Video Game Reviews

Late to the Game: Deep Sky Derelicts – Not Quite Space Junk

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.

The Humanity

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). 

Pure Tone-Deaf 

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.

My mind can’t handle the horror… of how many people did not say potato salad.

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?… 

Meh… He’s fine

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.
Now you’re ready to … Du Du DUEL!!

Final Approach

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.  

Video Game Reviews

Wizard of Legend: A Mighty Magical Melee

Wizard of Legend is a rogue-like hack-and-slash dungeon crawler developed by Contingent 99 and published by Humble Bundle. 

The game focuses on a nameless wizard (or wizards, if you’re playing co-op) who is transported back in time to participate in the Chaos Trials. These trials pit a wizarding team against three members of the magical council. If the wizards are victorious, they can claim the title of Wizard of Legend, and are granted a Chaos Arcana which gives them access to primordial chaos spells.

It’s like the Triwizard Tournament, but with less angst

I bought this game for three reasons. 

Fortunately for me, it was also a pretty solid game.

There are a lot of games out there that claim that they redefine the mage class in video games. I’m not sure about the claims of other games (looking at you Litchdom: Battlemage), but Wizard of Legend manages this feat, and it does it with it’s own unique flair.

So, let’s take a look at what this game did absolutely right, and shine some light on which aspects might have needed a little more work.

Heart of the Cards

The magic system in Wizard of Legend is driven by Arcana, which are basically cards that allow your character to cast spells.

Arcana come in six different elements, and each element conveys a different boon depending on the form that the element is taking:

  • Earth: hits hard as rock, but also poisons or roots if the arcana is plant-based
  • Water: moves enemies as water, or freezes them as Ice
  • Fire: does significant upfront damage, but also adds a damage over time effect
  • Air: moves enemies and can slow enemies
  • Lighting: bounces between enemies and offers a stun that does a little damage over time
  • Chaos: incredibly rare and powerful, dealing huge amounts of damage

What’s so great about the Arcana system is that you aren’t limited to a single element. You can mix and match your arcana to fit your playstyle.

…This can be a lot of trial and error

You are, however, limited to four Arcana that you can carry with you into the trials, and each one fulfills a different function. 

The four Arcana types are:

  • Basic Arcana: This fulfills the role of your standard attack. These do not have a cooldown and can be used about as often as you can push the corresponding button.
  • Dash Arcana: This augments your standard dash, allowing you to leave behind damaging trails or shoot spells forward.
  • Standard Arcana: These are basically your run of the mill spells like Fireball or Ball Lightning. 
  • Signature Arcana: These essentially function like better versions of standard spells, but can also receive a huge boost if you cast them while at full signature energy charge.

I will admit that, while I could equip different elemental Arcana to maximize my effectiveness, once I’d unlocked enough lightning Arcana, I basically stayed a lightning mage throughout my entire playthrough. 

Shoot Magic into the Darkness

Once you’ve chosen your Arcana, you can enter the Chaos Trials and start blasting anything that moves—and some stuff that doesn’t.

What’s great about the combat in Wizard of Legend is that it feels amazing. You can dash around like a madman, leaving behind a trail of fire while you shoot out a rock dragon and then hurl a bolt of lightning that bounces between foes. You can swing an axe made of obsidian with reckless abandon while your foes’ faces fill with horror because you froze them in place with a fan of frost. The ability to have several moves combined with the relatively short cooldowns on most Arcana mean that you are very rarely doing nothing, and if you are doing nothing, then…

You’re doing it wrong.

If you do happen to take standard and signature spells that have relatively high cooldowns, you can supplement your build with Arcana that you can find, or buy, inside the trials. Basically you start each run with two empty spots, and can fill those with whatever you happen to find. This gives you more moves, which means that you can continue to do damage while you wait for your other cooldowns to end.

Basically, once you have a full six Arcana, you are ready to wreak complete havoc upon anything foolish enough to get in your way.

I also like that the spells and abilities feel substantial. There is a good amount of screenshake and some instances where things will slow down ever so slightly to really show the impact of the spell you’re casting. This ensures that you always feel like you’re doing real damage instead of just producing a bunch of numbers from the tops of enemy heads.

A Balancing Act

One of my least favorite things about Wizard of Legend is how well balanced the whole damn thing is.

Most of the moves do a relative same amount of damage no matter what they are. This means that you do the same amount of damage with a ten ton rock hammer that you do when you summon several dragons made of water.

I understand this decision in practice, but sometimes it makes certain moves a little underwhelming. Granted, some moves have more utility than others, so those might do less damage because they offer greater benefits elsewhere, but overall I thought that the Arcana that summons a thunder dragon should probably do a little more damage than a single ball of lightning. 

There is, however, a bit of a fix for this. Each Arcana has the potential to be enhanced, which means that you can improve upon them if you get the opportunity. 

Take, for example, the volt disk. It’s a basic attack that shoots a disk of lightning at a medium distance and briefly stuns foes. But if you enhance volt disk, it will hit it’s target and then bounce to a nearby enemy. Not only does that deal twice as much damage, but it also stuns two enemies instead of one. So, the enhancements are really where it’s at as far as increasing the amount of damage or utility that a spell offers. 

Unfortunately, without the enhancements offered by enhanced Arcana cards, or relics (items that offer benefits like increased fire damage), damage feels so even keeled that it can be a bit of a downer to get a really amazing-looking Arcana only to find that it does just as much damage as the one you were already using. 

The Final Trial

Overall, Wizard of Legend is a fast, frenetic, and fun experience. It might not have the depth and attention to detail of something like Enter the Gungeon,  the story of Hades, or the beautiful pixel work of Children of Morta, but it stands alone as something that has amazing controls and a combat system that is just plain exhilarating. While I feel that its spells were a little too balanced, I understand why it was created this way, and appreciate the dedication it must have taken to make that happen. 

I’m giving Wizard of Legend a magical 8.5/10 for making mages cool again.

Also, I just wanted to add that this game is very clearly a Kickstarter game. There are Arcana created by people with names that are clearly online handles, and some of the pictures that line the trial halls are just backers who paid enough money. I won’t say that it adds or takes away anything from the game… I just get a tickle out of a relic crafted by a “Virtuoso” named Tacobowls.