Roguelike mechanics are taking over the galaxy, it would seem, and Everspace is the latest in a long line of games that takes inspiration from that classically archaic dungeon crawler of yesteryear, Rogue. However, while it's true that Rockfish has adopted some of the genre staples, it's also true that they've made a good stab at employing them in a fresh new way. For starters, instead of ASCII graphics we've got asteroids, and here permadeath makes way for a soft progression system whereby each failure gives the player credits to spend upgrading their ship - just a little bit - ahead of the next run.
There's a story, whereby the devs make an effort to explain away the roguelike setup of repeated attempts (which, let's be fair, is more than most bother with), and it's suitably futuristic in tone, with the player returning via the body of a freshly pressed clone for each new run. Throughout your adventure you're guided by a robotic voice who talks you through the various things - both friendly and not - that you encounter along the way, before you eventually die and the action starts up again from scratch. It works, though, and Rockfish has crafted a setup that's as cohesive and individual as anything we've seen from other notable genre entries such as Darkest Dungeon, Invisible, Inc. and, looking back a bit further, Rogue Legacy.
We mostly played the game on normal difficulty (which as the devs so eloquently put it is the "this is the way you're supposed to die" difficulty setting), but it should be noted that we probably had more fun playing it on easy. That's not usually how we roll when wrestling with a roguelike, but the more forgiving gameplay actually gelled nicely with the fleshed out narrative that landed when the game came out of early access. We got to see more of the game due to our enhanced longevity, whereas before our deaths had always felt particularly untimely, and it almost feels like a shame to have to constantly restart just when you're getting into the groove.
Much of your time in Everspace will be spent engaging in dogfights with other spacecraft, and it's here that Rockfish has done a great job. It leans more towards arcade action than something simulation-based like Elite: Dangerous, and it's relatively easy to pick up and have fun with it thanks to intuitive controls (we played on PC with an Xbox One controller, and it worked fine). Each craft has a limited selection of weapons and tactical systems, but when used with care and in conjunction with one another, your weapons are capable of dismantling most of the foes you encounter. Energy based weapons are, for example, great a stripping shields, so firing off a few rounds can soften up an opponent before you switch to bullets that can tear through their hull in seconds. The combat can get intense, with explosions popping all around while bullets whizz past, and at times there can be a lot going on, which sadly leads to noticeable but manageable frame-rate drops.
There are upgrades to be discovered by exploration and from looting downed enemies, and you also need to spend time discovering what each area has hidden away. Indeed, on the normal and harder difficulty settings, you'll need to be carrying supplies if you're to progress. You get this much-needed gear by taking the time to explore each system, mining resources and searching space debris, before moving on to the next. Each sector is made up of several systems, and the player has a limited choice in terms of how they progress (in a system that reminds us of a streamlined FTL: Faster Than Light), and you can always pick the path of least resistance. Each sector is bookended by a warp gate that transports you to the next, where new and more challenging enemies await.
If and when you take damage, you can, if you have the resources, mend your ship, although sometimes your systems are simply too broken to fix and the materials you need aren't forthcoming in a timely fashion, which we found a little frustrating at times. Scavenging supplies is helpful, certainly, but it's not always enough. Upgrading parts and making general repairs is easy enough, but fixing certain systems with particular parts gets overly complicated and felt a touch too fussy for our liking, and this is one area that we feel would have benefitted slightly from being more streamlined.
The only other system that's anywhere near as complicated is the soft progression, whereby credits earned in-game are spent between attempts, and little by little your ship is upgraded and improved over time. This is a welcome addition, though, and it gives the player something to ponder between games. There's a lot of room to enhance each ship as required, and for those who spend a lot of time with the game, the incremental upgrades offer a good reason to keep pushing forward.