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Everspace 2 review: noughties but nice

Looting at lightspeed

Flying towards a planet that's had a huge hole carved in its side, exposing the molten core, huge chunks of planet floating in space, in a screen from Everspace 2
Image credit: Rockfish/RockPaperShotgun

Everspace 2 is an arcade space shooter with an action-RPG style loot system and a distinctly early 2000s vibe, set entirely within a false memory of a Saturday morning cartoon that never existed, and featuring some obscenely shiny spaceships.

I don’t claim to understand whether this has something to do with “ray-tracing” or some manner of “screen space occlusion” or what have you – Digital Foundry, I am available for work – all I know is that there’s an option to crank up the gloss until you’re pretty much zooming around the galaxy in a big angry disco ball.

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The first Everspace game was a roguelike in which you played the successive clones of an ace pilot, dying over and over again in horrific laser explosions and splatting into asteroids at lightspeeds, only to be denied the release of death to wake up again in a fresh new body, all wet and nude and slithering out of a birthing pod like a dropped ham.

This time around, you’re the last clone left in the box. The orange creme at the bottom of a tin of Quality Street. You’ve got one more life left in you, but because of save games and checkpoints, and the fact that Everspace 2 does not simply uninstall itself when you die, the stakes aren’t as severe as the move away from the roguelike genre might suggest.

Anyway, roguelikes are old news. Everspace 2 is now a compelling action-RPG, with loot and builds and spells. Destroy an enemy ship and it will send collectible debris flying everywhere. Most of it is dull and common, which your brain will regard with complete, chemical indifference. Some of it is shiny and uncommon, which sets the first few overly-keen dopamine receptors going, like a guy in the audience who accidentally starts clapping before the song’s finished. And some of it is rare, the good stuff, which feels like sticking a finger inside your head to scratch an itch on the inside of your skull.

Flying through a city-planet in Everspace 2

The churn of collecting slightly better weapons and armour is well-tuned. Your ship has enough slots for plating, boosters, primary and secondary weapons, and expandable cargo modules, that you rarely go more than a handful of encounters before finding something that feels like a rewarding upgrade. There’s more Diablo DNA in here than anything else, with space weapons falling into a handful of basic types, the properties of which get tossed around by a random number generator to spit out something unique.

Enemy ships can have a mixture of kinetic armour and energy-based shields, and weapons tend to be proficient at breaking through one type more than the other, so to stay effective you’ll be swapping between your guns mid-fight to suit whichever flavour of health bar you’re currently trying to whittle down. Yes, it’s basically elemental damage, transposed into space fiction.

Similarly, ships behave like RPG classes, each with their own special and passive abilities. One ship type is essentially a necromancer, and can turn defeated wrecks into friendly combat drones who’ll follow you around, shooting at anything they don’t like the look of. Another, the Scout, deals bonus damage depending on how far you are from your target, and can turn invisible to backstab unsuspecting ships.

Zooming along a rocky planet surface in Everspace 2
Shooting an enemy ship into a cloud of space dust in Everspace 2

If it weren’t for all the laser beams and orbital casinos, you might forget you were in space at all. When Everspace 2 sticks too closely to the genre’s tried-and-tested norms it can feel generic and unimaginative. There’s a crafting system, for converting junk weapons and items into loot with a guaranteed minimum level, which is precisely the same seen in most other modern action RPGs. It’s a perfectly fine solution to the problem of having too much unusable rubbish in your inventory, but surely it’s not the only one.

You can find special items that teleport you to one-off encounters with high-level enemies for rare loot, which as a system works just fine, I can’t fault it, but is so achingly familiar that it only serves as a grim reminder that we have a limited time on this earth, and that pushing a button in hopes of getting a treat is a special form of punishment we reserve solely for action-RPG fans and the most unfortunate rodents.

So it’s a good thing that loot isn’t the only thing holding Everspace 2 together. Once you’ve got a ship you like, painted it in your favourite colours, bolted on some fun new wings and made it so reflective you can barely even tell it’s there, you’re free to explore the galaxy and blow stuff up. The game is technically playable with a gamepad, but is designed around precise mouse-aiming. Your reticle has a satisfying degree of freedom to point all around the screen before your ship starts to keel back towards it, letting you lead your targets while you strafe from side-to-side, dodging missiles and flicking the Vs to Newtonian physics.

It feels about as 90s as mad cow disease and Pogs.

There’s a pleasingly retro vibe to how Everspace 2 handles. It feels about as 90s as mad cow disease and Pogs. There’s an entertainingly melodramatic plot and a cast of intensely irritating characters. The old-school feel extends to how the open world works too. This isn’t a seamless universe with smooth transitions between planets and space. Instead, locations are essentially levels, bounded zones that you warp into and out of with very brief loading screens between.

The loading gaps are a little jarring for minds spoiled by No Man’s Sky, but it does mean that Everspace 2 gets hand-built locations, just like mama used to make. There are moody ship graveyards, sun-baked canyons, maze-like caverns, an unfortunate planet that’s had a hemisphere blown right out of it. The game looks consistently spectacular, whether as a backdrop to the snappy dogfighting, or when just pootling around in search of resources to upgrade your ship.

Cruising in a spaceship towards an asteroid belt in Everspace 2

While there’s plenty to do, Everspace 2 suggests a larger and more complex world than actually exists, and you soon brush up against its edges. It’s not long before mission objectives are recycled. There’s a supply and demand system for goods, but trading is so underdeveloped that it’s pointless to bother. It would have been great to have some role playing aspects taking place outside of your ship, maybe a few branching dialogue options, anything that would lessen the sense that your arse has been permanently fused into the pilot seat.

Approach Everspace 2 like a single-player arcade space shooter with a 30 hour shelf life, rather than a Loot-Spewing Space Diablo you will play forever, and it’s enormously entertaining stuff. It’s like playing Freelancer for the first time again, or Colony Wars: Red Sun on a chipped PlayStation with the lid propped open.

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