Pixel Privateers is an RPG that sees you control a mercenary company that moves from planet to planet, taking missions to earn money and find randomised loot. Your landing party consists of up to eight troopers in different classes, with their five attributes dictating how good they are at various abilities. In the game you beam down to a world and kill anything hostile, running through somewhat randomised buildings of different types, looting rooms as you go. It sounds cool on paper, but whether or not this is enough for you depends on what sort of space mercenary experience you're really looking for.
In Pixel Privateers you have loot that comes in different rarities, with different aspects based on the type of weapon or armour it is, relative character level, and possible special abilities. The variance in loot is great, in part because you can get something that's just plain better than what you'll get for a long time. It's not the usual incremental power increase that some games give you, but it can lead to you getting a lot of junk in the interim once you've settled on a quality loadout for your party.
Classes dictate what sorts of weapons characters can use, and what sorts of abilities they'll have available, with the class item they have equipped adding another class-specific ability. Engineers can choose from drones or weapon disrupters, for example. The different armour slots, weapons, and class items mean you're going to spend a lot of time making sure things are just right. When you have a team that has good synergy it's pretty fun to mow down the locals in an orderly fashion, popping them like loot-filled zits as your little pixel characters waddle from room to room, but the time spent actually battling is maybe half of what most players will be doing. Most of the rest involves fiddling around in the inventory screen.
So much time is spent in the inventory screen you'll be grateful that the music is pleasant, and that there are plenty, if not nearly enough, sorting options to let you cycle through armour, class items, and weapons to find the highest damage or the highest level. Too often if you want anything more specific, however, such as range or weapon type, you're going to have to spend a lot more time cycling between item stats. The optimal character class configuration can sometimes be elusive too, although a given character's stats become harder to optimise the more levels you gain: some classes depend upon certain stats more than others, and because you start adding incremental points over time, if you decide at any time to change your tank into a healer, they're not going to be good as someone you'd hire new from a supply station.
You don't grow too connected to individual characters in the game though, so it's easier to be pragmatic about getting the right team together. If you happen to be playing on the harder difficulty (with permadeath if you lose everybody) this is especially good because with the latest patch it can be pretty easy to lose characters. The normal difficulty, which is recommended for first playthroughs, does allow you to resurrect a dead character back at the ship for the cost of a certain amount of matter reserves that increases as they gain in levels, with items intact. You can also raise or lower the planet's difficulty before your team beams down, even if you've already been there. You get two types of mission generators, one plot-based and the other ongoing, and their rewards are a box of items, a box of matter (used for resurrecting, fabricating items, or beaming down), or a box of fuel.
Assuming you have room in your inventory back at the ship, you can grab it plus some credits and experience and go, and you can also beam down to unvisited worlds and shoot them up without needing a reason if you need some extra stuff. If you've already generated missions, though, you need to complete some before you can generate more, which can sometimes leave you without missions to earn the fuel you need to get back if you travelled too far away, leaving you scrounging or even stranded, at the mercy of random encounters until one of them drops enough fuel for you.
Space stations litter the map, most allowing item buying and selling as well as crew hiring, while some have black markets that are about gambling for item rarities and stats. The best stations even let you buy new ships and configure your current one with various rooms, which is initially one of the cooler features, but you'll quickly fill up your ship, and will likely be able to find one of the biggest ship types for an all-too-reasonable fee and have no progression left. The rooms add storage, increase science output, add bonus mission items, and one even lets you make item purchases when far away from any station.
Encounters can happen on the ship too, forcing you to go room to room like you would on the ground, killing off whoever's bugging you while an oblivious space monkey sings songs in the lounge. All the junk you collect both on-planet and off can include items that increase your science points, which are used to buy permanent upgrades for your ship, for classes, and for your crew in general. These upgrades carry over into new game plus, and can deliver some interesting enhancements, especially in higher development trees, such as allowing orbital strikes, increasing fuel efficiency, giving your engineers jetpacks, explosions creating spider bots that help distract and damage your enemies, or allowing medics to revive several party members at once if they have the right equipment.
In addition to kill or collect missions while on a planet you might run into an optional event that leads to more killing and more stuff, or while in transit you may come across a planetoid where you can mine for fuel or matter, but sadly there aren't that many of these events. The missions themselves don't have that many variations, but there's enough difference in the worlds you go to, the enemies fought, and what sorts of goals you have even if they boil down to the same few things, that the basic variety feels like enough, at least for a game that emphasises clicking on an enemy to make them pop.
Over time, though, you'll wish that there were more side missions, special hidden things, something beyond hoping for better loot. Enemies are one place where the game has decent variety, though, as you fight several factions: some Borg invaders, a strange biological hive mind, a conventional empire of human soldiers, and their out-of-control robot death squads, tough Jawa-looking creatures with several domesticated attack insects, and dinosaur-riding polar mercenaries. The variation in enemies keeps things fresh and sometimes requires different tactics, although nothing too deep. You can pause at any time to issue orders, something easy to forget when you're used to simpler enemies but something that makes the game much less likely to deliver a total party kill, or make it feel like just a mass of chaotic explosions, which it can certainly become in the late game when your team is extra powerful.
Although we didn't test it, the game supports multiplayer as well, allowing you to split the squad between characters, and there's a Horadric Cube style item hidden in the game that allows you to get rid of some of your junk for the chance of an upgraded item, or an item that lets you reset your science tree. There's also a questline of sorts that leads to the endgame, but it's easy to set aside, or easy to rush through. Ultimately the game helps pass the time, especially if you're the kind of gambler interested in random loot and building up a team of killers, but apart from some irreverent humour and a few bonus side quests, the variety peters out. The promise of further possibilities sort of goes away and you're left with a good initial impression that maintains its direction but leads into a void of levelling and killing that becomes an aching, aimless blur. If there had been more energy put into the late game beyond the main quest and the initial unique encounters, it would be much easier to recommend.
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