Sunday, May 15, 2016

Let's Check Out Rymdresa

I recently started playing Rymdresa, a "poetic, roguelike space odyssey in a procedurally generated world" according to the homepage and I really want to like it. When I first read about it, it seemed like the perfect fit for me - I like roguelikes (although I tend to get very frustrated with them) and I love space games, so what's to dislike? Well, so far I've spent about 7 hours with the game and there are definitely elements I love and some elements I like a lot less.

Rymdresa was released by developer/publisher Morgondag in August 2015 and has all the feels of a nice little indie-game. Semi-interesting anecdote here - both Rymdresa and Morgondag are Swedish words and mean Spacetrip and Tomorrow (sort of) respectively.

When I first started playing it I had no idea what to expect and had clearly missed the "poetic" part, because whatever idea I had about the game it turned out to be nothing like it. Not in a bad way however. Essentially you play as a spaceship trying to survive and scavenge resources in space. You can't attack anything and initially there isn't anything to attack you back either. Not that space isn't full of dangers to kill you faster than you can say Rymdresa backwards, but in the first two chapters of the game (there are three) these are of the passive sort that merely need to be avoided. Trust me, it sounds a lot simpler than it is.

The first chapter, without spoiling too much, felt a lot like a tutorial of sorts to me, something to allow you to get acquainted with the concept of the game before the actual game begins. As such it was a tad on the dreary side and things definitely look up once you get to chapter two. So let's break down gameplay;

Your goal is to find materials in space to rebuild what is left of humanity. To find said resources you need to do a lot of searching around in what is a lot of empty space. There will be a big chunk of time spent doing little much but drifting around waiting for something useful to come into view and I think this can be a divider for many of players. Personally I quite enjoyed even these parts as soon as I understood what the game was trying to do. Some effort has been put into trying to instill a feeling of vastness and emptiness of space, and the game definitely succeeded with this. As such you can't play the game hoping to get action around every corner (mostly because there aren't corners in space). This game needs to take its time and it wants you to take time with it. If you allow yourself to just relax, maybe let your mind wander a bit and enjoy the stillness during these moments, I found that it was quite meditative and possible the best game I've played before bedtime. Don't relax too much however, because in a heartbeat that calm will change into quick death if you're not on your toes.

Your ship works on resources, which basically serves as both ship fuel and ship health. Whenever you use your engines you lose resources and whenever you take damage you lose resources. You can regain resources by exploring objects you find, things like planets and asteroids. In chapter two and three these objects also reward materials with which to rebuild your base. Also found in space are something called "spacepoints" which are basically the currency of the game. They can either be gathered or awarded through different events of the game, pretty much anything gives you spacepoints. With these you can buy better ships for instance. Your ship also gets experience with which you can upgrade stats that can improve you exploration success rate, experience gain rate and other things like that. And then there are items that can either be consumables or upgrades for your ship. Experience, items and spacepoints are saved on death.

It's nowhere near as confusing as my rambling explanation is making it out to be but I do feel like all these elements give you a false sense of power. You get tools to level up and upgrade your ship, but never during my gameplay did I feel like it made a big difference on the actual game. Maybe I just haven't gotten enough upgrades and levels yet...

The poetic part of the game is obvious albeit not easily understood. The main thing is what I am assuming the pilot of the ships (namely you) voice recordings that activate at regular time intervals throughout the game and that can also be found floating around space. I'm not a big poetic buff myself, I rarely get the thing about poetry, but I found these recordings to be alright. They fit the frame of the game. Unfortunately they can ruin immersion somewhat since there doesn't seem to be any programming preventing the same recording to repeat. Since it's a roguelike I wouldn't demand for a recording to never repeat ever again, but twice right after eachother within the same turn of playing? That just removes the poetic feeling and makes it sound silly instead. There are also various message displayed all around space and they make little more sense other than to further instill you with the feeling of emptiness and fragile hope the game seems to thrive on.

If the first chapter feels a bit slow, the second chapter is where I thought the game really brought out its best potential. In this chapter you're basically trying to find as much material as possible, and there are moments when you've floated around for what feels like several minutes without having come across anything of interest when suddenly BAM! A goldmine of objects to explore and mine and fields of starpoints to collect. These moments are quite enjoyable and gives you a nice kick to want to explore more. At this point in the game it is a lovely little roguelike where challenge and reward are neatly balanced. The goal is clear and the gameplay manages to throw itself between relaxing and stressful without any hitches. Just as in any roguelike you can have unlucky runs where you die shortly after you've started, there are plenty of unavoidable death situations where an asteroid just comes rocketing from left field and you barely have a chance to avoid it. But just as in any good roguelike it's ok because you just buckle up and launch out again.

It's unfortunate then that it doesn't last. As soon as you've fulfilled the goal of chapter two, which felt way too easy in my opinion, and you get to start on chapter three, the game introduces gameplay elements that sound great on paper but just don't come together to a fun experience. Firstly there are now enemy ships that, although they don't actively hunt you down, are so difficult to avoid and impossible to survive you just feel like giving up immediately when you see one. Secondly, the goal of this chapter is to find "keys" that are scattered so far off into space it takes forever to get to them. Fortunately progress is saved between each one of them, but trying to reach each one feels more of a time sink than anything else because your ship is so fragile and the difficulty is upped quite a bit. Whereas in chapter two you could choose between playing it a bit safe and slower, or venture further out for more rewarding but more dangerous scavange hunts, in chapter three you are basically forced to do the latter eventhough your ship is just as shitty. Maybe if I felt like leveling and gearing up my ship made more of a difference I would've gone down that route first, but it never manages to feel like anything but a big waste of time.

There is a lot I like about this game. I love the mellow parts where I just drift around space and the fact that I don't mind that nothing much is going on. This game manages to pull those parts off for me, and the middle segment of the game manages to balance perfectly between what practically is a "walking simulator" (or maybe "floating simulator" in this case) and a stressful roguelike. I just wish they would've stuck with this formula for longer, but it's like they didn't trust it enough to keep people entertained, and the third chapter has too much of a bad roguelike in it to be fun. Eventhough I am only halfway through chapter three, when reading reviews of the game I see that the latter half of chapter three is apparently even worse than the first half. If you can find it on discount I still recommend it, I've overall enjoyed my experience with it. Maybe I will just leave the game where it is now and enjoy those serene moments of vast emptiness of space that we had together. Those parts were great.

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