Everspace 2 review – in space no one can hear you loot

Everspace 2 screenshot

Everspace 2 – do a barrel roll! (Picture: Rockfish Games)

GameCentral reviews an impressive new space combat simulator that is also part looter shooter and role-playing game.

Roguelikes have traditionally been a way for indie developers to make games with exceptionally long play times, without breaking the bank designing hundreds of hours’ worth of content. That’s certainly what space combat roguelike, Everspace did on its release in 2017. Casting you as a succession of clones, you set about the baddies inhabiting its planetary systems, with each run presenting a unique, procedurally generated set of challenges and encounters.

It was a commercial and critical success, so it’s no surprise to see a sequel. What’s a bit more unusual is that despite retaining elements of the original, this abandons its roguelike structure, instead pitching itself as an open world looter shooter and role-playing game. Once again, you’re a clone but this time you’re the last of your line, and one death away from oblivion.

Fortunately for your sanity that doesn’t mean permadeath, so much as returning to the last checkpoint before you were killed, in what is every bit the traditional role-playing game. Only, rather than fighting monsters, you’re slaying enemy fighter pilots, and instead of drinking potions, you’re triggering anti-missile defences, EMPs, and temporary AI-based buffs for your ship.

Starting out trawling the space DMZ for medical equipment, after your buddy ends up in a coma, your focus soon switches to pulling off the heist of the century, success at which could be your ticket out of this godforsaken tract of space. Pulling it off naturally involves assembling a team and the necessary equipment, but in this case also finding out what you’re meant to be stealing and from whom – after the teammate who suggested the caper gets shot to pieces in an early mission.

Like its predecessor, the game’s best asset is its flight dynamics, which are never less than razor sharp. Favouring a six-degrees-of-freedom approach, where you can hover up and down and strafe, as well as flying using a throttle and joystick, it’s the perfect control scheme for dogfights that usually take place in intricately designed spaceship graveyards or asteroid fields.

They provide spectacular backdrops for engagements, Everspace 2’s version of outer space being surprisingly varied and often very beautiful, but on a mechanical level they also give you cover and concealment – letting you creep up on enemy bases or get out of the way of incoming fire while your shields recharge. It helps inject a sense of variety and avoid the problem of older space combat simulators, where you just end up following opponents round in circles.

It’s also excellent at concocting excuses for you to use your extreme mobility to fly in and around structures. Whether touring abandoned mining tunnels in an asteroid or trying to figure out a way into the hulk of a vast, abandoned space station you’ll regularly find yourself scudding around the outside of large objects, or picking your way through claustrophobic interiors.

Weaponry is similarly well thought out. Along with your primary, secondary and tertiary weapons, which can be anything from ultra-long range railguns to shotgun-style scatterguns, your ship also has an expanding array of what would be considered spells in a conventional role-player. Your EMP paralyses enemies for a few seconds, a powerful boost gets you out of trouble, or nano-tech can heal recent armour damage if activated in time.

There are also consumables, which let you repair your hull, re-energise weapons on a cooldown, and a variety of tactical one-offs you can use to complement whichever build you’re going for, which is an equally varied set of possibilities. Ships themselves range from nimble scouts to tanky gunships, each with its own stats for speed, manoeuvrability, and number of weapon and cargo slots.

You’re encouraged to experiment, with ship trade-in prices identical to their purchase price, making any new acquisition only as permanent as you want it to be. That’s useful because a wider array of vessels becomes available as you increase your renown by completing side missions. It’s also useful trying out different weapons and defensive strategies, because, like Borderlands, you’ll continually be finding very slightly superior loot items to use as upgrades.

There’s a fully-fledged crafting system based on mining minerals, dismantling unwanted kit, and manufacturing your own components. For our money it’s actually a bit too complex for its own good, but for those who like fastidiously collecting resources and exploring multiple upgrade paths it offers almost unlimited opportunity to tinker.

The downsides of Everspace 2 are relatively subjective. Firstly, rather than smoothly scaling enemies to match your level, there are points in the story where the next campaign mission is a level or two higher than you, rendering it functionally impossible. That forces you to grind by diverting your ship from mission objectives to find uncharted areas, distress signals and ambushes, each of which gives you experience points and bonus cash.

Everspace 2 screenshot

Everspace 2 – how will its combat compare to Starfield? (Picture: Rockfish Games)

Everspace 2 is good at disguising its errands as pieces of excitingly pivotal business, but there are times you’ll need to use interstellar jump gates and warp travel to deliver five servings of ramen to a random client, which is by anyone’s standards not the most heroic use of your time. The real problem, though, comes from the game’s length, and in that respect it’s possibly a victim of its own largesse.

As a plot-based role-player, it’s hard to discern how long it would take to complete if you really just focused on the story, but we certainly had to do a lot of grinding just to stay competitive. If that’s your experience, Everspace 2 has at least 60 hours of content, and over 100 for those who like to see every last solitary mission objective completed.

That’s generous, but unfortunately long before the end of that time, the game’s slightly-too-tight gameplay loop starts to chafe. Although the backdrops are varied and the excuses to fly down corridors of scrap are extremely diverse, the reality is that a lot of what you’re doing – jump to co-ordinates, kill baddies, hack terminal, return results to star base – turns out to be very similar. And yet in a shorter game you might never have noticed.

Other than that, it’s a polished, thoughtful, and engagingly complex arcade space shooter, the likes of which we see far too infrequently. Its role-playing elements hang together well and its sub-systems, from crafting to the types of side quest you undertake, complement each other in innumerable interlocking ways. It really is a cracking piece of game design that has benefited from a long early access period and suffers only from not realising you can have too much of a good thing.

Everspace 2 review summary

In Short: A full-on space opera looter shooter RPG, that is brimming with content and exciting combat set pieces, but which doesn’t quite know when to stop before it starts to feel repetitive.

Pros: Space has rarely looked so varied or dramatic. Upgrading and levelling up is hugely compelling and the flight and targeting mechanics are near perfect.

Cons: There’s only so much you can do from a cockpit, and the game does run out of tricks to obfuscate that. A couple of minor cosmetic glitches and some enforced level grinding.

Score: 7/10

Formats: PlayStation 5 (reviewed), Xbox Series X/S, and PC
Price: £44.99*
Publisher: Rockfish Games
Developer: Rockfish Games
Release Date: 15th August 2023
Age Rating: 12

*Currently available on Xbox Game Pass

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