If you’ve ever wanted to hang suspended in a dusty beam of light, watching from the midst of a field of floating ice chunks as the sun rises over a spectacularly rendered gas giant stretching out below you, you should play Everspace right now. Just be prepared to be shot at and blown up, repeatedly, for hours.
Playing as a series of clones of an unknown origin, you zip out into space, trying to reach an unknown destination with only a somewhat cheeky AI to guide you across multiple star systems. Along the way you’ll engage in frantic firefights with enemy starships and bases, find loot and gather resources, upgrade your ship, and almost inevitably die – at which point you will preserve all the new equipment blueprints you found and can pour all your hard-earned credits into improving the performance of your ship, the quality of your sensory data, and your chances of finding better treasures. It’s a simple and compelling roguelike formula, wrapped in the spectacular sights and action of a space fighting game.
Everspace is not an intricate spaceflight simulator like Elite: Dangerous or Star Citizen. Your ship’s controls are abstracted and simplified, and it flies more like a World War 2 fighter plane than a Newtonian spacecraft. There’s a simple energy meter that governs everything from shields and weapons to utilities and speed boosters, and jumping between star systems is simply a matter of pointing your ship in the right direction. Missiles and mines can be shot apart if your aiming is good enough – but try to avoid shooting your own missiles before they hit their target.
The HUD points you clearly towards your enemies no matter where they are in 3D space, providing you with a predictive reticle that helps you lead your targets and even adapts its lead distance to take into account the projectile velocity of your weapons. All the mechanics are designed to emphasize action, speed, and maneuverability – not realism or detailed planning – and the flying and dogfighting feels fantastic, almost like you’ve been thrown into a space battle in a Star Wars film.
The scenery is spectacular too. It isn’t always easy to make outer space interesting to look at, but Everspace puts in a solid effort. There are of course massive planets and sweeping ring systems and distant nebulae spattered across the darkness of space – all of which are rendered with a great eye to scale and color and depth. But there’s more. Chunks of ice float past, semi-translucent and catching light like mirrors at the right angles; asteroids sometimes look less like potatoes than like huge daggers jutting through the sky; dust clouds in the right places catch beams of light passing around space wreckage.
For all that space realism can be visually limiting, Everspace does its best to squeeze out every ounce of beauty and awe it can. It won’t be enough to win over people who find space to be inherently boring to look at, but if you’re already a fan you’ll likely enjoy the spectacle and bombast of the game’s presentation.
The environment is critical in gameplay terms too. Dogfighting in nimble little starships is much more fun when there are large objects around for you to take cover in, squeeze between, and occasionally crash into. Everspace mostly delivers these, too – aside from the asteroids and ice chunks you’d expect, there are huge rocks with caves in them, floating hollowed-out space wrecks, large spindly stations with openings and trenches to fly through and big freighters and frigates that can offer temporary shelter against incoming missiles and bullets.
The shelter these can provide is critical – missiles in particular will strike asteroids or debris if you fly around them in tight enough curves, which has saved my skin more than once. So far I haven’t been caught in the middle of any serious capital ship warfare, though, so don’t expect to see dozens of huge ships blowing each other to bits as tiny fighters bob around between them; what few fights do occur between NPC factions change the pace a bit, but don’t ultimately have much impact.
While the moment-to-moment flying and combat are intuitive and frantic in the best way, the longer arc of the game does struggle a bit to be captivating. The core loop of gathering credits to improve your ship between runs is compelling only to a point, and the act of gathering resources to craft upgrades, missiles and other tools is quick and fairly painless, but certainly isn’t exciting. The game’s difficulty fluctuates wildly, too. It’s pretty frustrating to make it through several systems seemingly easily only to suddenly be jumped by three bands of enemies at once and blown up.
The roguelike gameplay loop also stretches the game’s already-thin narrative to the point of superfluity. The game takes place against the backdrop of a messy first contact between human colonists and an alien species called the Okkar, with the player trying to navigate a (fairly militarized) demilitarized zone between them, and the incidental worldbuilding deployed through AI chatter and codex entries is well-written but not especially original. The first time you start the game or reach a new sector of star systems you’ll trigger illustrated narrative cutscenes, but progress in Everspace is hard-won. By the time you unlock a new cutscene, the last ones may have already faded from memory, or at least lost their sense of immediate relevance.
Luckily the AI accompanying you has plenty of chatter stored up, and intelligently parcels out only a tiny proportion of what it knows in each run so you aren’t hit with the same three backstory facts every time you start over after dying. But while that helps with worldbuilding, it doesn’t help explain the protagonist’s origins or the point of the mission you’re trying to accomplish, and those explanations are made sparse by the punishing progression loop. So far, I’m mostly doing it for the fun.
While I haven’t made it to the final areas of the game yet – and considering this is in many ways a roguelike, I expect that will take me a while – I’ve also yet to find many gameplay challenges that aren’t primarily about engaging in space dogfights with patrolling enemies. A few times I’ve had to disable FTL jammers to jump out of the system. Other times, you may be able to pursue a bounty for extra credits. But most of the time you’re facing down enemy starfighters, who always charge you directly and shoot at you until somebody dies.
There are no escort missions; you never chase down an enemy who’s trying to escape; you never try to sneak past patrols by staying out of sensor range, or snag some important tech and escape with your life. The built-in expectation of constant death also means you’ll be replaying the early sectors, which have the least variety, over and over again. I enjoy flying duels between starfighters for their own sake, but I can see the limited variety of objectives becoming tiring in the long run.
What we’re left with, then, is a starfighter game with polished core mechanics, great scenery, and challenging roguelike elements. Everspace sometimes struggles to stretch its narrative and mission variety enough to cover repeated stretches of the early game, and the resource and crafting system manages not to feel like a chore while also not feeling very enriching. It’s beautiful but shallow, exciting but repetitive. If you’re looking for a great story or constant novelty, you should at least watch some gameplay before proceeding. But if you love flying starfighters, looking at pretty space things, or the roguelike approach to challenge, death, and progress, you should definitely give this a try.
PUBLISHER / DEVELOPER – ROCKFISH Games | ESRB – E10 | PLATFORMS – PC (Windows)
Consider – Everspace is a beautifully-crafted space fighter with great moment-to-moment flying and combat, and a challenging long-term progression loop. If you’re looking for polished space combat that’s all about speed and flying dogfights and the occasional high-speed crash, look no further. I loved it; but I recognize that it appeals to me on a very specific level. The narrative is thin, the difficulty curve is fairly steep, and if you don’t enjoy starfighters shooting each other for the sake of it, you may find the long-term gameplay loop repetitive.