Impressions: VoidExpanse

By Ben Barrett on April 9th, 2014 at 3:00 pm.

VoidExpanse strikes me somewhat as an inevitability. The years of Eve coupled with Elite and Star Citizen’s stratospheric success means a lower budget, retro-styled take on the same idea was viable. Its isometric viewpoint sets it apart from those peers, as does its extremely unpolished, early access state. As with any member of the space trading, exploring, bang-banging massive, the promise of the final game is an incredibly enticing one. The difficulty is seeing through the crashes, balance issues and unfinished mechanics to judge its core worth. VoidExpanse made that especially challenging, but there’s hope.

It’s a simple start – choose a class and pick from a selection of customisation options, then I’m dumped rather unceremoniously next to a space station. Inside is a surprisingly helpful man, explaining the universe and providing the first bit of direction towards upgrading my ship. The history of the star systems will be somewhat reminiscent to players of a certain MMO, with tales of closed warp gates to Earth and stuck soldiers/colonists splintering into factions. Here it’s thanks to the “Xengatarn”, a hostile race of aliens that I can only assume hate us so much they went back in time and created their own name to be so unspellable. This narrative frame is reasonably generic, pretty forgettable and overall unimportant – the barest hint of a background is all that’s really required to push the action forward. It needs cleaning up in the pure quality of writing department, with a lot of poor grammar and spelling, but it’s an easily fixed problem.

After the too-lengthy opening conversation, the variable-size galaxy is almost totally open. There’s a mission telling you to pick up a new ship that’s probably advisable, but it’s equally possible to jet off into the sun(set) and gather resources through killing pirates and selling goods. What’s interesting is the opening balance, which stacks odds against you rather heavily. At first I thought it was a mistake that needed the starting enemies nerfing, or providing better weapons to a new player. On second thought, I think it might be a mistake of poor signposting and explanation.

You see, VoidExpanse’s combat system is both surprisingly deep and the best thing about the game. It’s not especially complicated from a description point of view – it uses believable, though definitely not simulated, physics on a no-gravity plane. Engines are pointed in four directions, giving access to strafing and turning on top of forward and back. Where the skill comes in is the lack of target locking, and guns having limited fields of fire, so fast movement is good for dodging damage but leads to more misses. This can be mitigated: learning the cooldowns of weapons and speeds of ships, predicting where enemies will be better. It’s not only more complicated than it sounds, it’s also a lot of fun. There’s enough variety in types and sub-types of weapon that each fight feels different, plus the feedback from firing and destroying enemies makes both pleasurable.

So, in a fairly matched fight, like those at the start of the game in its current state, the combat engine is at its best. Even later on, charging headlong into a pack of ships isn’t going to serve you well. The natural assumption that the player is the biggest badass around is still the most prevalent, so I think more could be done to make it clear this is not the case. However, what’s more problematic is the repetitive play created by the systems in place to support this early game. Once a ship or two have been fought off, repairs will be necessary, meaning a trip to the nearest station (and some menu navigation) or the use of a consumable. Critically, this is not as much fun as continuing to adventure through space and puts a real hold on the action, which should be the focus of the game.

The reason for that is the lack of anything else of note. As well handled as it is, the combat is the only fully implemented system in the game. There’s a quest-line of sorts, but it’s rudimentary at best and mostly a series of dull fetch and kill quests. Side missions are no better, as akin to Eve’s uninvolved, uninteresting, grindy PvE content as the plot. There’s a rudimentary system for mining asteroids, which is a comfortably calm counter-point and a good way to farm both experience (which feeds a by-the-numbers levelling system) and money, but will bore (You’re fired – Ed) quickly. Perhaps what’s worse is a lack of things that build on the enjoyable parts of the game – you can come across multiple ships attacking travelling merchants, but there’s no decision to be made. The pirates will still be hostile to you if you destroy the merchant, who won’t help or reward you in any way for your services should you assist him. The knock-on effect of this is that stopping to conduct combat feels like a waste of time when passing through a system, since top speeds will take you past enemies easily.

More over, there are still some fundamental problems with the very basic, operational levels of the game. There were multiple occasions where saved games simply wouldn’t load, or errors prevented me from doing anything without a restart, and some that stopped the file functioning at all. A patch fixed a few utterly unrecoverable bugs, but I’ve still encountered systems that refused to load or meaningless error messages solved only by quitting. It’s an early access game, yes, but what you’re willing to put up with may vary, and I put regular game-breakers a little past that. That mentioned patch was within the first few days of availability, which is promising, and the developers are quite active over on their forums.

So what we have at the moment is a playable, fun – if basic – space blaster. Hopefully you can tell that it’s gorgeous too, something that will be a big note in its favour once it’s a little deeper. In a half year, a year, three it could be something properly impressive, once the faction combat, trading and crafting is implemented and balanced. Even just more players so that the multiplayer side of the game is more active would be a big improvement. Given the meagre $10 entry price, it’s possible the basic exploration and character development available will be interesting enough to support development, in the hopes of something better to come. For me, I’ll be checking back in coming months to see how the game has grown and if it’s more worthy of significant time investment. Of course, by then, it’ll have stiff competition from the Kickstarter all-stars.

You can grab VoidExpanse now for $10.

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31 Comments »

  1. realitysconcierge says:

    What I want is one of these space games with the progression system found in Terraria. It was just super addicting for me and I want more!

    • SuicideKing says:

      What I’ve wanted for almost 10 years now is FreeSpace 3. :’(

      (though Blue Planet has become the spiritual successor to FS2 in many ways)

      • Kentauroi says:

        BP is pretty much everything I’d hoped for from an eventual FS3, so here’s hoping the series gets finished in my lifetime.

        On the plus side voice acting for War in Heaven R1 seems to be almost done so there’s another reason for me to replay the mod.

        • SuicideKing says:

          It is? I’d love to replay that. I’m somewhere in Act II but my system refuses to push beyond 10 FPS so I haven’t continued in a while. Which reminds me, have you read this?:
          http://clarkesworldmagazine.com/dickinson_03_14/

          p.s. I like your name. :D

          • Kentauroi says:

            Yeah I lurk around the forums from time to time and saw a post about that, made the fanboy in me very happy. Shame about not being able to finish act 2. I was amazed by what they were able to pull off in terms of mission design in the FSO engine.

            And you’ve got a pretty good name yourself Lt Commander Cordova. Interceptors are what all the cool people fly!

          • SuicideKing says:

            Their mission design and story is really, really good! I love what they’ve done. Probably upgrade my CPU in summer (haha, played the original first on a Pentium II), then resume.

            I’ve been lurking a long time too, hope I’ll contribute to the SCP in some way once my coding skills are a bit better and I actually have time to read through all of the source. Should even volunteer for voice acting for Act II.

            Interceptors have always been my preference, though I must say, after handling those Ubuntu fighters, nothing compared from the Alliance. :D

    • Loyal_Viggo says:

      I vant… I vant… I vant… a Viscount!

      • Antsy says:

        That’s a bit long in the tooth!

        • Loyal_Viggo says:

          Only if you don’t remember the commercial on tv in the UK during the 90′s… and if you do, well then you’d vant a viscount too.

          • Antsy says:

            I do remember it. It was a vampire. Long in the tooth, old…I really need to explain this? -_-

            Except it wasn’t. Curse my faulty memory. It’s me that’s long in the tooth :(

          • Loyal_Viggo says:

            @Antsy next you’ll be telling me you don’t remember the 80′s/90′s Ferrero Roche adverts, at which point our friendship is over…

            Until we meet at the next ambassadorial reception at least.

          • Antsy says:

            Haha fear not! Nothing so horrendous could be so easily forgotten. They really were spoiling us.

          • Loyal_Viggo says:

            Excellente!

    • zafnel says:

      Starbound is the closest thing that comes to mind (terraria with planet travelling, sci-fi setting)

      Space combat is a planned feature!

  2. zdeno84 says:

    can’t help myself, but as I play Drox Operative atm this looks like its twin (screenshots wise).
    Would anyone who played both games care to sum the differences and why should I pick Void if I am having fun with Drox? thanks

  3. Premium User Badge

    amateurviking says:

    Just who is Ed anyway? He seems to be a bit of a curmudgeon.

  4. Nemrod says:

    Mmmhm for people who’d like something a bit more dynamic (gameplay-wise) or more like EV:Nova there is another contender in the recent surge of spacey games

    http://alcyon-infinity.com/

    (Disclaimer: I’m part of the dev team)

    • poetfoxpaul says:

      Your mention of EV:Nova intrigues me, maybe you could describe how that game has influenced you?

      EV:Nova was amazing as a child, and if I could ever find a proper spiritual successor than I would be ecstatic.

      • Nemrod says:

        Well I’d say that:
        - EV: Nova plays well but has depth without complexity (the combat is pretty straightforward but you can drastically updgrade your ship if you know where to find the good parts)

        - the Universe was really immersive (no big baddy, all factions had their life going on without the others)

        - the writing, like that mission when you had to kidnap the mayor of Port Kane for the Bureau! I’ll never forget that…

        In short we try to get most of the features of EV:Nova, add some modern gameplay to the shooty-bits, and on top of that a mission system that is more free (a bit like Han Solo simulator, your passengers can give you missions and you can let the princess die).

        Plus an easy way to mod stuff, create new universes and stories and in the future share them with the community.
        (I guess my foolish hope is that someone makes a good Star Wars total conversion XD)

    • zdeno84 says:

      looks interesting. Planned release date? See latest update is from June 2013 (media section of the site)

    • Bulrathi says:

      I’m looking forward to it! I was going to ask if there was a demo, but saw on your site that there will be one in September. Make sure to make RPS cover you when it comes out!

      • Nemrod says:

        We are working hard to get a good demo/proto that’ll be shared with the public and RPS (hopefully they’ll want to make a preview), maybe in two or three weeks time (with the current surge of competition we are working our ass off XD)

  5. TheBuff1 says:

    What I keep pining for is a modern remake of Operation Inner Space which was played out across your hard drive using directories as game locations.

    Maybe I should just track down my original copy…..

    • wraithgr says:

      You mean I wasn’t the only one who spent hours and hours on that game, collecting icons, upgrading my ship with the four powers and finally beating my inner demon to fly triumphantly out of the screen?

      Man, playing through a session now would be both amazing and impossible though…

  6. Razumen says:

    I wish for a 2D space game with Gimbal’s level of customizability and physics based combat. That would be glorious.

  7. squareking says:

    While we’re dropping names, I’d like to point out that Starsector (previously Starfarer) is coming along nicely and has a fantastic mod community to boot. It’s 2D Mechwarrior in space, it’s pretty, and it’s amazing.

  8. Bulrathi says:

    How does it compare to Escape Velocity? That’s the real question. Surely RPS staffers have played EV…. right?

    • Nemrod says:

      Everyone needs to play Escape Velocity once, not doing so is worse than eating kitties!

  9. iamgenestarwind says:

    i really want to buy this game but i dont use paypal noir do i want to that thing is a piece of shit any one know of another way i could buy it

  10. TrySpace says:

    This last screenshot, it reminds me of an old game. I can’t put my finger on it.. The spaceship style, the red laser… Someone help me!