The space sim genre has had a strong resurgence of late, with Star Citizen breaking records for video game crowdfunding and Elite: Dangerous developer David Braben winning the Pioneer Award at this year's Game Developers Choice Awards. The genre, once seen by publishers as niche and unprofitable, is steadily heading to a return to the mainstream appeal it had during the heyday of the Wing Commander series. Indeed, one of this year's most anticipated games is PS4 timed exclusive No Man's Sky.
Not every space-based game has to resort to a multimillion dollar budget, record-breaking fan funding, or top-table publisher backing, however. There has been a recent trend in highly impressive indie cosmos-set games, with the likes of FTL: Faster Than Light showing just how much can be done with a hard sci fi setting. Now, another game has entered the scene: the AtomicTorch-developed space combat RPG VoidExpanse, available for Mac, PC, and Linux.
In terms of feel, VoidExpanse is best described as a space-based version of the early Grand Theft Auto games. Players contend with an open-world galaxy and sandbox elements, seen from a top-down perspective. Meanwhile, there are a number of factions that the player can form allegiances with, hunting down space pirates and delivering encrypted data. There are strong similarities to space combat titles like the Escape Velocity series, Space Rangers, and even EVE Online.
Like the CCP Games-developed MMO, VoidExpanse has been built with a strong focus on a multiplayer experience. The same procedurally-generated galaxies can be created for both the single player and the multiplayer game modes, providing gamers with the same factions and quest lines regardless of how they wish to play. VoidExpanse is yet to gain a strong multiplayer following, and is certainly not at the level of the recent 1,300-combatant EVE Online battle. Thankfully, the single player mode still has plenty to offer players, and it is a good idea for users to get used to the gameplay mechanics in single player before heading into the online world.
In particular, players should familiarize themselves with the game's real-time combat, which makes up a large proportion of the gameplay. One-on-one combat is certainly fun, with tense dogfighting around every corner, and the top-down style avoids the confusion of three dimensional combat. However, players may find it difficult when more than one enemy gets involved. Given that VoidExpanse is full of treacherous pockets of cosmos, those with characters less focused on combat could find it worthwhile to avoid firefights when travelling between friendly areas.
Thankfully, these safe zones are fairly regular, with space stations offering repair and refuel options, as well as new quests to pick up. Players can travel between different star systems hunting for jobs through warp jumps, and different systems are controlled by different groups. There are several factions in VoidExpanse, ranging from the officious Order, the bizarre Fanatics, and villainous Pirates. Meanwhile, the alien Xengatarn race controls a large section of the galaxy.
Users can play the game in a number of different ways based around class choices. There are several classes to choose from, starting with the all-rounder Adventurer class and continuing to speed-freak Pilots, combat-heavy Fighters, and support-based Engineers. VoidExpanse provides players with some interesting builds, with the Prospector class focused on asteroid-mining and the Trader class built around negotiation skills.
Whichever class a player chooses, it is essential to develop new abilities through the game's skill tree. Gamers can increase their weapon proficiency per weapon type, improve their maneuverability in the void, and become more persuasive to gain information and trade deals easier. Alongside their character, players will want to improve their ship, buying new hulls with different strengths and weaknesses, and buying upgraded equipment such as weaponry, shield generators, and radar modules.
It may seem like there is a lot to keep track of, but VoidExpanse manages to slowly integrate the player into the game's mechanics. The offside of this, however, is that VoidExpanse takes a while to get going, with initial quests feeling a little too much like running errands for other characters. Within a couple of hours, however, players should find themselves adept with the game, opening up a galaxy to explore and essentially giving the player free reign to play the game however they want.
That said, the plot itself is heavily focused towards one area of VoidExpanse's lore: the Xengatarn, with the Order faction in particular focusing on combat against the alien race later in the game. This means that certain quests don't necessarily match up with the character a player may have built, and those without a combat-heavy class may not appreciate being pushed down a pathway that they are not accustomed to. Traders and Prospectors may find the earlier portion of the game more engaging, and may ignore the overall story in favor of their own intentions.
The game's characters do not exactly force a player into plot urgency, either. Most of the other inhabitants of VoidExpanse are procedurally-generated, using the same base dialogue in every space station. It doesn't help that the character art has a strange, cartoonish vibe that jars with the rest of the art style. Overall, though, VoidExpanse is great to look at, with a colorful universe, eye-catching ship and station designs, and a simplistic user interface.
Unfortunately, there is one major flaw that has to be addressed regarding VoidExpanse: the game has some problems in terms of stability. In space, no-one can hear you scream, but in VoidExpanse's case those screams may be due to a corrupted save file or network issues. AtomicTorch has proactively taken steps to address these concerns, however, and there has been some improvement in the game's overall stability since launch.
VoidExpanse certainly has a lot of potential, particularly in regards to an active online community. AtomicTorch has been very vocal about promoting a vibrant mod scene for VoidExpanse, and that attitude has already paid off, with several mods already available and the title compatible with Steam Workshop. The game has clearly been designed with multiplayer in mind, and although the numbers are not quite there yet, this game could certainly be fun with a group of friends. AtomicTorch's inclusive nature expands to other areas, including a recent update with options for color-blind players.
It's that infectious enthusiasm that makes VoidExpanse such an effective experience. The game may have flaws, with stability a problem that still needs to be addressed, but AtomicTorch has nonetheless created a highly addictive and fun title, with the potential to grow into a sleeper indie hit. Intrepid gamers willing to deal with its issues will find plenty of entertainment in VoidExpanse, even if the game is not quite the finished package.
VoidExpanse is out now for PC, Mac, and Linux. Game Rant was provided a PC code for this review. For more info on VoidExpanse visit the game's official site here.