A galaxy teeters on the edge of war, as an army of clone soldiers threatens to shatter the already fragile peace. “I’ve heard this before!” you may say to yourself, and you’d be wrong. Despite Everspace 2’s similarities in tone and style to other space operas and sci-fi epics, Rockfish is telling a fresh story that builds on what made the original Everspace so interesting. It’s a brilliant sequel with excellent exploration and exciting combat, even if it’s a bit too willing to hide its own brilliance in the first few hours.
Edge of the galaxy
You play as Adam, one of the dozens, if not hundreds, of illegal Adam clones that streamed across the galaxy at the end of the first Everspace. Adam’s very existence is illegal, but as long as his employers don’t advertise the fact they’ve employed a clone, everybody – except the authorities – goes home happy. This Adam works as a gun-for-hire, so to speak, acting as a freelance mercenary who keeps mining crews safe when they venture into territory rife with outlaws and villains. What starts as a routine mining trip ends with kidnapping and his best friend stored in cryostasis, as Adam gets plunged into a complex tale of murderers, mutineers, outlaws, and misguided soldiers determined to preserve the peace at any cost.
In the middle of the chaos, faction fighting, and disruption, Adam just wants to find a place to call home. Despite his rather shallow writing in the opening hours, it’s almost impossible not to feel sympathy with him.
Everspace 2 places heavier emphasis on story, though the pacing is almost painfully slow in the first few missions, not helped by the rather bland quest structure where you collect materials and perform routine maintenance tasks. However, it does eventually find its footing and tells a set of much more interesting stories in the end.
Where the first Everspace focused almost too much on the conflict around Gorc and his desire to start a new war between Colonials and the Okkar, Everspace 2 takes a broader approach and looks at life on the edges of the galaxy. Adam winds up with a former soldier turned rebel after he became disillusioned with the military’s tyranny, runs cargo for shady merchants, and comes to grips with the fact that most people, even his so-called friends, view him as a convenient tool thanks to his nature as a clone.
This is more than just another space war story. Rockfish created a fresh and unique world in the first game and takes the time to slow down and fill in the blanks in Everspace 2. Adam eventually meets a broad cast of characters with diverse and more interesting backgrounds who add a greater sense of depth to the galaxy. Everspace 2 feels more complex and lived in as a result, and even more so if you take time to explore its side quests from shady merchants, chat with outpost leaders who nurse festering grudges, and explore its wrecked ships with hints of the sad fates of those who once piloted them.
The main story unfolds in a series of comic-like illustrations that give each character more emotional expression than 3D models or character portraits would. These are lush drawings with extensive attention to detail and lighting, though they move so quickly, you almost don’t have time to appreciate them before the next scene starts.
The voice acting is less impressive. Everspace 2 embraces the kind of pithy banter you’d expect from something like Star Wars, though in moments both lighthearted and serious, most of the lines are read with a kind of flatness that robs the script of its intended effect.
All systems are go
Everspace 2 plays so well, though, that you quickly overlook its less effectual moments.
For one thing, it improves the original’s fiddly ship controls by adding a set of sensitivity sliders. It sounds like a minor touch, but the effect it has on comfort and enjoyability is substantial – though if you prefer the stiff, slightly unwieldy control styles, that option is still available.
Combat itself is slightly uneven, especially early in Everspace 2 when your loadout is simpler. At its foundation, Everspace 2 is a space dogfight game that plays similarly to a number of other space adventures and even the space segments of the original Star Wars Battlefront. You run up against drones, small fighters, and a selection of other enemy craft, follow them, and blow them up.
Where Everspace 2 distinguishes itself is in its ships and weapons. All of your craft’s lasers, missiles, and special abilities work on a cooldown of some sort, either a traditional timer that limits how often you can use a device or a meter that overheats once you attack too often. Missiles are limited in number and can only be replenished if you spend money back at base, and if you take too much damage while your shields are down, you have to shell out for repairs as well. You have perks, upgrades, devices, and more, all of which can be enhanced to do more damage and keep you alive for longer.
The problem is that it’s all fairly similar to the first Everspace, even down to the upgrade and weapon types. Everspace 2 gates the new and interesting stuff behind story progress, and that even includes interesting encounters
The prologue teases something more exciting with bigger ships and enemies who require more strategy, before yanking it away and stripping it down for the next several hours. It gets much more exciting after the first few missions, though, with no shortage of tense encounters that force you to plan ahead and attack wisely.
Making the jump to supraspace
Combat might be too familiar in the opening segments, but exploration more than makes up for it. Adam can visit a number of systems and sites of interest as he gradually regains his navigation technology, and while some of them seem barren, there’s always at least one point of interest that rewards those who stop and look. Many of them have cleverly designed puzzles at their core, with a fresh spin on third-person puzzle-solving using your ship, sense of direction, and quick thinking. The rewards are often just more weapons or crafting materials, but the joy is in the actions you take to reach those rewards.
Everspace 2 borrows an element of design philosophy from Super Mario in the sense that it makes even normal movement feel fun. Rolling at the right time to dodge a foe, turning to squeeze through a piece of wreckage, feeling the weight of space melt around you as you jump into light speed – practically every movement in your ship has a sense of excitement and joy baked into it.
You quickly lose your sense of direction even just when performing routine maneuvers, adding a dizzying sense of feeling unanchored that fits perfectly with the idea of flying a tiny spacecraft in a vast universe. There’s no up or down in space, but there are, thankfully, some unobtrusive markers to help point out locations and resources. Rockfish also struck an effective balance between creating scale in its vast galaxy and letting you get around quickly. Jump space and cruise thrusters let you reach your destinations within seconds, but not so fast that you lose a sense of just how big the space around you is.
The environments might start off feeling bland and empty, but as you progress to the heart of the galaxy - and the heart of its troubles - you eventually end up visiting densely packed planets, military bases, and rugged manufacturing outposts, among other places. It's an exciting array of settings that makes the most of Everspace's lore, and it looks stunning.
Everspace 2 might seem like more of the same, especially thanks to its plodding prologue, but there's more going on here than you see at first glance. There's a stronger sense of place, better story, and more interesting cast that feel like they fulfill the original game's potential. Exploration is better than ever, and while combat hasn't changed too much, the careful balancing act of managing your resources makes every encounter feel fresh and exciting.
This review is based on a Steam code provided by Rockfish Games. Everspace 2 is leaving early access on April 6, 2023, for PC via Steam. PlayStation and Xbox versions, along with a Steam Deck-compatible version, are planned for release sometime in summer 2023.
- Flying is pure fun
- Smart combat - eventually
- Interesting story and cast
- Clever puzzles and rewarding exploration
- Unique and colorful presentation
- Tedious opening chapters
- Combat feels too simple at first
- Voice acting lets the story down
Josh Broadwell posted a new article, Everspace 2 review: Building a better galaxy
I was really interested in seeing how this plays out, but the fact the controls are only slightly tweaked has me concerned.
I ended up giving up on the first Everspace because I didn't like the controls on a controller - it was awkward, unpleasant to fly and didn't feel good.
This isn't sounding much better :(