As a fan of meaty space sojourns like Mass Effect and No Man's Sky, I was looking forward to trying SpaceBourne Part II in Early Access on Steam. Any game in EA comes with caveats for this stage of its development, and more so for the game's performance on Valve's relatively new Steam Deck platform. The fact that this massive game works on the portable is impressive, though early adopters will need to pack their patience for the trip.
SpaceBourne 2 is the creation of Burak Dabak (aka DBK Games) and as such is one of the more impressive undertakings you're likely to see. The single-player, free-roam space RPG is a shooter that includes exploration, mining, trading, piracy and more. It debuted in EA on February 17 and the update 2.0 on May 24 added motherships, Nova Squad allies, a new drone management system, a new damage system and more to procedurally generated solar systems and planets with their own villages, cities, etc. Visit the Steam page to learn details about everything the game offers.
To date I have spent about six and a half hours in-game, which barely scratches the surface of this deep role-playing game. That is due mainly to this game being in Early Access and not even optimized for Steam Deck. This time has been spent, as one can imagine, in training for the complex options available to the player. That it is "Playable" on the portable at this stage is quite a feat, though Valve's related claim that "All functionality is accessible when using the default controller configuration" doesn't conform with my experience.
My impressions of course are based on this Early Access version so issues are to be expected, especially when considering that the developer is still working toward gamepad compatibility according to posts I'd seen (never mind Steam Deck functionality). To begin with, some text is small to read on Steam Deck and some content is off screen (I didn't find a setting to change that) including for pop up menus and buttons, restricting interaction.
The game offers deep character customization, an element I always appreciate. Multiple attributes -- three each for soldier, pilot and adventurer -- affect a variety of stats that roughly boil down to damage, resistance and recharge (though adventurer has more general boosts related to experience, exploration, resource gathering, etc.). Six classes -- pirate, captain, freelancer, mercenary, explorer and merchant -- have up to four bonuses each. Preset features and custom sliders impact appearance, but options like hair color can't be selected because of a pop up that's partially off-screen.
Default controls for the Steam Deck are a community configuration that uses right thumbstick or right trackpad for menu navigation; left thumbstick for locomotion (hold down for sprint) and right for camera movement; left trackpad for menu options like M (galaxy?), J (journal), T (solar system?), I (cargo) and O (character) (repeat press to return to game); X to look over left shoulder, B over right shoulder; menu/start for resume, save/load, settings etc.; holding down left trigger for zoom; top left back button for jetpack; bottom left back button to toggle first person view; top right back button to toggle the cursor.
Upon starting, the first thing players will notice is the quality presentation. The detailed character model in the creation tool carries over to the game, where a multitude of NPCs linger in the initial community. All are animated though few walk about and fewer still are interactive; however, their presence and the sound of a busy street scene create an atmosphere lacking in some similar games. Some surface textures likewise are detailed and the town has a distinctive design, though the desert setting and earth tone color scheme can detract from such specifics.
Of course I was initially interested in gameplay and familiarizing myself with the controls. Action starts off limited but movement is responsive and animation is fluid. The only problem I ran into early was getting stuck in between steps and a group of three people standing on them. Thankfully I figured out I had a jetpack and was able to dislodge myself. Jetpack movement itself was simple enough to execute though it took a while to figure out how to launch myself higher than inches off the ground.
My first command was to find someone to speak with, which was relatively easy as an indicator showed me the direction I needed to travel in and the NPC was highlighted once in sight. However, I couldn't interact with them initially. Y was supposed to serve as the F keyboard button but didn't. I couldn't change the Y button in the settings but after changing F to LMB (which corresponds to right trigger) I was able to interact.
The dialog tree had a few options though this early in the game they were not overly impactful. And besides, I wanted to hurry the story along so chose to meet with someone else who could issue me my first contract. It's interesting to note that at this stage the dialog appears to be voiced by AI, the kind you'd hear in a phone recording depending on the prompts you select (where each word is a different tone or cadence). It's a little distracting but not a big deal, and could change post-Early Access.
Unfortunately during my second interaction no dialog or dialog options popped up (despite character dialog animations) and no other buttons besides camera controls worked. Locked into this conversation, I had to quit the game, but pressing the Steam button in-game crashed my Steam Deck. Once I rebooted the hardware and reloaded the game, the initial command is replayed, and I still had the same issue of no dialog or related options.
I tried editing the controller layout this time (instead of just the game input settings), but still could not trigger dialog or related options. Finally, changing the control configuration to a default Steam one (Keyboard (WASD) and Mouse) worked, though it lacks many other options of course. After completing this conversation (for which the NPC voice did not sound as artificial), I had to revert to the default community control configuration to fly a ship.
A few comments about the space port before I get to those controls. Here, I paid attention to shadows for the first time as spacecraft passed overhead, their respective shadows moving believably across the ground and buildings. Their sounds likewise impressed as ships landed and took off. The impressive presentation was interrupted only when I had trouble entering my ship, as my character became stuck underneath and I had to use the jetpack to break free, which sent me flying on my belly for a time.
In flight, Y is held to ascend and A to descend. Flight controls proved extremely sensitive especially with thumbsticks, and I initially got caught in a barrel roll that took time to correct. In time I found that the trackpad worked best for maneuvering my craft. Unfortunately flight control configuration didn't work in every respect and I had to spend time remapping actions. Again I had to change some keyboard controls to gamepad controls (the latter still couldn't be altered in the menu).
The good news is that targeting proved responsive using the trackpad and weapons appeared to work fine, though I needed practice pursuing enemy craft while firing on them. Thankfully the ship has a pursuit system, but I first had to add an extra layer of controls for ones absent from the community configuration. For instance, the ship's pursuit system was mapped to RMB, which wasn't represented in the input menu nor the configuration. I tried a few alternatives but nothing worked and in the meantime, as before, using the Steam button in game can cause a crash of the game (or Steam Deck).
I left off after three crashes over six and a half hours, a lot of it spent amending the control configuration. That's not an indictment of the game at all, just the challenge of playing it on hardware it's not optimized for and with gamepad controls that are still being implemented. The HUD interface is another example, where icons and text in each corner are illegible on the Deck's small screen except for bottom right meters for health, shield, stamina, etc.
Indeed, this Early Access game is by definition a work in progress. If I had a gripe, it would be with Steam's claim that "All functionality is accessible when using the default controller configuration." Considering this stage in the production process, I'm impressed with the fact that such an ambitious game is playable now on the Steam Deck and that the default community control configuration works even if considerable tweaks are necessary. If its issues on Valve's hardware can be addressed and all functionality included, SpaceBourne Part II has the potential to be a deep and satisfying adventure game on the Steam Deck.
(This post was based on a review code of SpaceBourne Part II for Steam. The game is available in Early Access on that platform.)
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