Game Review #511: Deep Sky Derelicts: Definitive Edition (Nintendo Switch)
Reviewer: John B
Developer: Snowhound Games
Publisher: 1C Entertainment
Category: Role-Playing, Strategy, Dungeon Crawler
Release Date: 3.24.2020
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Buy Deep Sky Derelicts: Definitive Edition from the Nintendo Switch eShop here.
Today we’re taking a look at Deep Sky Derelicts: Definitive Edition for the Nintendo Switch. It’s a dungeon-crawling, turn-based, card game RPG set in a dystopic future on giant, derelict spaceships. Its art style and genre have earned it comparisons to modern-day classic Darkest Dungeon, but I’ve never played that so I won’t be making any. I will say that if Darkest Dungeon and Deep Sky Derelicts are at all similar, then I really need to get on the Darkest Dungeon hype train, because Deep Sky Derelicts is fun and engrossing as hell.
Scrapping and Surviving
Players will assume the role of a stateless (basically a disenfranchised, devalued social class) scavenger offered citizenship status by an aristocrat. In exchange for some newfound social mobility, players must first find the nav data leading to the location of a legendary derelict alien ship. Frankly, the story is fairly thin overall; its main focus is on dungeon crawling and loot, not that I’m complaining necessarily. Exploring derelict spaceships is laid out in a board-game style grid, and moving one grid space is a movement turn. Some spaces have hazards like traps or environmental anomalies that can damage your characters or debuff them during combat.
In the derelicts, you can run into other scavengers or derelict colonists and either trade with or attack them. Sometimes they’ll appear as part of special scenarios that introduce side quests – they won’t do that if you attack them, though. Basically every quest is a fetch quest, but some puzzles or narrative branching decisions are thrown in for good measure. But at the end of the quest it’s all in pursuit of that sweet, sweet loot. There’s just something about loot that gives me a little electric thrill every time I scavenge on a new tile or collect the spoils of battle. Even if every piece of equipment I pick up is total crap, the anticipation of seeing what I won gets me excited very time.
Cards of Carnage
But it’s not all loot and hapless colonists out in the derelicts; there’s plenty of murderous pirates, aggressive vermin, lizard people death cults, and roving bands of killbots, just to name a few threats. When you run into them on the game board, it’s time to fight. Combat is turn-based in the classic RPG mode; your squad of up to three scavengers is on one side, and your enemies are on the other. Turn order is displayed in the lower corner, and it is determined by the characters’ initiative, which is in turn determined by a strange alchemy of character class, equipment, and status effects. Your available actions are determined by the cards in your characters’ hands; you draw a starting hand at the beginning of battle, and then draw one per turn for the duration of the fight. Your actions basically boil down to attacking, buffing, healing, and debuffing like most RPGs – though many cards do two or three of those things at the same time.
Characters get cards based on their class and equipment; every character has two weapons and two tools, which each have two mod slots to further customize equipment. Most equipment and mods add cards to your deck, but some only have stat boosts. Every character class has its own unique action cards as well. You can get more class-specific cards by leveling up and investing points in your characters’ ability trees. Overall the difficulty of combat is well-designed, but things do skew towards being more challenging. Things are balanced enough that every battle is winnable; unfortunately the random element of drawing cards does mean that sometimes you can get screwed by not drawing the cards you need at that point. That’s never a good feeling.
Because the combat, environmental hazards, and your characters’ health just aren’t enough things to manage, Deep Sky Derelicts also introduces a resource management element in the form of energy. Every action uses energy; moving, playing a card during combat, removing obstacles from the board, and sometimes even side quest decisions. Energy can be restored by using energy canisters or buying a fill-up at the base station’s store, where you can also sell your loot and/or buy new equipment or consumable items. The station also has a hospital to replenish health and buy stat-boosting implants, a research bay to upgrade your exploration capabilities, and a bar where you can accept side quests.
Loot-Fests Need Good Item Management
Combat, exploration, and the game’s economic elements are all well and good; I enjoyed the challenging battles and the way the fighting system worked makes sense. Exploration is surprisingly satisfying seeing as how all you’re really doing is filling in gray squares on a black map. Energy and money management is just par for the course in an RPG, so I accept that facet of the game without complaint. The game’s unforgiveable sin is in its inventory management; scrolling through your inventory is clunky on its own, and there’s no way to compare your currently equipped items with weapons and mods in your inventory or at the shop. You have to manually check the weapons and go back and forth between individual items every time you want to check your new acquisitions. If your game revolves around loot this much, you need to have an airtight inventory system, and that is Deep Sky Derelicts’ black eye.
Drawn to Derelicts
The hand-drawn graphics are presented in a graphic novel-like style; actions take place in windows reminiscent of a panel layout, complete with sound effects and - perhaps best of all - damage done is presented in a suspiciously Comics Sans-like font. Be honest; how many people just got completely turned off by that comparison? Well, you shouldn’t be; it’s just a lame font. Move on. Anyway, while the actual art looks somewhat raw and jagged, it is nonetheless attractive and successfully establishes the harsh, dark atmosphere the game desires for its world. The music does its job admirably as well; exploration music is quieter and more thoughtful, whereas the battle music is tense and exciting.
There is no Dereliction of Quality Here
Deep Sky Derelicts: Definitive Edition is a dungeon crawler’s dream. There’s a story that doesn’t do anything to intrude on grinding for that sweet, sweet loot or engaging in well-designed, strategic, and challenging combat. The graphics are attractively designed and drawn, and presented in a very cool graphic novel-reminiscent format (although maybe that appeals to me because I work in a comic store and love comics? I still think it would look cool even without that affection; Phantasy Star used to do something similar and it was awesome). Card-based combat will always be a little too dependent on random factors for my tastes, but it seldom reared its head as a problem here. The only real complaint I could find is the poor inventory management system; everything else is rock-solid and well worth any RPG fan’s time and attention.
Buy Deep Sky Derelicts: Definitive Editionfrom the Nintendo Switch eShop here.
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*A game code was provided for review purposes