Rockfish Games, the developer of space-shooter Everspace, should thank No Man’s Sky in their credits. Why? By virtue of the work from Hello Games being a disaster from the moment it launched, Everspace not only garnered press coverage interested in similar space-themed games, but has also been deemed a better title before it’s even launched. Granted, their work is nowhere near completion, but even in its Peter Brady phase, Everspace is showing many signs of trumping its overhyped competition.
Right now, Everspace is in an ongoing beta in the Xbox Early Access Preview program, which is where I took it for a few spins around a random galaxy.
From the outset, Everspace tries to get players to succeed, as evidenced by its deliberate, gradual training sections. Those already familiar with space shooters will immediately feel at home with the default control schemes, but the unusually squirrelly handling — even by space flight standards — may chase away genre newcomers. Still, the tutorial doesn’t require gamers to launch into actual combat until they’re confident they can handle the controls.
In fact, some of the training sections focus solely on maintaining control of the ship, indicating to me that this may have been intended to be even more sim-like than it ended up. However, for every strategic, slow-paced maneuver into combat, there’s an arcade-like, “quick reaction” sequence that will decimate less-prepared pilots.
Once the tutorial ends, players are free to explore the universe at will. Though the adventure starts pilots with only a basic loadout, they’ll quickly upgrade and accrue more via never-ending looting and salvage. But, unlike other shooters that require players to adapt quickly or die, Everspace is very playable with the default weaponry, lessening the burden on those who might not want to grab and craft every item in sight.
However, while someone can get far into Everspace without heavy armaments, it’s near impossible to get through even the initial levels without harvesting ore and fuel at every opportunity. Game progression requires lightspeed-esque jumps to get from sector to sector, which (naturally) means players need to keep their tanks filled and their ACs off.
For those who prefer to tweak and optimize every last detail of their ship, Everspace’s credit system allows them to trade, level up and climb the skill tree with relative ease. Once the advantage of reinforcing the ship becomes apparent, they’ll quickly work to acquire as many credits as possible.
So, how does Everspace fly? As I alluded to earlier… pretty erratically. While the ships seem to have respectable heft, the controls are a master class in frustration for anyone but the most seasoned pilots. Shooting rocks in the tutorial missions is difficult enough, but when fast-paced enemies, ongoing fuel monitoring and other things are factored in, I can imagine a newcomer putting the controller down in favor of something more forgiving.
Also unforgiving is the procedural, roguelike design. Unlike arcade shooters, Everspace employs permadeath on its harder settings, requiring players to start anew every time they get vaporized. They’re free to roam the universe for as long as they want if they can avoid conflict, but if caught unprepared for even a minor skirmish, it’s back to square one … that is, square one in a procedural universe that changes with every restart, ensuring no two experiences are ever quite the same.
Now, permadeath and ensuing restarts might be tolerable if there was a story holding this thing together, but the only narrative right now is “Fly. Kill. Loot. Earn.” With this current structure, it appears Rockfish intended Everspace to be as much a survival game as it is a shooter. This “how long can you last?” concept has some merit, but if you ask me, this work is clearly designed for bigger things — things gamers aren’t privy to, as of yet.
Visually, Everspace is a looker, even in this early stage of development. Though outer space is still the requisite black, ships and effects put off lovely swaths of color and textures, keeping things highly interesting in nearly every skirmish. Likewise, ship designs and models are seamless, and are only expected to get better as development continues.
So, should gamers drop what they’re doing and download this? No, not yet. Even with a discount in this Xbox Live preview, Everspace is only about 60% of the way there and needs more mission variety and considerably tighter handling before getting a thumbs up. But this is why betas exist, no?
I’m cautiously optimistic that Everspace will overcome these hurdles. If it does, it just might become one of the best all-around space shooters available.