The combination of RPG/turn-based combat and sci-fi elements, seemingly paired with a very unique art style, is what drew me to pick up Deep Sky Derelicts for review – it’s created by Snowhound Games. It delivered on all those fronts, but with a bit of a sharp learning curve from the get-go due to lack of any tutorial. The gameplay style and narrative structure did start to seem very familiar, however, once I realized what game it reminded me of I had a much easier time playing it.
The game shows a dystopian future where humanity has basically divided into two groups. There are the rich and privileged who live on beautiful planets and lead charmed lives, and then there are those who live a nomadic life and explore space, scavenging loot and goods from abandoned ships (or ‘derelicts’) to survive; having no planet to call home. You start the game as one of these stateless individuals, and are approached by an authority figure to put together a crew to search for one fabled Derelict of legend. Finding that ship is your ticket to the easy life. If anyone has seen the animated film Titan A.E. from 2000, the whole opening of the game gave me major vibes from that film.
You are quickly thrust into your first derelict mission with no idea what you’re doing
I fell back on my classic strategy of “click everything and something will happen” with Deep Sky Derelicts. After fumbling through, I learned that you explore the map tiles of the abandoned ship through your PDA, and every tile you traverse uses up some of your energy. Your trio has a limited energy supply, and if it runs out while you are aboard the derelict, that’s game over for you. Not knowing this, I was using up my valuable energy rather recklessly and exploring very unhelpful parts of the derelict. Along with this, there are too many icons all over the map I did not understand, and various features in the rooms I was completely overlooking until my second go-around – and with some additional help from the internet. These items you can purchase from the shops in your home space station, and you can use special items in certain rooms to do things like re-charge your energy, fast travel throughout the ship, and more.
Where the game really shines is in the combat
The highlight of my initial experience playing was definitely the combat. As the Deep Sky Derelicts describes itself, it is turn-based combat so no surprises there, and all the moves your character can make are displayed as cards fanned out along the bottom of your screen. At first it seemed like I had way more cards than I would ever need, and the fights were relatively easy. All characters (yourself and enemies) have both shield and health. Both have to be drained for a character to die/fall unconscious. You have abilities that are raw damage, healing abilities to recharge both health and/or shields, and abilities that can buff your team or give debuffs/status conditions to your enemies. As the fights got harder, however, and heartier enemies in higher quantities appeared, I started to run out of cards and realized that move management was another element I needed to factor into my combat decisions.
As I got the hang of the game, I started to realize why it seemed so familiar
Once I had this realization, the Deep Sky Derelicts also became MUCH easier now that I had something to compare it to. Let’s see if you can guess the game with a few hints. Instead of using energy to explore, imagine exploring by torchlight. Change the derelict spaceships into subterranean dungeons. Instead of a futuristic space station, your home base where you manage your team and purchase upgrades is a run-down hamlet. If you are getting Darkest Dungeon vibes, then you are correct! I literally began comparing every element of the game to Darkest Dungeon when I played, and that greatly helped my understanding of Deep Sky Derelicts and helped my progress. But, I found myself asking the question, “if I can only enjoy a game by comparing and treating it like a different game, does it really stand on its’ own merits?”
The only main difference between the two games, aside from the environment and art styles, was entry into the areas you are exploring. In Deep Sky Derelicts, as long as you can make it back to the rooms with taxi space shuttles, you can come and go as you please from the derelicts themselves. This was my saving grace while I was figuring everything out – Low on energy? Found some monsters you don’t have the right characters for? Just head back to the space station and come back later!
The derelict remains somewhat explored, making it easy to get back to where you left off when you return. You also retain any and all loot you picked up while exploring the derelict. Darkest Dungeon is far less forgiving, and if you are forced to flee, you drop everything and start over again the next time you attempt. You would think this makes Deep Sky Derelicts the far more forgiving game. However, managing your funds is significantly harder in this sci-fi dungeon crawler. I constantly felt like I never had enough money left for any upgrades, new characters, or items after paying the exorbitant fees in the medical bay to heal my existing characters. It was very frustrating, and definitely dampened my experience of exploring the derelicts themselves, as I constantly felt I was just exploring to gain items I could sell to just heal and not grow.
The strongest aspect of this game is the art style
Have you ever wanted to read a comic book and play a video game at the same time? Then this is the game for you. The vision of this games’ aesthetic is so clear, and the comic book style animation and artwork compliment the sci-fi vibes very well. The melding of art forms here is almost as satisfying and jaw-dropping as Spider Man: Into the Spiderverse. This design style is best shown during combat, showing the characters executing their moves and taking damage in framed comic book panels.
One thing that significantly marred my gaming experience while playing Deep Sky Derelicts were some technical hiccups. The game tended to crash half the time I tabbed out of it, which was a major pain considering I tried to stream my gameplay and kept having to tab out for stream related tasks – but also, many PC gamers tab out of games for anything else. Then one time, not only did it crash, but it made that screen unusable. If I tried to click anything on that screen (including the Task Manager to force quit the game), nothing happened. I had to log out to get everything to quit and log back in. However, if you do never need to tab out, then there are very little issues to get in your way of the gorgeous aesthetics.
- Very unique art style
- Engaging premise
- Some tech problems (kept crashing when tabbing out)
- Definitely needs a tutorial
- Derelicts are too empty
- Just made me want to play Darkest Dungeon
Note: This game was provided by the publisher for the purposes of this review.