We took to the stars to see how Rockfish Games is turning their space shooter into a more expansive RPG.
The first Everspace is a very capable roguelite space shooter from the good folks over at Rockfish Games, so you'd be forgiven for thinking that its sequel, the cunningly named Everspace 2, was more of the same. And while they are both space shooters built around ferocious futuristic dogfights, the original's a hardened, endlessly replayable and tightly controlled game built around death and repetition, this second game is a more expansive RPG experience that looks to release the player from the core loop of the first.
The beta version of the game that I've had access to is still early in development, and there's no getting around the fact that the automated voices are jarring, which somewhat undermines the narrative aspect of the game. Sure, I can suspend my disbelief, but I can't wait for the proper voice acting to be added to the game, and I probably won't go back to it until Rockfish has got around to fixing that.
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Ignoring the jilted dialogue, which not only sounds placeholder but sometimes reads like it too, it's easy to see what Rockfish is doing, and I'm definitely interested in seeing more of the story and finding out what happens next to my character. In fact, the action links quite nicely to that of the first game and the connection between them is established early on; you're the cloned pilot from the first game, but this time you do not rinse and repeat your way through the same combat encounters, rather you've broken the loop of your former existence and you're on your last life.
That being the case, the combat in Everspace 2 is nowhere near as punishing as that of its predecessor. After a short tutorial I was once again strafing, rolling, and boosting in and out of danger, taking down outlaw scouts and drones like I'd never been away (I recently reviewed Star Wars: Squadrons, so maybe that helped). While that in and of itself is very similar to what you're doing in the original, it's clear from the off that this is more a linear experience; I was getting stuck into a fight that went on for ages but as soon as I strayed too close to the ally I was being directed towards, I initiated a cutscene that advanced the story.
That story sees you and your stricken friend imprisoned alongside another character, called Dax. After broadcasting your presence, some of your old "friends" from the first game learn of your whereabouts and attack. With the station in flames, you and your two comrades make good your escape and head to an abandoned space station that acts as your base of operations for the foreseeable future.
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While you're sitting aboard your ship for the entire time (apart from some time spent in the menus between missions), the structure is very close to that of a traditional RPG. You're learning by doing, first as you are looking for the materials to get the base back up and running, and then repairing objectives a bit further afield in order to maintain the secrecy of this new home among the stars. Along the way, I was searching wreckages for loot, grabbing up materials, and dancing with faceless bad guys who no doubt wished they'd stayed in bed before the end.
The traditional RPG mechanics extend to levelling your character (and your allies) and inventory management. I didn't get too far through this process but as you reach certain milestones, you can improve your abilities and make yourself faster, better, more productive, and no doubt as we refine our skills and grow stronger, our enemies will scale accordingly. Similarly, you can also upgrade your ship by installing new devices that give you new options (our first devices were an 'energised boost' and an 'EMP generator').
So far, Everspace 2 looks and feels like a game of potential. We're going to have to wait and see how the story holds up, especially in terms of its delivery, because we've seen plenty of space shooters with super exciting gameplay get saddled with storytelling that makes you want to poke your eyes out. The placeholder audio certainly doesn't offer any reassurances on that front, but at least the moment-to-moment gameplay and combat is in good shape and Rockfish seems to have nailed the basics. It's also worth pointing out that the studio has a 2022 release window in mind so there's oodles of time for the team to get everything in order.