Just about everything in Deep Sky Derelicts tickles the nerdiest of my fancies. Turn-based combat, card-based combat, lots of RPG elements and more came together in a way that really made this sci-fi game click for me. It is a hybrid of genres and ideas, not unlike Darkest Dungeon, and for those willing to brave a slower pace with a lot of management sprinkled in, Deep Sky Derelicts will likely appeal to you as well.
Things kick off a little awkwardly – there is nothing much in the way of tutorials right out of the gate, leaving you to put together a team of three without really knowing what they are used for or how they function. There are a couple of lightweight boxes that try to describe what a stat or function does, but really I went in fairly blind while assembling my first time. I was mostly focused on the different number values of their characters and picking different classes, since I didn’t really know what any of them did.
Thankfully, the training wheels are a bit better once you get past the team makeup session. The gist of it is your party is being asked to jaunt around from derelict to derelict in the area, to see what you can find. There’s a bit of backstory about a high-up military person with a particular item they want found, but really you spend most of your time just picking these defunct ships to wander about a gridded map. There are a couple of interesting risk / reward balances to manage. One is pretty standard – characters have shield and life points and you don’t want them to die. The other is your energy, which you use when fighting and also exploring – and you don’t want to strand your team without it, so trying to ration how far to explore the ship before heading back becomes a serious consideration.
Combat itself is turn-based with initiative determining who goes first. For those familiar with the fantastic Slay the Spire, the principle is kind of the same. Each character has their own deck of cards, so each time one of them is up, they have a hand for you to choose from. Early on, the options are pretty limited, with basic attacks, maybe weaker spread attacks, attacks that can stun a person or have protective properties like raising shields. There is plenty of room for customization, not just in attaining new cards, but new equipment – much of which can be further modified – and also in gaining levels. Each level generally gives you a couple of skill points you can use. By the time you hit the cap of ten, you can have some pretty unique character combinations.
There is a lot of depth to not just the card system and customization of characters, but the way the levels themselves play out. Some rooms have traps, others enemies, some potential trade partners or friends. Some of the rooms also have innate effects that simply take place or impact your team (or the enemies) in various ways. Those are not always clear without checking the in-game legend, but after awhile I got a feel for what the different symbols along the way meant. There is a lot of fun to be had in spelunking through these old ships.
Despite having been a PC game originally, I would say that the overall controls are pretty good. For one, enemy selection works well, menus are easy to navigate and so on. I could quibble a bit that the map sensitivity is a little strange at times when you are in the datapad mode and selecting rooms. Here is how you move about, with a grid that you can either walk around blindly (not recommended) or scan somewhat frequently (but burning that all-important energy you don’t want to run out of) to reveal more rooms on the map. Sometimes the screen jumps and jars about in unwieldy fashion, which is mildly annoying when you are sliding to the edges of the map and things have to start scrolling.
The sound was perfectly fine, with some pretty basic sounds, and while the graphics are far from AAA quality, there is a novel comic book style to it that actually looks really nice. Action panels during combat are colorful, and locations like the tavern look suitably drenched in a sort of neon, sci-fi glow. Text can be a bit small to read on the television at times, but it is not terrible or headache-inducing by any means either. As nice as the game’s visuals look during combat and story sections, the datapad screen is pretty bland. It’s completely functional (except for that sort of twitchy edging when moving around), which is certainly more important, but it feels slightly lacking when compared to the rest of the game’s highly stylized aesthetic.