VoidExpanse Review

Star fluff.

My faction's commander gave me a special weapon for destroying alien hives in a single shot, but it wouldn't fit in my ship. I left it in my inventory for later use, but at some point in my travels, it disappeared (perhaps I sold it by mistake?), and I could not find a way to retrieve a new one. The contact that had given it to me had nothing more to say, and none of the stations I visited sold such a weapon. So I was left to my own devices, slowly whittling down hives while accompanied by a useless companion that could fend off attacking aliens and space pirates, but could do no damage to the hive itself. I spent a half-dozen hours hammering away at these things, laboriously zooming back and forth between alien systems and bases where I could refuel and refill ammunition. After a while, I could finally afford a better hull, and I presumed my path to victory--a path without the disappearing superweapon--would be clearer.

Instead, my new fighter made things worse by allowing me to only equip weapon types with limited ammo reserves. I wasted precious minutes flying to a base seven systems away so that I could reload, only to return to the alien system and find the hive had gained back all of its health. It was here that VoidExpanse and I parted ways after 25 hours of spacefaring tedium and shallow questing, and I can't say I'll miss repeating the same four side missions over and over again.

Well, there's one bounty earned.
Well, there's one bounty earned.

It didn't have to be this way; it never does. VoidExpanse is built from a proven foundation, recalling every space sim in which you crisscross the galaxy, buying low and selling high. In VoidExpanse's case, this all occurs on a 2D plane upon which you zoom from one space station to another, mining minerals from asteroids and shooting down space pirates along the way. With each accomplishment, you earn not only money but experience, which you then apply to skills that improve your flight agility, open access to new weapons, and enhance your financial standing.

2D plane aside, this is Freelancer, or DarkStar One, or X3: Reunion, a game that encourages you to find your inner Han Solo, gaining funds by performing odd jobs, aligning yourself with a faction, and destroying whatever enemies stand in your way. Those games built adventures around these basic systems; VoidExpanse, on the other hand, rarely expounds upon the fundamentals. You do odd jobs for your chosen faction so that you can join its ranks, and at least those tasks mix things up a little. You even get choices to make, potentially befriending or alienating a contact depending on how successful you are at hacking a terminal, or convincing a pesky pirate to leave his enemy alone instead of firing on him at first glance.

Here's a space station. There's not really more to say.
Here's a space station. There's not really more to say.

The rare story-based diversion is not enough to brighten up the dreary pace that soon develops, however. VoidExpanse recycles the same few missions over and over again: Mine some minerals, deliver this package, kill this pirate, rescue these survivors. This is the steady diet of quests you feast upon if you have any hope for forward progress, unless you prefer to ferry supplies and the spoils of random enemy encounters from one system to another, seeking the highest possible prices. Trading is a common activity in space exploration games, but the lack of visual variety squashes exploration flat. Backdrops are generically pretty displays of green and purple nebulae stretching across starfields, and space vessels lack the drama of pop culture's most iconic craft; They are built for function, apparently, and not for form. But it is form that such a repetitive game needs to thrive, and what starts as a fun but formulaic adventure grows tiresome.

Combat is functional, at least, and supports two different control schemes, one of which allows you to drive the ship with the mouse, and the other of which separates aiming and movement. It is the latter scheme that affords finer control, and there is inherent appeal at hovering your targeting reticule over a pirate or an alien pod, launching missiles at it, and watching it explode. Alien ships are particularly mobile, so while most encounters aren't demanding unless you wander into systems you shouldn't be exploring yet, some battles keep you circling and reward precise aiming.

No Caption Provided
The skill tree is easy to understand.
The skill tree is easy to understand.

The main reason to press forward is to earn more currency and more experience, leaving behind your paltry vessel and starter gadgets for a more powerful and roomy ship. There are slots for weapons, shields, engines, and so forth, along with places to equip consumables (good for a resupply of hull strength, for instance) and boosters (good for, say, improving your defenses or supporting your energy supply). But all the incremental improvements represented by ship advancement and skill choices are at the service of repetitive sights, repetitive travel, and repetitive actions. In time, the few spots of joy are overwhelmed by the annoyances, such as the suicidal way the companion you later earn keeps ramming into alien hives until he explodes, and an autopilot that sometimes steers around obstacles, and other times bounces your ship against asteroids and space stations.

Galaxies are procedurally generated--and you can join other players' galaxies in online play--but those options bring little diversity to VoidExpanse. In the case of galaxies, the variables have too little effect on the pace of exploration to be meaningful; In the case of online play, the community is too small to make multiplayer worth investigating. Going online means following the same path you would if you played on your own, except you might encounter another player to shoot or ignore. In fact, VoidExpanse is toothless in general, lacking the mystery and suspense that could have propelled it through the universe.

The Good
Some fun combat encounters
Skill tree and ship upgrades provide a proper sense of progression
The Bad
Utterly lacking in variety
Glitches and strange AI behavior
Bland looks, bland exploration, bland missions
About GameSpot's Reviews

About the Author

Kevin VanOrd has explored space (digitally) more times than he can count. He played VoidExpanse for a couple dozen hours. He finds this byline almost as boring as he found VoidExpanse.

VoidExpanse More Info

  • First Released Apr 2, 2015
    • Linux
    • Macintosh
    • PC
    VoidExpanse is a science fiction, top-down action role-playing game set in outer space.
    Average Rating2 Rating(s)
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    Role-Playing, Action