We've piloted spaceships, fought wars, collected artefacts, solved puzzles and met new and familiar faces in this brilliant sequel.
A mining mission goes wrong. You have been kidnapped and are trying to escape when a whole armada storms the base you are trapped on. Everyone seems to be out to get you, but thanks to an unexpected new acquaintance, you manage to rescue a friend and escape the danger. There are explosions, neon lights pulsing from weapons, and a beautiful dance of colours unfolding in front of you. Using your spaceship, you then knock out the jamming equipment that allows you to spool up your engine to travel away faster than the speed of light. This initial scenario helps the player to quickly learn the basics of Everspace 2, and I think it's done in a good and engaging way.
If you played the predecessor, which was a rogue-lite, this sequel will feel both familiar and alien. The best comparison is the difference between Dawn of War and Dawn of War 2. We're talking about a new genre even though aspects of the original remain. Gone is the constant stress of dying and starting from scratch, as here you take on the role of Adam, the same protagonist as in the original. Now, he is a military clone on the run from a regime that wants to hurt him, and the big difference is that the sequel opens up the cosmos and lets you travel to solar systems at your own will. It's not completely open like in No Mans Sky. Rather, you fly between larger open sandboxes, with each solar system allowing you to explore lots of both randomised and handmade locations. You choose where you to fly, what missions you undertake, and how you upgrade your spaceship(s).
You can change the colours, customise everything from appearances to weapon systems. By giving resources you collect to your companions, you can unlock powerful improvements. What strikes me immediately is how modular everything around your spaceship is. You can even upgrade individual components or weapons by building upgrades with materials. Just like in action role-playing games, there is a colour coding system with better and worse items, and you will be constantly removing, adding, upgrading and improving your spaceship. Everything has a function, including items that replace the role of potions in Diablo, for example. You can briefly boost your weapons, give yourself more health, and more. If you like "looter-shooters" with role-playing elements in a large world, there is a lot to enjoy here.
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In addition to upgrading your spaceships during the adventure, you can also buy new ones. There are several classes you can use, and while in a traditional role-playing game, you are often locked into a single class, here you can change between them if you have the in-game money for it. The classes are divided into three areas; "Light, Medium, Heavy". You have spaceships with machine gun turrets and plenty of shields, as well as aircraft carriers that have an armada of drones to launch. You can also choose lightly armoured spaceships that outmanoeuvre the enemy. There really is a spaceship for everyone, and I like that all categories are viable.
Each class has an ultimate ability that helps you clean up the battlefield. The bombers have what looks like a small nuclear weapon, the fighters allow you to do a lot of damage with their weapons in a short amount of time. There's also a class that allows you to paralyse around five spaceships in a sort of network with all ships in the network sharing damage. On top of that, you can improve in categories like shields and other things on your ship, or unlock special abilities. There are many interacting systems you can tinker with, as all spaceships have their statistical weaknesses and strengths. My favourites quickly became the Interceptor, Striker and Vindicator. The Interceptor, as the name suggests, is good at fighting enemies and dealing damage without being slow or difficult to control. The Striker is great at taking out multiple targets at once without being limited in size or speed. I found the Vindicator fun to fly because it is a small aircraft filled with drones to launch.
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You are your spaceship and will spend all your time in the driver's seat. To accommodate this, the levels are both designed as open spaces and small puzzles. You can navigate the inside of structures in space, find secrets and solve puzzles with the spaceship. There are a variety of activities to do outside of the main missions, while the main missions follow a story that features 2D art, voice acting and characters. Unfortunately, the story is the least interesting thing about this game. The story is not something I found memorable, but it does introduce you to the action moments and offers opportunities for some amusing dialogue.
I love that the AI companion, Hive, from its predecessor is back. It doesn't like being in the same spaceship as you and makes that clear, and I liked this duo in the predecessor and they are great here too. Together with the side activities, the gameplay and the open world where you always find something to do, there is a really strong foundation. I really appreciate what Rockfish Games has built, it's a neat space spectacle just like its predecessor, with awesome sounds. The music and colours remind me of Thor: Ragnarök. It sounds distinctive and it helps the game stand out a bit, and this is bolstered by the top-notch visuals. One moment you're fighting over a planet split by an enormous weapon, and the next you're travelling in darkness through clouds to find old hulls to scavenge, all before flying over sand dunes, and then shooting enemies over planetary bases. The highlight for me is the change of scenery and all the beautiful locations in space.
Once you have completed the campaign, there is more to do. Just like in Diablo III with its Nephalem Rifts, there is something called Ancient Rifts. You are sucked into a battlefield and have to fight enemies on a number of levels. Once you complete a level, you're given some options to continue. It basically works exactly the same way as the first game, as the idea is to give you a kind of 'end game' that challenges and randomises different scenarios for your ship to shoot through. I think it works brilliantly, even though the star systems you travel between level up over time and offer more difficult threats, this is a welcome feature right from the start.
Everspace 2 offers great graphics, awesome music, brilliant sounds, and a fantastically fun gameplay cycle. I didn't anticipate that this easy-to-play, intense action setup would last for an entire game, but I'm not dissatisfied or bored after 50 hours with the title, and you can expect closer to 100 hours if you do everything. Even though the story is lacking, I like many of the characters and the gameplay along with the environments, puzzles and everything else makes up for it. Everspace 2 is at its best when you fly off the path laid out in front of you and explore. You will always find some puzzle, a mine to fly into, or a base filled with enemies to blow up. It's a bit reminiscent of 1988's Starglider 2 in that regard. It is without a doubt the best thing I've played in the genre along with Diablo IV this year, and if you like action role-playing games, this is a definite recommendation.
9 / 10
Engaging. Great battles. Great control over character development. Brilliant graphics. Awesome music. Varied activities and entertaining Ancient Rifts.