Deep Sky Derelicts is a turn-based deck-building RPG with roguelite elements developed by Snowhound games and published by C1 Company. Now, if that sounded like I just made up a bunch of words and mashed them together, I think you might be in the wrong place.
In which case, take a seat, and welcome!
In Deep Sky Derelicts you play as a crew of salvagers. You have been tasked by the Sub Governor of Deep Sky station with finding “The Mothership.” In order to accomplish this task, you board a series of derelict alien spacecraft to obtain their navigational data. The hope is that if you can find enough data, you can piece together the location of your objective.
Your reward for completing this task: Citizenship on one of the coveted “Mirror Worlds.” For you are “Stateless,” which makes you a fourth-class citizen. The only problem is that the Sub Governor has made this offer to literally every other stateless person on the station, and it’s first-come, first-serve.
So, you cram your crew into the nearest space taxi and blast off to your first derelict.
Now, the only things standing between you and your sweet upper-class life are space pirates, space zombies, killer robots, deranged Artificial Intelligence, a space quiz master, and — of course — aliens.
Now, whether you’re thinking “That sounds like an edge of your seat thrill ride” or “Can I go now?” I would say the same thing…
“No. Now let me finish…”
Having taken the time to chew through this game, I can provide you with some perspective on a couple of the game’s various aspects and how they work (or don’t work, depending on where you stand… or sit).
The art style and combat of Deep Sky Derelicts were clearly inspired by, and a love letter to, Darkest Dungeon. The art is gritty, dark, and has plenty of skulls; and the combat is harsh and somewhat unforgiving. If I were to base my opinion solely on those two aspects, I would say the game was a successful homage.
Unfortunately, there is a dichotomy that looms over Deep Sky Derelicts, and it’s one that I often found jarring.
Imagine this: you’re low on energy, your medic “unconscious,” your other two crewmates sit at critical health. Something stalks your every move through the darkened halls of the station. All you need to do is get back to the landing zone and everything will be okay.
In your haste, you run straight into an enemy encounter. The screen goes dark and…
A dandy space pirate struts up to you. He says that he represents a group of space pirates dedicated to robbing people with style. He gives you a speech on how his organization is trying to bring back the class and elegance robberies used to have–none of this shiv first ask questions later nonsense.
He then gives you a business card, tips his hat, and whistles a jaunty tune as he walks away.
There is a constant battle between light and darkness in this game, and not in a fun way. The art and gameplay give a cosmic horror feel, but then a space-hobo quizmaster wants to play Family Feud with me.
It’s off-putting at the best of times and leaves the game feeling tepid throughout.
Like Space Poker, But Everyone Dies
The gameplay of Deep Sky Derelicts is actually pretty solid. The map system is simple and easy to figure out. The station menu (the only location other than the derelicts) is effortless to navigate, and the menus, while slightly cumbersome, are well-thought-out.
However, I’m going to put all that aside and talk about what really sits at the core of this game, holding the whole thing together through sheer force of will: the battle system, which was a combination of turn-based RPG mixed with a deck-building system that pulls its cards from the equipment your crew is carrying.
If you were to strip away the art and story from this game, you would have a very solid framework. The deck-building is easy to learn, albeit hard to master, and pairs perfectly with the battle system. While turn-based RPGs are nothing new, the infusion of cards spices things up, and the attack animations, while rudimentary, add some pizzazz to your moves.
There was nothing quite like having the perfect starting hand. You’d throw out an amazing combo and watch the enemy disintegrate before they could even look at their cards. Conversely, there was nothing quite as infuriating as starting with a handful of shield enhancers and having your limbs ripped off before you could attack.
I will be up-front and say that at least half of my time playing this game was spent trying to build the perfect deck. Do I take the level four blaster with two E.M.P grenades, or the level three blaster with two E.M.P grenades and focused shot.
The answer is: Whatever fits best with your playstyle.
You’ll probably be on your fourth derelict before you realize exactly what is important to you. However, once you find what makes you happy, you’ll be well on your way to the Mothership… Or, you know, starting a new game and remaking your team to really get the best bang for your buck.
The one gripe I have about the combat system is that it is not always apparent what a status effect does, and finding out is harder than it should be. You will have to consult the codex, which can be found in the start menu. However, you’ll be hard-pressed to find a straight answer. Most of the time, I gave up sifting through the codex, crossed my fingers, and hoped that I was right about the little skull over my medic’s head. I’m pretty sure it was blight… or was it poison?…
Tips from a Deep Sky Vet
Now, in order to construct your best deck, there are some things you might want to know first:
- Bigger is not always better. Have too many cards and you might never see the ones that really help.
- Experiment with different combinations. Sometimes, a card that you’d labeled useless is actually something amazing. Give it a try and find out.
- Keep your gear current. Are you level five with a level two weapon? Upgrade. The stat bonuses conveyed by higher level gear is almost always worth it.
- Illustrious doesn’t necessarily mean good. Most of the illustrious gear gives you amazing bonuses, but really take a look to see if it’s worth it in a couple of levels.
- Class Cards are broken (in a good way). The most powerful cards in the game are found within the class system, which really comes into play around level four.
Overall, Deep Sky Derelicts was slightly better than nothing. It shot for the moon but ended up landing in Wisconsin. It’s not bad there, but they don’t have much going on.
The story is barely there, the sidequests are either too quirky, too simple, or aren’t worth it, and there isn’t much of a payoff. However, the combat manages to keep the whole thing afloat despite its shortcomings.
It is a solid RPG hiding under a game that desperately wanted to be the next Darkest Dungeon but had neither the flair nor the gravitas of its predecessor.
I give it a wobbly 6.5/10.
Personally, I would rather have had them build a game around the space quizmaster… or the dandy bandit. I’d play the crap out of those games.