Written by Dave Gamble on 4/14/2014 for PC  
More On: VoidExpanse

“Explore the vast, open reaches of the VoidExpanse, mine asteroids for valuable resources, trade with space stations and merchants to improve your ship or complete quests, advance your character with skills from diverse skill-trees, survive fast-paced combat with hostile aliens and mercenaries and explore the many features that make VoidExpanse an exciting sci-fi universe!”

What that sentence from AtomicTorch Studio’s web site may lack in grammatical structure, it makes up in promises! Having had the opportunity to get a few hours in with an early access version, I would wager that those promises will be met, eventually. Not surprisingly with an early access version, the broad strokes are plain to see, but one has to mentally apply some prognosticative polish to get a feel for the eventual product.

And one needs to be quick about it because in the current version, the n00b is dead in short order.

Just to set the tone with a quick description, VoidExpanse is a Science Fiction, top-down action role-playing game set in outer space. The controls of your ship are quite simple, which is a great benefit since the current level of development does not include any type of tutorial or guidance as to how to move and control the ship. A few exploratory keypresses will suffice for learning how to control the movements of the ship, and a little mouse exploration will result in being able to fire at least one pitifully weak weapon. Being a 2D environment helps in that the only thrusters required to move in flat space are forward, reverse, and two directions of yaw.  Zero gravity Newtonian laws are in place at a fairly approachable level - just enough to remind you that you’re in space, but not so much as to make the basic control of the ship all that you can handle.

Being able to handle the ship, particularly in “run away!” mode, is critical from almost the first moment that you take your position as the Captain of your notably weak command.  Why? Because pirates. Pirates do not care that you are an inexperienced captain piloting a less-than-mediocre space vessel. In fact, I would wager that they quite enjoy the fact that you are an inexperienced captain piloting a less-than-mediocre space vessel. And pirates? There are a lot of them!  Truth be told, these early experiences are somewhat frustrating.

After a few abortive attempts at fighting back, I discovered that I could dock at a nearby space station. That too took a few tries to figure out - being a 2D galaxy, it turns out that there are quite a few things that you collide with rather than enter into. Once I was able to tear my fear-widened eyes away from the hostile pirates approaching from all sides, I noticed the little pop-up screen that provided the hot key for docking with the station. Inside the station, I received my first introduction to the RPG elements of the game.  Again, with no explanation of all of the diverse upgrades available for the ship, ways to earn the currency to buy them, hints as to how to navigate to far away star systems, or the factions I could join (which, having recently read two-thirds of the Divergent trilogy, I was in no hurry to select from), I was only able to poke around and see what I could figure out.

Some small measure of guidance was provided via an RPG-menu style of communication with someone I met in the canteen of the station. This felt like more solid ground, and I was able to get some advice as to how to proceed: “Get a better ship.”  Still stinging from my repeated defeats at the hands of common pirates, I could see his point.

After consulting a galaxy map, I could see that travel to distant star systems was enabled by jump points. As opposed to the “bump into” space station, these jump points could be entered into. Once inside, nothing happened.  Oh, another hot key!  I managed to visit a couple of other systems where I was met with, to no great surprise, more blood thirsty pirates. Through time I got somewhat better at the space combat aspect of the game, but still found running away to be the most effective strategy.  Visiting stations in the new star systems introduced me to new characters from whom I was able to learn more about their faction and receive advice regarding the requirements to join it. The recruitment advice I received in my prolonged stint as a ‘factionless’ typically involved successfully performing a mission. Having a one hundred percent failure rate on those missions, I cannot at this point say one way or the other if there are any benefits accrued from faction membership.

While it is too early in the development process to make many definitive statements, I can say that I found the action aspect of the game to be enjoyable, despite the early setbacks. The ships move smoothly and easily, the weapons are fairly straightforward to employ, some degree of tactical aptitude is required to survive battles, and the initial mediocrity of your ship entices you to find and exploit resources that can be used to improve it. With regards to whether or not the depth and complexity of dealing with the RPG aspects will be equally entertaining, it is too early to tell. A great deal of finish work is needed to clean up the character dialog writing and some degree of documentation and/or tutorials will be required, but all of the pieces are in place for a rewarding experience.

* The product in this article was sent to us by the developer/company.

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About Author

I've been fascinated with video games and computers for as long as I can remember. It was always a treat to get dragged to the mall with my parents because I'd get to play for a few minutes on the Atari 2600. I partially blame Asteroids, the crack cocaine of arcade games, for my low GPA in college which eventually led me to temporarily ditch academics and join the USAF to "see the world." The rest of the blame goes to my passion for all things aviation, and the opportunity to work on work on the truly awesome SR-71 Blackbird sealed the deal.

My first computer was a TRS-80 Model 1 that I bought in 1977 when they first came out. At that time you had to order them through a Radio Shack store - Tandy didn't think they'd sell enough to justify stocking them in the retail stores. My favorite game then was the SubLogic Flight Simulator, which was the great Grandaddy of the Microsoft flight sims.

While I was in the military, I bought a Commodore 64. From there I moved on up through the PC line, always buying just enough machine to support the latest version of the flight sims. I never really paid much attention to consoles until the Dreamcast came out. I now have an Xbox for my console games, and a 1ghz Celeron with a GeForce4 for graphics. Being married and having a very expensive toy (my airplane) means I don't get to spend a lot of money on the lastest/greatest PC and console hardware.

My interests these days are primarily auto racing and flying sims on the PC. I'm too old and slow to do well at the FPS twitchers or fighting games, but I do enjoy online Rainbow 6 or the like now and then, although I had to give up Americas Army due to my complete inability to discern friend from foe. I have the Xbox mostly to play games with my daughter and for the sports games.
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