Deep Sky Derelicts: New Prospects – Floating In Space
On first look, Deep Sky Derelicts appears to be a card-based RPG in the vein of Firefly’s spacefaring mercenary stylings. There’s a bit of tabletop-inspired customisation, plenty of exploration to do, and a myriad of equipment to delve into while fighting all sorts of intergalactic foes. However, despite a perfectly adequate offering of content, Deep Sky Derelicts never reaches the addictive highs conquered by fellow card-based battler Slay the Spire. This being said, I would argue these two games are for two slightly different audiences, much in the same way that tabletop juggernauts Dungeons & Dragons versus Pathfinder are favoured by different crowds.
As is standard in many modern RPGs, Deep Sky Derelicts’ campaign is playable in either a default normal difficulty replete with limitless saves or the one-save hardcore mode. Beyond your preference for sadism, you begin by customising a three-person crew of bounty hunters, from choosing each character’s class, down to their name. How much the latter means is up to you; the creative sorts will likely be able to self-insert their own characters and subplots in the absence of any memorable story from the game.
More importantly, much of your time campaigning in the derelicts of space will be spent navigating tile-based maps hampered by the limited map data available on your PDA (people still use those things???). Armed with the gear on your back and a limited supply of energy, exploring in search of ancient artifacts and contracted bounties is a treacherous endeavour. To better navigate the unknown, scanning uses a chunk of energy to illuminate several tiles’ worth of rooms, revealing item stashes, NPCs and potential threats. Each movement also uses energy, meaning Deep Sky Derelicts also requires elements of resource management to succeed. Fortunately, for those like myself who loathe excessive reliance on resource management, energy is reasonably easy to maintain. In fact, the only times I encountered energy problems were self-inflicted issues; not stocking energy-replenishing consumables, or taking too many risks before returning to the safety of the home station will be your undoing here.
Combat is arguably the most interesting aspect of Deep Sky Derelicts, where Slay the Spire fans will feel right at home. Depending on each character’s loadout, different types of cards will create a deck to be drawn from each turn. As etched in the stone tablets of RPG lore, the turn-based combat is dictated by whoever has the highest initiative stat – unless you used more energy in exploration mode to stealthily ambush the enemy. Once combat begins, the action flows smoothly without too many surprises along the way. My team was packed with a heavy melee-favouring bruiser unit, a leader who balanced damage and buffs, and a medic who dished out shield replenishments and debuffs aplenty. Although other builds could be different, I found that combat quickly became a routine of buffing my team to play multiple cards per turn with stat bonuses, and then disrupting enemies’ shields and attacks. What felt lacking was a satisfying amount of variety – most fights blended into one and felt like more of a minor inconvenience than a chance for a surprising encounter.
Additionally, the sub-quests don’t yield anything in the way of engaging stories, highlighted by one tone-deaf attempt at criticising bureaucracy. This particular sub-quest sees you chasing an individual who is avoiding officials due to not completing their paperwork. Ultimately, you discover they would rather harm themselves than be subjected to seemingly endless paperwork. The unfocused, glib writing almost makes it sound like the punchline is the vulnerable people affected by bureaucracy, as opposed to the actual problematic bureaucratic systems at play. Poor treatment of welfare recipients is a continuing topic of national debate in Australia, so what Deep Sky Derelicts attempts to convey is somewhat true. However, the fact that the intention of this sub-quest is confusingly unclear reflects the rough writing on display. Beyond this example, I honestly cannot recall any story beats of note – a bummer considering a solid narrative can elevate an otherwise unspectacular RPG.
While Deep Sky Derelicts’ various components of combat, exploration and role-playing elements combine capably, new players may be daunted by the obfuscated instructions. Where many modern games instruct through well-timed pop-ups and contextual cues, Deep Sky Derelicts trusts you’ll know what to do from the get-go. Strangely, there’s a solid codex packed with explanations for each gameplay element, but it’s buried slightly within the menus. Annoyingly, when engaging in my first combat encounter, I had to wade through the codex to figure out how to proceed, slowing the game down. Conversely, Deep Sky Derelicts is not a super-complicated game, and the opening encounters are generous in their difficulty – it’s just that the introduction could be sped up with more effective, interactive tutorials. On a similar note, the mission log where your quests are stored isn’t entirely clear in its directions. For example, a couple of quests I wanted to turn in listed an outpost as the destination but made no mention of which derelict system the outpost was located on. These issues aren’t monstrous, but add up to cause enough compounding annoyances to warrant a mention.
All things considered, Deep Sky Derelicts is a perfectly serviceable card-based RPG. However, those looking for another Slay the Spire phenomenon may be disappointed. Derelicts is slower and the overall loop isn’t as instantly satisfying. This said, there is sure to be appeal based on its grimy, comic book sci-fi style, with some tabletop RPG elements thrown in for good measure. It does many things capably but lacks the high level of polish and one-more-try factor others in the genre possess.