What's the first thing most people see when looking for a game these days? The rise of digital storefronts means the box art method has gone the way of the Dodo for all intents and purposes leaving the name as one of the first things people notice. So how do indie games stand out from the crowd? In the case of NoCodes latest, adding a mild swear worked well, and thus Void Bastards was born.
The game is two things: a space based first person rogue like, and British. When I say British I mean all the voice acting is done with a British accent, the insults the enemies throw at you are very British and each one of those is done with various accents from around this fair country of mine. It adds to the charm of the game, but you will have to get through the first couple of hours first.
Those first hours I wasn’t sure I liked Void Bastards. It was a slog of dying repeatedly and trying to stealth my way through levels. I kept with it and once I realized that stealth was actually not required, and got a handle on the mechanics I had a much better time. At the start the game does try to make out like stealth is the best way to go - its not. Most of the enemies aren’t a pain to fight and get easier as your gear improves.
Being a Rogue Like, you will die, a lot. The first level sees your prison ship stranded, so the on board AI ‘re-hydrates’ your character to get things back on track. Once that character dies, they are gone forever and you return to the ship to be granted a new character from the stock of dehydrated prisoners. Each of these has a set of traits that might help or hinder your progress, such as the ability to take a fourth weapon into a level, or to go to the wrong destination a quarter of the time.
Honestly though, the bad traits mean very little, and it didn’t take long for me to get repeats without even trying to test the limits of the randomization. There is one that makes no gameplay impact and merely states the character is ‘overly formal’, so they call others by their last name only. It's a bit of extra flavor, but makes no difference to anything. The good traits can dramatically help your progress, as a direct opposition to this, but also can be changed in certain levels.
Levels themselves are actually other derelict ships, each containing its own loot, enemies and ammo. You don’t have to fight through every single one, but if you do your ability to survive increases, though conversely the opportunities to die increase as well. The ultimate point is to track down the parts needed to fix the prison ship and have it return home. Each time you do this, it doles out another problem to fix and sends you out again.
Again though, the ships basic structure is barely randomized, if it all, and you quickly learn to make notes of places like the Helm, where you can get map information for where the loot is at as well as enemy locations, the 02 station to replenish your oxygen and the FTL room for fuel to power the S.T.E.V your mode of transport.
This is mainly where Void Bastards falls down. The randomization is just not quite where it needs to be to make it a game you just want to explore. A few hours in and you have basically seen everything and every enemy type, the game just makes those a little bit stronger depending on how deep into the nebula you are. It makes it so that all you want to do is get the stuff you need as quickly as possible, and only stop at other ships when you really need supplies. I appreciate that the level of randomization I am talking about is probably unrealistic, but games such as FTL apply the same ideas much more competently than they are here.
The games art style is very cool, a cell shaded clash of pastel colours and dark’s where needed. As I said before there is a ton of voice acting, and it is all done very well, though can get a bit grating when you are hearing the same lines over and over again on multiple ships. The game isn’t too long though and having not outstayed its welcome helps in this regard, had I been made to play another handful of hours to complete it, we might be having a different conversation.
Void Bastards is a fun romp through space with a distinct sense of humor and a charm all of its own. If you don’t like rogue likes and aren’t a fan of the British sense of humor/accent, then this will do nothing to change your mind. For the rest of us, there are worse ways to while away a few hours, and with the game being on Xbox Game Pass on both PC and Console, if you are paying for that service already and looking for something new, why not give it a try? Just give it a chance.