Deep Sky Derelicts has already had what a lot of indie titles dream of in a successful Early Access period on Steam. Now, developer Snowhound Games has launched the title officially, incorporating some changes based on user feedback that are meant to improve a game that already showed a lot of promise.
The good news is that much of that promise has been fulfilled. Deep Sky Derelicts is the kind of strategy roguelike that can really hook fans of either genre thanks to a few deft touches in its design. While the game is a little shallow when it comes to evolving its own mechanics over time - the exploration of derelicts begins to feel repetitive the further a player gets into the game - it manages to present an enjoyable enough foundation that it’s not the end of the world. It's an absolutely gorgeous game, too, evoking images and play patterns that aren't unlike a Darkest Dungeon in space aesthetic. That's a very favorable comparison, and Snowhound Games has done well to earn it.
Cards are the name of the game in Deep Sky Derelicts’ combat, with each three-person team assembled by the player using a deck of various abilities to interact with opposing forces, who do the same. Those familiar with deckbuilding games in the tabletop world, or with Slay the Spire on Steam, will find more than a little in common with them, but that’s with good reason. Deep Sky Derelicts preserves the best parts of deckbuilding games and then switches them up with a unique energy system that keeps the game feeling like the run-down, scrappy world it is a part of.
Energy manifests itself most prominently in two ways. First, players need to use energy to perform combat maneuvers, and running out of energy can be disastrous. Second, it is also the resource with which the player moves around the map and interacts with things, even during conversations with NPCs. Managing energy is crucial to survival and adds a new layer of strategy and complexity to a game that needed it to separate itself from the pack.
Combat is turn-based otherwise, and occurs randomly on the map or in specific marked locations. Enemies are also able to move around the map, so the scan function, which temporarily reveals their locations in a certain radius, can be crucial in recovering that last bit of salvage before escaping back to base with just a few dredges of energy left to spare. It’s also exhilarating, which is not necessarily commonplace in games centered around deck-building and exploration.
Just don’t get too attached to the team, and don’t expect the game to hold your hand. There really isn’t much of a tutorial to speak of, so the early going can be difficult and frustrating until players get the hang of what Deep Sky Derelicts wants from them. Crew members can die, and it can be brutal and unfair just like real life. Players can then hire a mercenary to take their place, which is a nice bit of commentary on the world the game is set in and also a method of continuing the journey without being short-handed.
Unfortunately, where Deep Sky Derelicts struggles is with its environmental design and derelict layouts toward the end of the game. Aesthetics are maintained but not really elaborated upon, and the derelicts, which are the games dungeons, feel like they just get bigger without really adding too many new conceits that keep players on their toes. They still look beautiful, but they want for something just a little bit more.
All in all, Deep Sky Derelicts is a great take on a genre that might be getting a bit crowded in the “having roguelike elements” department. The game does more than enough to make it worth a look, though, and it is deep enough that fans of strategy will find something to enjoy there too. Deep Sky Derelicts is a bleak and gorgeous look at retro sci-fi exploration that, just like the movies that inspired it, does so much more than one would expect with the little it gives you to start.
Deep Sky Derelicts is available now on Steam. Screen Rant was provided with a game code for review purposes.