Hey everyone. Do you love AAA games with cutting edge graphics? How do you feel about stealthing your way down a hall, hacking your way in to a locked door and stealing classified documents? Is third person shooter action what you live for? Well if you answered yes then this is definitely NOT the review you came to read.
If you're still with me then join me for a trip through a game that this review is actually about.
Destination Sol is a free to play, randomly generated, 2D space exploration and combat rogue-like game. It's got a retro style and as the player you'll be flying around a vast open space sandbox and blasting away at various enemies while looting items and trading with space stations. And there are no microtransactions!
Currently it's available through Steam as a PC version and is also available for free on the Google Play Store as an Android Mobile version. And for a totally free single player title it's pretty cool. Let's check out the PC version.
This title is fairly easy to just pick up and play, but a quick tutorial covering all the basics is available from the start menu.
You'll start as small space ship at a space station in one of two star systems and are immediately free to explore the space around you. Once you open your map and zoom out you'll quickly notice that the game world is pretty expansive and fully accessible.
While in the map view you'll be able to see your position in real time as well the rest of the available area. Just about everything you need to see is marked, space stations, planets, asteroid belts and quick travel points are most prevalent but you may also see other ships.
However that doesn't mean the map is perfect. Missing are the abilities to create waypoints or markers of any kind; and in an open world it would be nice to have the option to point yourself in a direction. You're also unable to drag the map screen around to see objects off-screen.
Conveniently, the map also marks what areas are considered too strong for you by flashing skulls on their positions. Who has two thumbs and didn't pay attention to skulls? Oh that's me. I decided on a whim to fly to a near by ship that was flashing as a skull. A clear red flag, warning me to turn away before it was too late. As I neared an actual warning came up on the screen that said bluntly "Dangerous Enemy". Just before I became a smoldering pile of scrap on the ground I thought to myself, "I can handle it. I have the hang of this game already". Afterwards I respawned and went in a different direction.
There are no missions in Destination Sol, so happily you can pick a direction and just start out exploring. Soon you'll find yourself sailing through asteroid fields and battling space pirates who will provide you with currency and items as your reward for their defeat. Speaking of asteroids... Anyone remember the classic arcade space blaster Asteroids? That's how this game controls too.
Now, in Asteroids if you hit something (say, an asteroid perhaps) you blew up and it was GG thanks for playing. In Destination Sol your ship is a bit more durable so it takes some significant speed to blow you up in a collision. It can happen though and if it does...GG thanks for playing.
It's not all as hardcore as sounds though since the only penalty for death is a loss of some currency, and your respawn will always put you back at your original starting space station. As a result there could be some downtime in flying back to your place of demise to recover money lost or items left behind. Not to mention you might run in to more space pirates or get sidetracked by something shiny...
Like a planet. Yes, Destination Sol allows you to seamlessly descend into the atmosphere of an extraterrestrial world. There are three types of planets to explore and you'll know when you're near one because a bar-like feature consisting of several blue dots will appear on the outer edge of your screen. Perhaps just for the sake of argument we'll call it an atmospheric indicator. As you near a planet these dots will move along the edges of your screen to determine your position in relation to the planet and will also glow brighter. Remember that tutorial image at the beginning of this review? Who am I asking, of course you do. In the upper right corner of that image is one of these atmospheric indicator bars.
As you enter the atmosphere you're greeted by gravity, clouds, a sky, some pirates, and even a day night cycle of sorts. It's a small detail overall but I really liked that there was a light and dark side to each world.
In my experience the pirates on planets are far more dangerous than most of those in space. At least early on. They have better weapons, faster ships, and bigger shields. Plus they may be backed up by gun turrets on the ground. But if you can manage to get by them there's almost always a trader on the surface with upgrades, repairs and ammunition.
Unfortunately this about where planetary exploration hits it's peak. I found planets to be pretty small and once cleared of evildoers and looted for every item and monetary credit it was back to space with me.
We haven't talked about items and weapons yet so let's get in to that a bit. Destination Sol advertises over 50 items and weapons to find, buy, and equip. Your ship will begin it's journey with a basic set of gear to get your started and it's all visible in the upper left corner of the HUD.
Items are pretty self explanatory. For instance, your shield will absorb the damage before it fails and your ship starts taking physical damage. In which case you'll see your hit points drop, if they reach zero, GG thanks for playing. Fortunately for you it's possible to buy bigger shields that absorb more damage before failing and thus avert tragedy a bit easier.
Also available are repair kits. These kits will self-use when you become idle for a few seconds and repair a total of 20 damage before being used up. Only need to repair 13 damage? That's ok the kit will stay in your inventory until it repairs 7 more.
Your ships armor will increase your damage resistance allowing your ship to take punishment when your shield inevitably fails under pressure. Higher levels of armor are available for purchase to increase your damage resistance further.
Weapons are varied in both number and effectiveness. Your starting weapon is the good old blaster. As a starting weapon it has infinite magazines meaning it can reload forever. Reloading takes time and takes place only when you're out of ammunition, and only automatically.There is no manual reloading in Destination Sol. A point that I wasn't fond of at all. I don't know how many times my ship needlessly exploded because I couldn't prepare for a fight by reloading before hand.
Other weapons, ballistics, missiles, bombs, mines etc. all take ammunition that you'll have to buy from a trader or space station. In other words, no infinite reloads. Different weapons are more, or less effective vs. shields or ship armor so there's a modicum of strategy involved in what you may choose for a certain situation. Also weapons come in two categories: Light and Heavy. Your ship will show you which is applicable.
Herein we see the balance of the game. The Guardian ship has a light weapon slot, which is able to rotate automatically like a turret to fire. It also has fewer hit points. Whereas the Fighter has a heavy weapon slot which cannot rotate, meaning you use your ship to aim. However it has more hit points allowing it to face danger head on a bit easier. Categories are clearly marked in the trade screen. Combat itself is handled, very simply. Point your reticle at the enemy and fire. Easy peezy lemon squeezy.
Destination Sol gives you the availability of piloting up to 6 different ships, a few are in the image below. Some of these ships have more than one slot for weapons, and each has it's own unique special ability. The guardian ship has the ability to temporarily slow time and comes with one light weapon slot. The larger Hunter ship has the ability to teleport in battle and comes with two heavy weapon slots.
My favorite ship so far is the Hunter class. It's big, intimidating looking, and I put two heavy machine guns on it to rule space with a hale of lead of fire!
You'll have to buy ships from traders and outposts, and they can be pricey. They are worth the buy though and they'll use items you currently own.
Also usually available at traders and outposts are mercenary allies. Hiring one of these mercs can be a little expensive but they can be very helpful and each has their own abilities. Plus during boss battles they double as bullet sponges. Meat shield anyone?
"Boss battle" is actually a loose term here. There are no true bosses in Destination Sol, at least none that I'm aware of. I never ran in to anything like that in my play time. What they tend to be are usually just larger more heavily armed and armored ships that give greater rewards for their defeat. But they show up during exploration, not in an encounter type situation with a large health bar and narcissistic monologue.
My own first sighting of a boss ship was while I was exploring a planet and suddenly, there from above, was a relatively enormous pile of guns blasting away at me. I managed to win the fight by the skin of teeth and collect a veritable treasure trove which I immediately unloaded on a trader for a significant pile of cash. It was very satisfying.
So far I see no end to this game. Which is great on the one hand because you can just play and play. In these days of 10 hour titles costing $60 it's refreshing to have free title with a play time as long as your attention span. On the other hand there's only so much exploration and pirate battling one can do before starting over.
Which brings me to my final subject here. Destination Sol, is classified as a rogue-like, hardcore, arcade, space RPG. A mouth full to be sure. Now don't box this in to the same category as a more familiar title like FTL. The similarities are few if any at all. I don't see much as far as an RPG element goes in Destination Sol. Though you're able to aquire and equip gear and items there's no leveling system. There is no dialogue, and there are no quests. Not even a story line to follow.
But, it is very arcade like, and Rogue-like in a way. The arcade elements are pretty obvious when you play. The game is only lightly physics based and there's just that old school joystick and two button feel. Like I need to be dropping quarters in a machine.
Rogue-like elements seem to mix with the hardcore. You have what equates to as infinite continues. Die and you'll respawn and move on more or less the same as you were (minus a few credits), but the game state is never saved. Your ship's build is saved when you exit the game, but the world is different every time you start. From the main menu you'll have the option to start over from scratch or go ahead and use your previous ship with your items etc. I guess you could argue this as being rogue-like since it's a way of having a legacy... to a point. I personally feel more comfortable calling it an arcade space exploration and combat game.
So in conclusion, Destination Sol, is a free to play title with no micro-transactions. It's pretty well put together with a few things maybe needing some polish. For instance I know I didn't mention above in the review but this game has no music. I really think it could benefit from a soundtrack. But it's supported on Steam with updates so perhaps we'll still see improvements where they're needed.
Would I recommend Destination Sol? So I kind of have mixed feelings about some portions but yes, I would recommend it. Why, you ask? Well dear reader, if you're in to a retro style of graphics and a simple character controller I'm sure you're going to dig this. And possibly more importantly, it's free and it's fun.
System Requirements for Destination Sol, are as follows:
Processor: 1 ghz or better
Ram: 512 mb or better
Graphics: Support for OpenGl 2.0 at least is required
Sound card: Any
Hard Drive Space: At least 100 mb free