Deep Sky Derelicts: Definitive Edition is a turn-based tactical card-based RPG. It is available on Humble Bundle, Steam, GoG, PlayStation 4, Xbox One, and Nintendo Switch. Joseph Pugh conducted this review with the PC version of the game.
The “Definitive Edition” of Deep Sky Derelicts refers to the base game and both current DLC expansions. While it’s still possible to buy the base game separately on some platforms, this review is based on the total package.
Deep Sky Derelicts combines tactical card-based combat with free form procedural exploration, challenging difficulty and RPG elements. You create a team of three scavengers from several classes and use them to explore old space ship derelicts in search of scrap and data.
Derelicts are never fully abandoned, you will need to contend with raiders, pirates, robots, beasts and even other scavenger groups. Managing this while maintaining your energy levels is no easy task. Running out of energy spells doom for your crew as life systems falter.
As you explore you will find or purchase new weapons and modifications that can either have statistical passive benefits or add new cards to your character’s decks. Each crew member can also gain levels and new cards when they do.
Most of the game is procedural. Generally speaking, you can’t be completely sure what you will encounter on each derelict and there is a level of RNG involved. Deep Sky Derelicts features a standard procedural campaign mode and a more action-oriented arena mode.
Deep Sky Derelicts immediately made a strong attempt at sweeping me off my feet with its crew customization. You get to choose your three starting crew members, what classes they are, their traits, portrait, cosmetic skin and you can rename them. The concept of having a personal connection to your characters is largely popularized by XCOM, but its something I’ve valued all the way back to the original Final Fantasy Tactics.
There is a good variety of classes, each one has different starting statistics like weaponry, tech and medical. These stats affect everything from how potent specific cards are, to whether or not you pass certain random events. The character with the highest charisma is the one that appears in all the dialogue in the game. I thought that was a clever touch.
Exploring Derelicts is done via a neat radar map that really helps sell the theme of the game. You can move your crew around and use a scanner to reveal nearby tiles. This mode, like the combat, is also turn-based. Some enemies move around the map and you can spot them with your scanner. The kicker is that every action out of combat, and every turn in combat takes energy.
Energy is your lifeline. Run out of it and the health of your crew begins to plummet. You must frequently retreat to landing zones and return to the hub to refill your energy. Alternatively, you may use consumable power cells to keep you topped off. In a pinch, you can also recycle items for a small boost. This is the first crux of the challenge.
The game doesn’t explicitly make it clear, but running out of credits is a game over. You need them to refill your energy, and if you cant, well, no one can you scream in space. This makes balancing your energy and credits a precarious act.
Scanning reveals the layout but only stays active for a turn or two before the rooms plunge back into darkness and hide possible threats within them. Your crew can rush around-consuming significantly less energy but if you run into an enemy, you get ambushed. On the flip side, you can consume more energy to sneak, allowing you to do the ambushing.
The combat encounters themselves are highly strategic. Every class except the inventor uses shielding. Shields regenerate after every combat. But if a crew members shields are down when they get hit, that damage sticks until you have them healed at an infirmary. Healthcare is bloody expensive and if a crew member goes down, you better have deep pockets for the revival.
This means you generally don’t want to take hits that your shields cant absorb. Turns are based on the initiative and combat is a back and forth use strategic cards. Each class has a starting deck of cards related to their abilities and weapons.
These can be modified with new weapons, mods and by spending skill points when leveling up. Furthermore, each class can choose one of many specializations at level four such as Psyker or Chemist, granting you even more choice.
I really can’t understate the number of character options you have between classes, specializations, weapons, mods, and even medical implants. You can definitely fine-tune your dream team combo when playing. It’s wonderful.
Each character can usually play one card per turn. These can be various attacks, recharging shields, and other neat effects. Deep Sky Derelicts largely plays a game of attrition, some encounters you might win by ignoring defenses and attacking but you must be aware that any health damage you take sticks with you until you pay to have it fixed.
This means turtling and playing defensive can be beneficial, even in less threatening fights. At the same time, each turn further depletes your energy. It’s always a trade off you have to consider.
You have all sorts of cards at your disposal full of different effects. You can stun foes, make them bleed, taunt them on to a specific character and so much more. Each card is thematic, a grenade launcher mod might add a variety of grenade cards to your character’s deck for example.
If your character’s current hand seems useless for the situation, you can spend extra energy to draw three random environment cards instead and choose to use one of those.
This is an interesting trade-off with energy, super thematic and fun. You can toss scrap at your foes, hide behind cover, hack computer consoles and more based on the environment. It’s a really thoughtful strategic mechanic that like most of the game, really sells the theme.
Each attack is rendered in a really neat comic book style illustration and most of the game is visually attractive, aside from the somewhat bland environments.
The strategic gameplay and careful balance of energy and credits make for a solid and satisfying gameplay loop. You can use credits to buy or craft new weapons, mods, consumables, and implants. You can even choose to invest in crew wide upgrades for stuff like your scanner. However, you must always temper your buying habits with the risk of affording healthcare for your crew and the ability to refill your energy reserves.
If it’s not obvious by now, I really enjoy Deep Sky Derelicts. Yet It’s more accurate to say that I really want to. My entire experience was consistently marred by bugs.
Quests that I couldn’t finish, loading screens that wouldn’t end and I would often lose my ability to click on anything. Most of these bugs forced me to close the game completely and restart it.
I rarely lost actual progress as long as I saved often, but this was not an infrequent thing. It happened constantly. It also makes the games save limiting hardcore mode look very unappetizing.
Aside from the bugs, Deep Sky Derelicts houses some other flaws. Most of the game is procedural, but the missions you can take or find get tedious and repetitive quickly. The game is kind of made to be played multiple times and you will encounter the same missions at the same tiers in each playthrough most of the time.
There are no difficulty settings and it can be inconsistent at times. I love brutal games but only if it’s fair. I’ve blown through half of a derelict with little resistance to encounter a deadly encounter I never saw coming.
There is a great deal of inventory management in Deep Sky Derelicts and the interface itself is a little messy and un-intuitive. That goes for a lot of the game. While it is deep, I had to read a good portion of the in-game codex more than once and then had to frequently refer to it when a status effect popped up.
There is also a weird design decision regarding your crew. You can buy new crew members. First of all, they are costly. Secondly, it seems kind of attached to the game with glue rather than a functional coherent addition. You don’t have a roster, you cant swap crew members in and out and If you want to use a new crew member, you have to dismiss an old one.
Crew members don’t die, they get knocked unconscious until you pay for their revival. There seems little reason to buy a new one unless you obtain some killer weapons and mods for a class you don’t have.
Which brings me to a whole other issue. Your loot is random and since credits are so valuable a good portion of your power level is based on your loot. You can pick up weapons and mods of all kinds, including those your roster may not be able to use. This means their only function is to be sold unless you buy another crew member (which requires you to dismiss an old one).
It just feels bad and kind of unsatisfying to pick up an awesome melee weapon that only a Bruiser can use when you don’t have a Bruiser. If you want a Bruiser, you have to kiss one of your other crew members goodbye. It also means if you are particularly unlucky, you can get a little screwed by the RNG.
Deep Sky Derelicts honestly has a whole lot going for it and Its theme is beautifully baked into every mechanical aspect. The exploration metagame and combat are both tactical and fun. and you have a massive degree of character customization and the card system is fantastic.
Its design isn’t perfect, but most of its other issues could be overlooked if not for the persistent and frustrating bugs. The good news is bugs can be squished and if that happens, I’ll be a happy critic.
I only tested the PC version of Deep Sky Derelicts. Your platform of choice may or may not have them, so if the other issues I mentioned don’t seem important to you. It’s worth digging in a little regarding your platform’s version.
Deep Sky Derelicts: Definitive Edition is a game worth experiencing if you’re a fan of tactical games, especially card-based ones. Even with a couple of odd design choices. The bugs, however, dampen the fun a great deal.
- The fantastic card-based battle system
- Variety of unique classes and specializations
- Great presentation, art style, and theme
- A clever balance of risk versus reward
- Great character customization
- Optional arena mode for a more action-oriented game
- Nice melding of procedural exploration and thrilling combat
- Frustrating frequent bugs
- Repetitive Missions
- A couple of odd design choice fit poorly with the rest of the game
- Messy interface and poor explanation of many mechanics
- Lack of difficulty settings