as the team will take health damage with each step after it is emptied. The party will also be forced to automatically skip a turn to retreat resulting in taking free damage worsening the situation. Unless you have a spare energy tank, this mechanic essentially limits how much of the derelicts can be explored per session.
Once you encounter an enemy on the map screen, your team will be thrown into a battle. Combat is done in a turn-based manner using initiative stat to determine who goes first. While how the battle is played out is not too dissimilar to a normal turn-based RPG, what spice things up are how the cards and energy system influence the battles.
A deck is comprised of cards and cards cover all the maneuvers that a character can do. Each character has their decks to draw from in a battle. Their pool of cards can be customized to a large degree because cards are tied to weapons, tools, and mods. Most characters can have up to 4 equipment and each can have up to 2 add-on modifications. The number of cards and abilities that are randomized with some weapons may even come with 5-6 attack cards if not more. Some cards are tied to a character class ability trees whose effects can get stronger for every ability points invested. Heck, there are also ways to get around requirements for specialized cards that are meant to be used with certain classes. The degree of possible customization is endless.
Certain cards also have interesting effects like giving a friendly ally an extra turn, summon various drones, forcing the enemy to stagger (discard) X cards, etc… As you can tell from that last effect, it appears that the AI units also have a hand of cards during battle. This can give birth to some unique strategies and synergy between cards and classes. Interesting strategies like hand locking via a combination of discard and negative buffs or coercing them to not play specific cards are valid. Do experiment with class and sub-class skill trees and see what kind of game plan you can come up with!
As mentioned earlier, energy drains during combat although probably not in the way you were thinking. The way this works is that the energy drains every time a character the party gets to act. That’s right. Not once per battle or once per a universal turn, but about 3 times a turn. This can be quite taxing to the reserve. The longer the battle, the more your party is put at a disadvantage. Options to spend additional energy to perform extra actions also exist. You can either Boost and draw extra cards from the deck or the environmental hazard pool. One must consider if that kind of benefit is worth the resource trade-off as energy is a vital asset.
A thing that I quite like about Deep Sky Derelicts: Definitive Editionis the Fallout-Esque RPG dialogue choices and skill checks. There are scripted but randomly placed events on the derelicts that are quite amusing. Some don’t even have a real reason to be there other than to present mildly amusing scenarios to the players. This is the kind of love from the developers that I like to see in video games. Other quest-related dialogues also have a fair amount of choices that the players can pick from. Some of which seem to require a stat check to determine whether or not you will succeed. The difference between this and Fallout series is that these skill checks don’t explicitly show the players what stat is needed for what options. This is something that the players have to discern by themselves. Some can rather obvious while others less so.
Let’s get this out of the way first: I like the art style. It reminds me quite a bit of Darkest Dungeon except the sci-fi part. What I don’t like is how they are animated or lack thereof. I honestly cannot think of any real animation on top of my head outside the idle animations during combat. You see, the majority of everything including character actions are static pictures comic book style cut-ins with nigh zero movements. I can’t say for certain if this is a stylistic choice or a disguise to save budget. Some voices during attacks or skills would also have gone a long way instead of just text but it is what it is.
The thing that raises my curiosity is why is it that characters don’t permanently die in the hardcore mode where only one save file of the same run is allowed. I find this to be quite strange as I thought the point of this mode is to replicate that roguelike experience on top of the randomized derelict dungeons similar to XCOM’s Ironman mode. Yes, you can’t reload older save of the same run in hardcore but what’s the point if you can just revive dead characters for some fee?. The main draw of playing Ironman mode in XCOM is that death is permanent and you have to go through all kinds of hoops to deal with the setback. This is not that. While I still do recommend people to play Deep Sky Derelicts: Definitive Edition to play on hardcode mode, it feels incomplete.
Deep Sky Derelicts: Definitive Edition is a fun dungeon crawler. Customizing your mercenary band with deck-altering weapons and equipment with randomized stats is as entertaining is going through items in a looter shooter. Running different decks adds a huge replayability value to the game and using them in conjunction with different classes and sub-jobs takes it to a whole new level. While randomized dungeons and hardcore mode do add a bit of that rogue-lite feel to the game, it will never truly reach the level of something like XCOM Ironman mode as long as there are no individual permanent deaths. The completely voiceless and almost entirely static picture style of presentation may also turn some off. Despite its shortcomings, Deep Sky Derelicts: Definitive Edition is still a rock-solid dungeon crawler with deckbuilding turn-based combat well worth the entry fee.