Void Bastards isn’t your traditional roguelite, first and foremost because it isn’t nearly as punishing. There’s no permadeath, so every new character continues on from the last in an ongoing journey rather than starting you back at the beginning. You also get to carry over any weapons, upgrades, and materials you’ve unlocked and collected, which is greatly appreciated.
This combination means you can get engrossed in the world much easier than traditional roguelites that feel like an uphill battle for much of the early hours. Instead, Void Bastards focuses on the stealth exploration aspect of infiltrating a series of spaceships as you travel across the Sargasso Nebula. The general gameplay loop has you looking for a series of important items on these ships, before dropping you deeper into the nebula to face tougher enemies once you’ve crafted vital plot points.
Every time you die, the game issues your new character with a small allocation of fuel, food, ammunition, and merits – the in-game currency. Each new character, or “client” as they’re referred to in Void Bastards, is also generated with randomised perks that will help or hinder your gameplay. The bad will include the Smoker or Yahoo traits that make stealth less tenable, while the good can make scouting the ship easier via the Low Profile or Footpad traits.
These perks aren’t permanent, however; some ships will have Therapy machines, which let you add new traits or replace old ones, while the cosmos also features DNA strings that randomly modify your client for better or worse. Aside from this, the contents of ships can vary greatly in terms of which rooms they feature. Some will have Med Booths that restore your health, Break Rooms that will be you a caffeinated buff, or O2 machines where you can refill your oxygen. This transforms your journey across the nebula into an intricate balancing act of choosing which ship to visit next based on your most pressing priorities.
You only get a limited view of the nebula map, though, so you must make your decisions based on the few options in front of you. It would have been nice to get a wider view as it feels too cramped, but it felt purposeful to restrict your planning and focus you on the current objectives. Any items looted from each ship are recycled into a handful of generic parts that you can use for crafting, and this crafting system is what will dictate much of your navigating.
The items found on ships - together with the basic resources you’ll collect - can be crafted into new weapons and equipment or used to upgrade your existing tools. Void Bastards even has a handy Locator tool that will point you in the general direction of the parts you need for a specific craft.
This gives the player a good amount of agency over what they want to prioritise, though some perks and weapons follow a basic tree structure. Though this means you get a good sense of progression by earning your way up to better equipment, it also means you can’t build the Riveter SMG until you’ve already crafted the Stapler and Toaster weapons, for example.
In spite of this, combat generally feels good regardless of the loadout you take into battle, with the exception of bloom. There are no sights to aim down, and the reticles aren’t pinpoints, allowing for a small degree of inaccuracy. This makes certain weapons almost unusable at range, especially as ammunition can be very scarce. This does make thematic sense, as the clients you control are technically prisoners, not super soldiers.
The art style is a gorgeous blend between comic books and Futurama-esque cel shading. Everything is made up of thick black lines and heavily pigmented blocks of colour, and it looks fantastic. In keeping with the comic book theme, the cutscenes are played out on a storyboard, and enemy noises are accompanied by the typical word art – though rather than “POW” and “BLAM!”, these are more like “SQUIDGE” or the chuckle-worthy “HOVER”, to fit the interstellar setting. The posh British narrator is a delightful accompaniment, with an icon resembling a bowler hat and monocle, and lines like “Backwards travel prohibited. That’s just not done, old bean.”
A single “run” of Void Bastards will last 7-10 hours in total, though there’s a modicum of replay value in the different difficulties, or you may just want to try out different weapons and equipment you weren’t able to craft in your first playthrough. I didn’t feel the need to return, though, as the game had started to get a little repetitive and I was satisfied with the playtime I got. The final scenes are a somewhat unceremonious end to your journey, but it fits the theme brilliantly so it’s hard not to appreciate it.