Everspace entered early access this week. You may have noticed the trailer. It shows your ship spinning through laser fire in fast, fluid dogfights. Explosions, homing missiles and crisscrossing engine trails hint at spiralling close-range dogfights. The ship's movements recall the arcade spaceplane physics of the original Battlestar Galctica.
For moments at a time, Everspace is exactly this. Your small fighter is agile and responsive. Your limited cache of homing missiles can pop tiny fighters quickly. For tougher enemies you can use your primary energy weapon to strip shields before switching to a minigun to deal fatal hull damage. It's an accessible lightweight little shooter set in some gorgeous asteroid fields.
Unfortunately, at this early stage in Early Access, this is a relatively small part of the game. Death resets your progress through each system, depicted as an FTL-like series of nodes. At the other end of the system there's a stargate that propels you to tougher systems with fiercer enemies. Each death lets you pour points into your ship's overall competencies (stronger shields, more lucrative pickups), which in turn helps you to reach tougher systems.
This turns Everspace into a game about gathering resources. To do this you fly up to stationary rocks and shoot them to get rocks. Sometimes you fly into plasma clouds and sit still for a moment to absorb the plasma. You might find an asteroid with a silvery sphincter attached. These parp out little gas blobs that you fly through to absorb. Sometimes, if you're lucky, there are containers, which you fly up to and shoot to get items. If the new ship part is better, you can swap it in. If it's not, you can junk it for more resources.
You can use these resources to upgrade your missiles and lasers in the upgrade menu, which is useful. Unfortunately, this stilted repetitive resource acquisition task is the dullest thing I can imagine doing in a spaceship, and the reward loop incentivises mining and box-hunting over riskier combat engagements. The systems frequently host neutral NPC ships that you can take on for rewards, but if you die, you have to start again. The risk is rarely worth it.
The system-hopping roguelike structure works well in FTL because resource acquisition is tied to the game's most interesting system: combat. Everspace instead copies the rote mining methods we see in survival games and drops into an unsuitable setting. Hitting a rock with a pickaxe to get bits of it makes sense. Blasting a rock with an advanced energy weapon to absorb bits magically through my hull feels weird. The fantasy calls for a more exciting interaction.
Each time I try Everspace again I find myself trapped in a mining loop. I enter a system, scan it for stuff, fly over to the stuff, shoot it, pick it up, and then beam into the next system. Occasional space pirate attacks give me bursts of the glittering space combat I crave, and remind me of the game I thought Everspace was going to be.
It's important to remember that the game has only just entered Early Access. There is plenty of time to add new activities and balance the reward loop to make combat a more central part of the experience. Everspace has potential. It looks gorgeous, and is impressively bug-free for an Early Access game. For now, though, just watch this. It's more fun than playing.