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Finally, we have skills. And this is a big one. One of my biggest gripes with The Age of Decadence was its skill system that encouraged hoarding skill points until you found a skill check worthy of an investment. Colony Ship fixes this issue by adopting a learn-by-doing system.
Usually, I don’t really like systems like this as they tend to allow you to eventually master everything by ensuring you have enough filler content to hone those skills of yours. Colony Ship, on the other hand, stays true to its hand-crafted, no trash encounters approach, which results in an interesting take on a learn-by-doing system.
Initially, it may feel stifling, but it doesn’t take long to figure out how the game works and how you should be rolling your characters if you want to succeed at certain things. It becomes this addicting game of finding the right line. You stumble about, fail a lot and run into dead ends until things finally click and you begin passing skill checks and making progress.
And the best part here is that this line greatly depends on the build you’re running. I beat the currently available content twice and experimented with a couple of other builds on top of that, and every time the order of quests and encounters was different. What’s easy for a diplomat is difficult for a sharpshooter and vice versa.
Moreover, just like in Dungeon Rats, you’ll be able to recruit up to three companions, which really smoothens out the game’s difficulty curve. If your character isn’t the best fighter, your companions can pick up the slack. Alternatively, your companions can help you pass certain skill checks provided their own skills and stats are high enough.
This results in a much more player-friendly experience than what we had in The Age of Decadence. This time around, you’ll have to try to create a busted character. This, of course, doesn’t mean the game is a complete cakewalk. You’ll have plenty of challenging fights, tricky encounters, and tough choices ahead of you.
And here, it’s important to note that the game not only constantly tracks your character’s actions, beliefs, and faction ties, it also has a window for personal reputation. Win enough battles, and your character will be known as a great warrior, allowing you to throw your weight around. But, avoid those very same fights, and you’ll become a famed diplomat, which will make people more likely to listen to you. There’s always a balancing act between what you’re capable of and what’s the best way forward for the character you have in mind.
At the same time, your companions have their own beliefs and will occasionally voice them, prompting you to choose a particular course of action or risk alienating your friends.
Now, without going too deep into it on account of this being a preview of an early version, Colony Ship’s combat is turn-based and resembles a more refined version of Dungeon Rats, but with firearms, energy weapons, grenades, and handy gadgets like energy shields and distortion fields that make you harder to hit and zap anyone who tries to attack you. The weapons at your disposal all have a variety of aimed and special attacks too.
If you want to avoid a direct confrontation and talking isn’t your thing, you can also try a stealthy approach, but unfortunately, stealth here isn’t a full playstyle but more of a side attraction, as you can only engage in stealth during certain predetermined scenarios.
With all that in mind, can the game support those robust systems? Honestly, it’s too early to tell. The writing is certainly strong enough. I think, what with Disco Elysium, Shadowrun: Dragonfall, and now Colony Ship, I’m starting to develop a Pavlovian response equating right-aligned text in RPGs with quality writing.