Space has always been a curious wonder for mankind, ever since the beginning of time. Dungeons have been a setting for games since the conception of games. Graphic novels and comics have been a core part of everyone’s imagination for over a century. Card games and betting has been in every culture for hundreds of years. Exploration has been man’s aspiration for millennia. These are all statements which didn’t really have any unification or link… until now – an absolute gem by the name of Deep Sky Derelicts manages to fuse the above components together and make it work!
Deep Sky Derelicts: Definitive Edition was developed by a small Finnish company known as Snowhound Games, a studio which originally started out in the mobile market with Apestorm – Full Bananas. Deep Sky Derelicts is their 2nd game which launched at the end of 2017 in Early Access on Steam, eventually making its way onto the PS4 over two years later through the publisher 1C Entertainment. 1C Entertainment is well-known with dozens of titles under their belt, such as King’s Bounty, Ancestor’s Legacy, Men of War, Fell Seal, and many more.
Deep Sky Derelicts has a relatively easy-to-follow story, yet it’s still exciting nonetheless. Life as you know it has become dystopian and the humans conform to two separate classes, the rich who live life with no worries, and the scavengers who live off scraps and whatever they manage to scrounge up. You play as a scavenger, in Space, who happens to strike it lucky by negotiating a contract with a very powerful man. Space, in its limitless boundaries, is said to be home to an ancient and fabled Alien Derelict within the Deep Sky sector, a treasure sought out by this powerful man you had spoken with. He offers you citizenship and an easy-life for you and your whole team if you manage to find this elusive Derelict.
Unfortunately, you aren’t his only concern as he has also hired others for the same purpose, leading you into a Rat Race for the Alien Derelict!
Deep Sky Derelicts is a turn-based RPG that utilises card-based combat alongside roguelike elements through its exploration of dungeons. One of my favourite games is Baten Kaitos, which is the same type of combat, so I knew how well this could work if done right – and it really does in this game! Deep Sky Derelicts is played, in the simplest terms, through a Space Hub (where you manage your team) and through a map selection (where you scavenge through different maps). Though simple to read, it’s got a complex and diverse array of mechanics that really get you hooked!
Since the Space Hub is where the game starts let’s dive into that first, shall we?!
The Space Hub is where you take off from to go on adventures, but whilst you’re at the hub you have an assortment of facilities to utilise. First of all, you have a research workshop ran by a geriatric with an alien head in a jar – as weird as he is, this is a really important facility. The research workshop is where you’ll have the core upgrades of your overall gameplay: Scanners, Energy, Crafting, Implants, and Inventory upgrades (Recommended as this games is very tight on its size). He will also offer crafting services for recipes that you have unlocked. The Hub also houses the Deep Sky Medical office which is run by what looks like Dr. Grace Augustine, just a lot less ‘Na’vi’. In the medical office, you can buy painkillers, nano-gel, and surgery, all of which are results from experiencing combat. Not to say maintaining your basic health isn’t important, but the medical bay also offers Implants, Neural Retraining, and Reconstruction which will modify your characters.
The last facility in on the 2nd floor is the Station hall which stations the Sub-Governor, the gentleman that started your quest and oversees everything; not much else to do here.
Moving to the first floor you’ll find the Lair Mercenary Hub, a bar ran by a sunken faced alien who promotes their anti-freeze drinks for a dollar – though you can’t buy it, you still shouldn’t drink it. The Bar is where you’ll receive contracts, which are basically side-missions you can attempt on your missions, and also hire mercenaries. The final facility you’ll come across is the Pawn Shop ran by a part cyborg man as he’s missing an arm – probably from a bad deal. It’s a pawn shop which everyone knows is where you can hawk the goods you find or buy ‘new’ goods for yourself.
After you’re done with the Space Hub, you’ll blast off in your 3-man ship via the Deep Sky Express (with exceptional insurance: “We’ll get you there alive or your money back!”) to different locations chosen from the Flight Details panel.
The Flight Details in Deep Sky Derelicts is how you’ll access your dungeons; it offers information on the types, level, mass, status, missions, and location data. Upon choosing a location you’ll instantly fly there and be brought to a new hub, the dungeon hub if you will. This hub doesn’t offer much, it just allows you to use your ship as a return flight home. In the dungeons, you’ll come across your side missions, traps, locked areas, enemies, scavenging points, bosses, event points, and much more. Map progress is always saved, thankfully, as you’ll make multiple trips back and forth due to energy limitations of your team. Everything in this game uses energy and you’ll need to strategise on what you want to achieve on every venture out.
While on your adventures you’ll come across many battles as it’s one of the core elements and one of my favourite parts of the game. Every battle you’ll start with a hand of cards drawn from the deck you’ve built through the items and skills you have equipped. There’s a multitude of ways to draw cards so you’ll never be at wit’s end striving in battle to stay alive. The cards you draw span across many categories: Buffs, debuffs, healing, attack, support, drawing, piercing, health attack, shield attack, AoE, among many others – it’s a very diverse deck which you can build! The way the turns are executed is unique, they don’t play out in real-time but more like stop motion, almost akin to comic books and graphic novels.
The last tidbit of information to impart on you is Deep Sky Derelicts PDA, this games’ version of the menu. You have the crew section which lets you see character overviews and manage their skill tree, an inventory where you can equip different weapons, tools, cores, and modifications, and lastly is the Mission Log which contains the main and side quests you’ve accepted and all their details. Shared among both the Crew page and the Inventory page though is your card inventory, so you can always see who has what.
Though the title of the game is ‘Deep Sky Derelicts‘, nothing about the gameplay nor execution about it can be described as ‘derelict’ as it functions very well for what it set out for. I didn’t find much to be nitpicky about whilst playing the game, aside post-game content it really was an absolute thrill to play. So let’s get right into it.
When you boot up Deep Sky Derelicts you’ll immediately be brought to a team assembly screen to form your rowdy bunch of scavengers. This screen is a prelude into the void of information that the game will throw at you, as the team assembly screen displays every last detail. It’s like an open detailed agenda to PAX, just a vast array of information staring at you in the face that makes you take a step back. You have classes: Medic, Leader, Scrapper, Miner, Inventor, Tracker, Bruiser, and the Technician, a lot of which don’t have generic RPG names so you’re unaware of what they need. You also have stats: Weaponry, Tech, Medical, Scavenging, and Mental, all of which you question to which classes are they beneficial? Character bonuses: Charismatic, Crafty, Neurotic, Skittish, and Charismatic are bonuses that tell you what they do but not which classes benefit from them.
It can certainly leave your mouth agape as in where to start but luckily, this game gives you a ‘hint’ and a ‘class details’ option! That’s what this game does well, it details EVERYTHING, leaving no stone left unturned – it’s always offering you support and aid every step of the way. Using these options, you’ll learn everything you need to know about the characteristics, skills, equipment, and all twelve abilities, which are again all furthered by more tips! Deep Sky Derelicts has a life jacket for the deep sea of knowledge it could potentially flood and overwhelm you with, which I kept handily within reach.
When starting the game out, except for the recipes and skills which are things you’ll earn as you play, almost everything is accessible at the beginning. It’s slightly overwhelming, giving that this is a dungeon-crawling loot game, and there’s a lot of mechanics which you need to become accustomed to. You won’t be sure where to start, will you invest in upgrades, implants, retraining, or the other vast selection of options among the facilities? However, this situation is thankfully assuaged because this game never feels like it’s rushing you; you don’t have paragraphs of story, delve into dungeons that you won’t return for prolonged periods of time, timed events, etc – you can take your time and really learn the systems and what they do, especially since money gained in the beginning is tediously slow.
That’s another thing which Deep Sky Derelicts does really well, it makes you incredibly aware of progression. Instead of finishing a slew of quests and slaying hundreds of baddies, you’ll complete 10% of a map then come back and make a handful of change, then you’ll discover another 9% but luckily scavenge a few modifications, then return and do it all over again. Unfortunately, I must emphasise on the ‘luckily scavenge’ part as a lot of the items you come across are most often stuff to sell and not often upgrades to use, so be prepared for leaving a lot of stuff behind if you don’t have room.
Also, each dungeon is not possible to complete in a single run, so you get an incredible sense of perseverance and gratification that you’re actually achieving something. Originally what I felt was a limitation was the energy cost of everything that drained you, frequently finding myself returning to the hub quite often only to find that this limitation is what allowed me to strive for that ‘just a little more’ feeling. I always felt like I could push my luck a little more.
Deep Sky Derelicts handles the energy usage in such a way that it appeals to every gamer type out there: cautious, gamblers, speedrunners, casuals, they have a way for them all! You’ll have a default limit of 1000 points of energy; with the usual drain being 10 EP per square moved. This ‘usual’ is quite variable as you have different ways of moving: stealth, normal, and rushing. Each of these movements alters the way you progress in dungeons. You’ll also use energy by scanning squares or rooms along with waiting, there isn’t much that doesn’t require energy use tbh!
However, there are a number of ways to refill energy: at the Space Hub, Energy Cells, Transmuting items into energy, etc. So, you can save energy by rushing dungeons and drawing lots of energy at energy preservations, burn through it being stealthy and destroying all your items to fuel yourself, or mix it up and alternate playstyles as you see fit. The freedom of how you define your dungeon experience is very well executed here.
I found Deep Sky Derelicts‘ biggest execution to be its combat. Considering it’s a turn-based card battling RPG, it’s a prevalent feature of the game. You’ll start combat with the usual four cards and will maintain a steady supply of three cards, drawing more after using some up. Unfortunately, card draws are luck-based, there’s no way around that.
What Deep Sky Derelicts does though is it heavily leans skill in your favour and removes the RNG reliance – which I was thrilled with. Whenever you have a hand that is not in your favour, you have a few ways to turn the battle around. There’s a boosting feature where you can sacrifice 100 energy and draw extra cards – which is great, but costly. There’s also a less strategical approach which is energy-friendly, but not too offensively powerful – although it’s great if you have a bad hand and a close-to-dead enemy – improvisation, a 15 energy tactic that pulls out three environmental cards to play immediately.
You’ll often find yourself relying on these tactics because, at times, you can find yourself in one of a number of unfortunate scenarios. For example, there aren’t many ways to resist fear, so you’ll want to not have a full team of fearful members – this could lead to be stun-locked or be on the receiving end of an unlucky critical, an attack that has a chance of one-shotting a member of your team. Due to this, it can sometimes feel like the scaling of difficulty can be off due to some of the intense and tricky battles you’ll come across.
The non-card elements of battle include what you’ll be facing in terms of enemies and the mechanics. You’ll face enemies with shields, no shields, robots, biological, and many more. All these enemy types play into the strategy of what you’ll play, enemies without shields, for example, make poor electricity targets, and robots can resist biological attacks – there’s a lot of pros and cons to each enemy type to take into consideration. Another key importance of battle is the initiative, a stat that determines the battle order – the higher it is, the position you go – I heavily favoured using cards that reduced enemy initiative, allowing me to have multiple turns in a row and steamroll the enemy. Be aware though, some battles can last upwards of 50-turns or more, making a drawn-out, but exhilarating battle!
On the note of exhilarating, some people may be wary of the way battles are handled in terms of the execution. Whenever you decide on a card, the battle ensues in a replication of a comic book panel, if you will. I think in favour of the game’s graphics, the choice to do the delivery of battle in this manner fits extremely well and was the right call. I also came to witness that the panel display format showed me something I missed in real-time games; when I play graphic games and an enemy dies or is dying, for the most part, you’ll see a second or two of your violence ensue, but with Deep Sky Derelicts, the choice of panelled combat allows you to have a still frame of that violence, burning the image of violence into your retinas. I personally enjoyed the biological enemies the most, their demise allowed me to satisfyingly stare into the exploded remains.
Interestingly, what determines your cards in battle is how you prepare your team beforehand. Different classes have different skill trees and specialisations that determine what they have alongside their equipment usage. The game is very friendly to beginners because you can go to the mercenary bar and exchange teammates and classes at will, allowing you to test all classes and get a feel for what style of combat you enjoy.
The skill trees reward cards and skills; Leaders get cards, like Inspire, Lead by Example, and Demoralise. Medics get Adrenaline Boosters, Cleansing Buffers, and Immunity. Bruisers have Provoking Strike, Defensive Stances, and Ground Slams. As you can see, every class has cards related to their speciality, this also applies to their equipment. Leaders have Ranged Weapons and Energy Blades, which come with weapon-specific cards, as well as other weapons, tools, and cores (Medical Tools, Shield Cores, Heavy Melee, Weapon Tools, Tech Tools, Power Gloves, etc.). There is no shortage of customisation or what seems to be a near limitless level of deckbuilding choices.
The real fun though comes from the modifications, these are equipable items slotted into your equipment that aren’t bound to items when embedded, as in other games, furthering the level of customisation and freedom you have – did I mention even the modifications come with cards too?! However, hundreds of cards don’t necessarily acquaint to something magical as you can’t remove or modify which singular cards you’ll use, for the most part. Cards almost always come bundled with your equipment and sometimes they won’t fit your playstyle, meaning you’ll be drawing cards you don’t like or need, thus ignoring them as they pile up in your hand relying on you to either sacrifice energy to get new cards or play them and waste a turn.
On top of the already substantial amount of customisation in Deep Sky Derelicts is the way you can alter characters themselves. Implanting your characters gives you bonuses such as Melee Damage %, Evasion %, +5 Stat bonuses, Damage resistance, Critical rates, initiative, Stun resistance, etc. If you ever feel like you chose the wrong speciality or skills, there’s the typical stat reallocation too. Research facilities allow you to increase your scanners: range, details, duration, and passivity. Your energy can upgrade its reserves, cost reduction, and restoration. Among many other adjustments the researcher also has to offer, though the crafting is the only thing without its freedom from the get-go as you’ll need to find a relevant item and disassemble it in order to unlock certain categories of items to be crafted – sometimes leading to luck-based scavenging hunts for resources you need.
The customisation begins to slow down as you approach the end-game; you’ll hit the level cap before you’ve completed the game, you’ll have topped out the skill tree, bought all your upgrades and implants, etc. On one hand, it allows you to go into end game content feeling powerful and prepared, but on the flip side, I feel as though you peaked a bit too early, leaving the progression and customisation in final areas a little short.
The last feature to discuss in Deep Sky Derelicts is the dungeon exploration. I had already covered the energy usage, so I’ll leave it at how dungeons are explored. There is no first, second, or third-person view. Exploration and movement are done through a map system, akin to a tabletop board game – like you’re running a Dungeons & Dragon tiled map if you will. You’ll need to learn and remember what each legend is on the map so you can get acquainted with what you’re looking for, and what to be aware of, but that’s easy to do as like previously stated, the game holds your hand and teaches you everything – which is very welcomed.
The dungeons also come with different landing pads allowing you to enter it at different points, which you will come to be thankful for as dungeons in the late game can be monstrous in size and it’s a lot of work to 100% map-out those. You also have an in-game codex that explains everything very in-depth, which you’ll refer to a lot as there really isn’t much in the way of hands-on tutorials in this game. The codex covers every general, combat, and glossary piece of information within the game leaving you with no questions unanswered.
Besides the features to talk about, there is a nitpicky issue that I had. Being a looting game, much like Diablo, Borderlands, Baldur’s Gate, or really any dungeon-esque game, you’re most likely accustomed to post-game content: dungeons, bosses, maps, new game+ with changes, etc. Deep Sky Derelicts does not deliver in this department. You won’t come across a procedurally generated dungeon, play NG+ with harder and more resistant enemies, the chance to test your skills on raid-like bosses post-game, etc. Although within the PS4 version, being the ‘Definitive Edition’, it does come with two DLC’s which helps fill the void left by lack of end-game content, but I still would’ve enjoyed dungeons like the Post-Game Portals of something like Diablo III that you can continuously play limitless in.
I went into Deep Sky Derelicts with the knowledge of it being the company’s second title, I was expecting a cookie-cutter dungeon looter within a saturated market populated by the likes of Torchlight, Diablo, Borderlands, and many other more well-known franchises. However, Deep Sky Derelicts goes toe-to-toe with the AAA games within this genre, it offered deep levels of customisation, deck building, an interesting dungeon exploration method, and a vast array of freedom, just falling a tad bit short with some polishing needed and more end-game content. That being said, Deep Sky Derelicts will be a title I will not forget about, but a game I hold others in comparison to, despite the minor gripes I had with it.