It's a pretty bold move for a sequel to ditch most of what made the original game unique, but Everspace 2 is proof that it can be good to let go of the past. The first Everspace was a dogfighting roguelike where each death meant starting over from scratch with nothing but the credits you earned during your previous run. But when I die in Everspace 2, I can just load up an autosave and try again. And while I love me a good roguelike, developer Rockfish Games made the right call to pivot towards a big, open world (or should I say galaxy?), because Everspace 2 is on its way to becoming the new gold standard for space combat games.
Warlocks in space
Have you played a spaceship shooter in the past decade? Elite Dangerous, maybe? House of the Dying Sun? Rebel Galaxy Outlaw? Hell, even Freelancer from 2003? If you have, sliding into any of the dozens of cockpits in Everspace 2 is going to feel familiar. Within minutes you'll be locked into vicious loop-de-loops with enemy fighters, doing your best Davish Krail impression as you wrestle to keep your aiming reticle over your constantly swerving target.
Though I enjoyed the alpha demo of Everspace 2 I played last summer, my initial impression of its Steam Early Access version (launching on January 18) left me wanting. Vaporizing enemies is fun and the ships are snappy and agile, but shooting stuff in space is also something I've done in dozens of other games over the years. In the year of our lord 2021, I expect a little more from these types of games.
Thankfully, my concerns were erased within an hour or two. Everspace 2 may not be a bold reimagining of the genre, but it epitomizes everything great about it. It's got a big world to explore, tons of side activities, and Rockfish has struck a killer balance between intense, arcade-style combat and deep RPG systems that are sucking me into a black hole of percentages and color-coded loot.
Everspace has a surprising amount in common with games like Destiny 2 (and I mean that in a good way). That similarity is never more obvious than when my ship's ultimate ability meter has fully charged. With the push of a button, my humble vessel transforms into the god of thunder and my artillery is replaced with arcs of deadly electricity not unlike Destiny's Warlock class. Does it make sense? Hell no. Is it awesome? Hell yes.
Above: Emperor Palpatineing enemy fighters to death never gets boring.
Turning into a giant ball of lightning is certainly a high point of any fight, and I'm really enjoying all the other ways I can fiddle with my ship. Everything is upgradeable, from my shields and armor plating to the energy core and primary weapons. Again, that's not exactly groundbreaking stuff, but there's more going on than just replacing old parts with newer parts that have slightly higher numbers.
Devices, for example, are basically spells that you can find and equip and fire midfight. I've only found a few, but one of my favorites is a virus that spreads to nearby enemy ships and then detonates for big damage after a few seconds. I also have a boost which is helpful for slipping away from an unfavorable fight, or I can rush in deep and fire off an EMP blast that stuns everyone for a few seconds. When my character levels up, I can also unlock perks that further tailor my approach to combat. One of those perks immediately triggers my shield recharge after killing an enemy, which has been crucial in surviving prolonged engagements where enemies tend to whittle you down little by little.
Following the main story also introduces you to companions who have their own perks that are really useful. One character, Delia, has a perk that makes enemy ships sometimes drop orbs that recharge my guns and boost energy after they die. Where one of Dax's perks significantly reduces the cost of repairing my hull at a station.
I love that all of this customization is there, but it's also a lot to take in and can be overwhelming. Though there are tutorials that walk you through some of these systems, I was often confused and had to experiment before I understood how to unlock new crafting recipes or upgrade modules. Part of that is due to the UI being a little hard to parse, but I also wish there was a codex I could reference with more comprehensive tutorials.
I have some other nitpicks too when it comes to the interface. In combat, for example, it's currently really hard to get a sense of the wider conflict happening around me. Because I'm just one ship often taking on anywhere from three to six other enemies, there's no great way of prioritizing targets—especially when I'm in first-person view and enemies are sometimes whipping past my viewport as I flip and barrel roll through space. One ship has a special perk that increases its attack damage for each enemy within a certain range, but without having a sense of my position compared to those I'm fighting, it's hard to take full advantage of that skill.
Though Everspace clearly builds on the foundation established by other games in the genre, it does have some original touches that are really cool, like its level design. Unlike a lot of modern space games, Everspace 2's big, open world isn't seamless. Zones are marked on a map and you fly to them using your super-fast warp drive, but once you arrive a loading screen separates these two versions of space.
While I do miss the awe of flying from orbit to a planet's surface like in No Man's Sky, the tradeoff is that these are not procedurally-generated places, but hand-crafted levels that are often really cool. In one mission, I flew to an enormous ship graveyard on a planet's surface where the bones of massive capital ships lay in crumpled heaps.
Above: Flying through claustrophobic wrecks looking for loot is a nice change of scenery.
Many of those wrecks had openings that I could fly into where I'd find fun puzzles like laser defense systems I had to skirt around or hidden switches that had to be shot to open doors protecting valuable loot. I even found a gate that triggered waypoints that I had to race to before my time ran out. Navigating these tight corridors and cave systems—especially during combat—is a wonderful contrast to the emptiness of outer space. And these little diversions are fun enough that I want to thoroughly explore everything in Everspace 2's world.
If there's one aspect of Everspace 2 that genre diehards might find lacking, it's that there's not really any simulation behind its open world. Resources bought in one area can be traded in another for profit, but there's no underlying economy or faction system to manipulate. You can't conquer the galaxy or build merchant empires, either, though there is a rudimentary faction and reputation system that rewards you for taking on certain jobs. It might disappoint folks more accustomed to hyper-complicated space sims like X4: Foundations.
I like tinkering with graphs and plotting galactic domination as much as the next guy, but I'm enjoying Everspace 2's singular focus on energetic combat and exploration. Even though it's an Early Access game that Rockfish says still needs 12 to 18 months of work, Everspace 2 is absolutely worth buying when it releases on January 18.