I was finally onboard the wreck that contained the part I needed. All I had to do was find it, grab it, and make my escape. I made my way to the ship’s helm and updated my map with the part’s location. This was gonna be easy. Or that’s what I thought before I set off multiple alarms and got chased by security robots and a nearly unkillable behemoth, all the while suffocating before getting cut down and saying goodbye to my character. Void Bastards is all about these scenarios.
The game was directed by Jonathan Chey, a co-founder of Irrational Games and famous for his work on System Shock 2. This game’s been billed as a strategy shooter with inspiration from System Shock and Bioshock, but all of that is fairly misleading. When all is said and done, Void Bastards stands on its own as a very strong game about scavenging for items.
The setup is simple. The Void Ark is a prison ship holding a huge number of dehydrated prisoners. However, the ship is stuck and needs to use its FTL drive to make it to a safe place. Naturally, the FTL drive is totally busted, so a prisoner is rehydrated and then sent to scavenge various wrecks in order to find the parts needed to get the Void Ark home.
The basic structure of the game is that you’re given a few parts to find that are put on your map. The map is composed of a huge amount of wrecked ships that you need to travel to, one by one. You can only travel a single space at a time, and you use up single units of health and fuel each time you do so. Eating food heals you a set amount, and you can also choose to use food to heal if you want. However, if you run out of your food, you lose a large chunk of health every day until you starve to death. If you run out of fuel, you have to use five food to drift to a nearby point.
This isn’t too much of a problem most of the time, as both food and fuel can readily be found on wrecks. And being stocked up on both can give you a ton of leeway to skip over wrecks that don’t have anything you need. Many wrecks have parts that you need to build story progression items and equipment. Clicking on a wreck before traveling to it will inform you of what important part it contains if there is one, what that part will build, what’s on the ship, and what kind of enemies you’ll face there.
I really enjoyed the scavenging. It’s really fun to survey the area and grab items, hoping that you’ll stumble upon the special part you landed on the wreck to grab in the first place.
You can only bring three weapons from three different categories with you in Void Bastards, which is significant since different enemies require different strategies to face. Going up against the cluster of floating heads known as Patients without using the Bushwacker proximity mine is a great way to waste a ton of ammo. And the game won’t always give you ammo for your favorite weapons. Overall, shooting feels decent if a little light and inaccurate at times, but weapons do their job.
Each character in Void Bastards is randomly generated and their only real differences are in their traits. Traits are both positive and negative, such as being able to spot locations of food on your minimap or your character being a smoker, the latter of which makes them cough and alert nearby enemies. You’re also given a package containing a few units of health and food, plus random ammo for a variety of your weaponry. You can’t choose what ammo you want, though, so you’ll sometimes have to start out with a weapon you would otherwise never pick and just hope it’ll get the job done.
Oh, and when your character dies, they’re gone forever. However, Void Bastards isn’t really a roguelite. It doesn’t have runs in the way those games you do. When you die you lose all of your food, fuel, currency, and ammo, but you keep every part and all the crafting materials your characters have returned alive with. The game is almost entirely based around using parts to unlock and upgrade items that make your characters stronger. You can build vests for more health, a heart-starter for extra lives, and items that give you stronger resistances to hazards. You also build weapons and upgrade them into stronger versions this way.
Know your modules
Once you board a wreck, you’re given a map of its layout. Different wrecks share a lot of the same modules, which are generally very similar, if not nearly identical from place to place. For instance, the helm is often the same room with minor variations. Other common modules are a break room that can contain food and a coffee machine that gives you triple damage for 30 seconds, a module that has a machine that treats radiation, and a module that can refill your oxygen.
Yep, you have limited oxygen. Every time you start out on a wreck, your O2 meter at the top of the screen starts counting down. If this runs out, you start choking and your health starts rapidly depleting. Each O2 module contains a machine that refills this or doubles it if you have enough of Void Bastards’ currency to pay for the authorization. In my entire playthrough I never once had a ship totally run out of oxygen, even though the supply is limited. However, there are a ton of other things that can kill you, so it’s easy to forget about your O2 supply for a while.
The most obvious of Void Bastards’ threats are Citizens, which are the game’s enemies. They’re colorful and well-designed as they prowl the wrecks. Early on, they aren’t a problem. Most common early enemies just shoot at you and vice versa. But as you progress, the enemies become major threats that require planning.
I remember the first time I saw a Zec, a woman who has an impenetrable shield in front of her at all times. Throwing a grenade behind her is an excellent way of taking her out of the equation. But if you don’t have grenades, you’re probably just going to want to run like hell. Similarly, you’ll want to stay away from Screws, hulking monstrosities that do a ton of damage and take a ton of hits to kill.
Thankfully, the sneaking aspect works as intended. There aren’t stealth kills or anything, but as long as you stay out of an enemy’s line of sight and don’t run near them, you can sneak by. All doors can be closed and locked too. Certain enemies can’t open closed doors, and locking them can stop others’ pursuit. It’s a great way to get foes off your tail.
Then there are the security measures. There are a variety of stationary guns called Points that will fire on you as soon as you enter their range. These placements can destroy your health. There are also abundant security cameras that will summon dangerous robots to hunt you if you don’t either run out of view or destroy the cameras in time.
However, you can use the merit currency you’ve found as loot to override both of these enemies and put them on your side. They’ll start attacking enemies instead of you, which is a great way to turn the tide. You can also shut down the security aspects via the Security module. Most machines have the option to spend merits to give you an extra benefit. The helm can show you enemy locations in addition to item locations; the oxygen machine can double your capacity on that wreck, plus lots more for other modules.
On top of everything else, wrecks have a variety of inherent hazards. You can become irradiated by spilled radioactive material, which poisons you until it either runs out or you get the radiation treated. There are sometimes oil spots on the floor that can make you slip and slide all over the place. There are also loose electrical wires and fires blocking your way that can do a lot of damage. Suffice to say, there is a hell of a lot of things to watch out for in Void Bastards.
Not a tough cel
Visually, the game is simple but nice. While the enemies are all physically drawn with tons of personality, everything else is cel-shaded 3D, presented from a first-person perspective. The overall style is meant to evoke a sort of mid-20th-century comic book aesthetic, and it works really well. The comic book scenes that you’re rewarded with once you complete a priority item are silly and humorous. They’re also fully voiced and rather enjoyable.
A step away
This game is able to capture that “almost there” feeling of roguelites without actually being one. It’s exhilarating to have the odds thoroughly stacked against you while you rush as fast as you can, hoping to find your part and make it out alive. This is often what later wrecks can be summed up as. This is the absolute best thing about Void Bastards and it nails the hell out of it.
There’s not much negative to say about Void Bastards. It’s got a great aesthetic, a fun gameplay loop, great weapons, and a ton of unique features. I will say that it can start to get repetitive fairly quickly, but the way the game ramps up its challenges keeps burnout at bay. The only thing that left me unhappy was that the game is just over a bit too quickly. I saw the end credits in 13 hours, and continuing just took me back to the last thing I did before watching the ending cut scene.
Open for better endgame
I really wish there were a way to gradually get stronger while facing scaling enemies, or just random, generic items that I needed to collect. Anything to extend the experience, really. And Void Bastards absolutely has the potential for these things. But instead, you just collect the items the game tells you to and it just ends. There isn’t even anything unique at the end. You get a comic cut scene and the credits roll.
I greatly enjoyed my time with Void Bastards and am going to go back in to find more upgrade parts, simply because I’m not ready for it to be over yet. It’s a unique, fun game that really makes you consider your choices and make quick decisions in order to stay alive. If the devs put in some endgame content, it could easily become something I come back to time and again.