To some extent, “early access game” is increasingly a school of design as well as a state of development. Let’s play bingo:
“story to be added later”
This seems especially likely if you can marry it with a theme that hasn’t quite been done yet. Everspace pins the formula to space-set dogfighting, ditching the trading that is the traditional space sim route to bigger and better tech in favour of unlocking permanent upgrades with any earnings accrued before death.
Right now, the only structure to speak of is “kill things! Make money! Grow stronger!” and, though more expansive goals and a campaign are promised further down the line, this tried and tested hamster wheel of self-betterment is almost certainly enough to pull a crowd.
Everspace is pretty. Let’s get out there. It looks slightly like Elite Dangerous, but lobs in more in the way of derelict outposts with a vaguely gothic vibe, and more importantly you’re all but guaranteed to run into a pack of angry space-bandits in any new spot of space you jump to. This is a straight-up action game with arcadeish dogfighting, set within starfields that we’ve come to think of as relatively placid, and as such it will be something of a panacea for anyone who finds modern space sims too glacial.
As much as I’m digging this, I’d like something in the middle, which hopefully this might become in time, once the promised campaign mode is added. With Everspace I can get my space-age kicks in an instant, which I appreciate, but being immediately set upon by drones and pilots every time I jump to a new sector gets a bit gruelling.
There isn’t much opportunity to take a new place in before my focus shifts entirely to where my reticule’s pointing, and then once the dance is danced, my interest is in hoovering up the debris and blowing up floating containers or special asteroids in the hope of loot.
OK, I want to mention No Man’s Sky here. I steer clear of doing so, because as we’ve already disclosed all over the place I did a spot of writing for it so it wouldn’t be appropriate to share opinions. So please skip the next couple of paragraphs if you’re at all uncomfortable, but all I want to do is make a point of comparison. One of the major hooks in NMS is upgrading your suit and ship, which by and large involves amassing resources via exploration. Everspace is doing something quite similar, but the key difference is that it that it sticks it within a roguelikelikerepeatasnecessary framework. This is about how much you can amass before death, which effectively works as cashing out.
Die with just a few credits in hand and you won’t be able to afford any cool, game-wide upgrades from the post-death tech tree. Die after a long and fruitful session and you’ll be able to do some pretty tasty stuff to your ship’s durability, shields, weapons, sensors or assorted other systems. This creates an innate tension, where NMS by contrast has ambience. You want to stay alive because you want to be able to buy more things. Getting set upon by a horde of bad’uns isn’t just an irritation, it potentially means this whole life has come to nought. Deathspacerace. What I’m saying is, if you felt NMS didn’t have enough structure for your tastes, Everspace has a very evident and even motivating structure, an inbuilt sense of drama even if it is an artificial and very Videogames one.
What it doesn’t have is much else, at least not yet. In this early access form, there is a loose FTL structure, in terms of leaping forwards through the galaxy, moving on from one small rocks’n’freighters area to another once you’ve exhausted it of enemies and resources. Really though, it’s just about how long you can last before death, and then how many goodies you can afford afterwards.
You can pick up and upgrade weapons and a few other bits and bobs such as scanners and mines during the course of one play session, and there’s some tension around what you keep and what you scrap given limited item slots, but this stuff’s all lost on a reset. So don’t stress it and just enjoy yourself. There’s plenty of cause to: the asteroid fields are beautiful, the small outposts look ever so slightly 40K, and the fast, Freelancer-ish dogfighting’s a giggle even if you are, right now, seeing the same handful of stuff repeatedly.
That stuff’ll increase in variety as Early Access proceeds. Right now, what there is of Everspace feels highly polished, but only really like the opening act of something ultimately bigger. It’s got at least a chance of becoming the pop, whizzy, muck-about singleplayer space-battler that Elite Dangerous resolutely was not, and that Star Citizen might be too elaborate to pull off, but with no trading or what I’ll nebulously call ‘discovery’ it also risks wearing thin too soon.
Oh, and it desperately needs to spend some of its Steam-top-10 cash on re-recording its pilot dialogue, which right now sounds disconcertingly like Zap Brannigan would if no-one got the memo that it was all a joke.
Everspace is a good time though, in its slightly simple, grindy way, and I reckon I’ll be popping back in over the months to see how it’s coming along. Presuming I can remember its name, anyway. I do keep confusing it with Canadian rock bands or air fresheners.