Review: Deep Sky Derelicts

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Review copy provided by publisher

The beauty of turn-based tactics is that with a little creativity, you can cram just about any concept into the framework. We’ve done it all one turn at a time, from battling back eldritch horrors in Darkest Dungeon to befriending sheep in Renowned Explorers. Deep Sky Derelicts carves out a place for itself in this diverse selection by taking familiar systems and remixing them into something new and exciting, familiar yet engaging to explore. And as long as you understand the scope of what you’re getting, it’ll be easy to lose dozens upon dozens of hours to this off-beat adventure.

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The sub-governor of your backwater sector of space is out to find the Mothership, an ancient alien derelict rumored to contain an incredible cache of technology. The only problem is that it’s lost in a veritable sea of crumbling derelicts churning through the inky cosmos. That’s why he’s turned to you, leader of a scrappy band of scavengers, to track it down. Abandoned vessels in the alien fleet are sure to have the coordinates of the Mothership, or at least coordinates on ships likely to have them, so your job will be to leapfrog from derelict to derelict in search of your prize. The bizarre denizens of these drifting hulks aren’t going to make that easy, though, and you’ll have to trade more than just blows to get past some of the more esoteric challenges in your way.

Many allusions to Darkest Dungeon have been made when discussing Deep Sky Derelicts, but that reference is only going to get you halfway to what this game really is. You have a team of three scavengers whose class, appearance, and details can be chosen from the start, which you’ll take into each derelict you find. Between missions you can ready up at the station plaza, whether it be trading for gear, restoring health, taking on missions, unlocking new utility skills, or hiring new scavs to swap into your three-man team. Once you depart, you’ll find yourself on a grid map representing the many, many chambers of the derelict you’re exploring.

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Much of the strategy here is in navigating the wrecks intelligently, because you’re always on an energy budget. Energy is used for everything while on missions, from moving to scanning surroundings to taking actions in combat to choosing dialog options. You’ve got a healthy reserve but wasted actions or long battles can drain it dry, forcing you back to the station to pay for refills or consuming power cells found or bought. You can freely leave and return to the derelict from landing areas on the map, but make sure you punch out before your energy runs dry or your team will start suffocating without power for their life support.

You’ll find all kinds of encounters as you explore, hostile and passive alike. There’s a surprising amount of dialog with NPCs you meet, covering a bewildering range of topics and often veering off into barely-comprehensible nonsense. There’s a fairly strong RPG bent to missions and NPCs which includes choosing dialog options for the best outcomes, a necessary task because money and gear will be in short supply early on. You’ll have plenty of chances to scavenge junk from the ships though, and battles award healthy lots of items which can be sold to bankroll your operations.

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Combat is the other big part of the game, and this might be where the designs shine the brightest. This is of course a turn-based affair, with your team lined up against the enemy squad and waiting patiently for their chance to act. Your actions, however, come in the form of cards found on the items you equip and the skills you unlock as you level up. That means when you’re outfitting your scavengers with weapons, shields, tools, and mods, you need to be considering the cards attached to those items and not just their stats. All gear is randomly-generated as well, so there’s a huge amount of variance even between the same kinds of weapons like shotguns or hammers.

This opens the game up to an incredible number of character concepts and builds, at least once you get a grip on the combat system. Beware starting off with a random team, because on my first attempt the game stuck me with one that was so support-heavy that I couldn’t kill anything. Make your first team out of damage-dealers and then start digging into the many, many kinds of damage and status effects you can use to annihilate your foes. You can blast enemies with acid to erode their armor, mark them and crush them with sniper weapons that gain focus off of other attacks, use mental attacks to ridicule enemies into submission, set traps that make foes easy pickings, burn them, freeze them, irradiate them, bleed them, or instantly kill them with clever combos that reduce their resistance to death.

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Between the wealth of options and the wealth of loot you get from battles, I’ve been positively enamored with remaking my team over and over to try out different tactics. There are so many considerations that go into building a decent character, from their stats and skill specializations to the number of cards and amount of card draw in their deck, that I still feel like I’m just scratching the surface nearly eight hours in. It’s not quite the focused or grandiose experience you might be expecting from allusions to Darkest Dungeon, but if the comparison must be made then Deep Sky Derelicts is lighter on content and deeper on depth. A campaign run won’t last you much more than 10 hours and honestly the enemy and encounter variety isn’t quite enough to sustain that on its own, so you need to lean into the creative side of building your team and combing through derelicts. And so far that’s been an absolute blast for me, and something that I look forward to continuing every chance I get.

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