Space exploration games have been with us since the very first days of gaming, with the likes of Star Control 2 (1992) still recalled with much fondness. The Long Journey Home continues this tradition of massive, procedurally generated galaxies populated by alien races. It's a highly promising game about exploration, trading, upgrading and, occasionally, fighting.
Developed by Daedalic — a company best known for narrative adventures — The Long Journey Home isn't just about resource and upgrade systems. It's also a story, in which a team of four members are lost in space and trying to get back home. The player chooses the team from a roster of 10. Each has their own personality, quirks and specialties. I haven't studied them in detail, but they seem like a varied and diverse bunch, allowing for experimentation on different playthroughs.
The game begins with a space exploration mission that goes awry, throwing the team into the far nethers of creation. Physical gameplay consists of navigating through star systems, making use of planetary gravitational slingshots to inch closer to home.
Planets are discovered, explored and mined for resources. As in many such games, these planets have personalities of their own, offering different opportunities, dangers and environments. Some yield useful or trade-able artifacts.
Planetary exploration is conducted by a single, chosen crew member who drops down in a Lander-style pod. Depending on the crew-member who discovers the artifacts, different outcomes can occur. So one might favor scrapping the item for its raw materials, while another will see the value of saving it for a later trade.
Resources like gases, minerals and metals are used to repair and upgrade the ship's systems and to travel. These come in different bands of value. The ship can take damage when, for example, the player is negotiating asteroid fields. The crew's health must also be maintained, as accidents can happen on missions.
Alien races are encountered in transit or on space stations, where they can be wooed via on-screen communications. A dialog system using basic words and phrases makes use of the potential to trade and barter.
Sometimes they can be persuaded to part with useful maps that help to show the most efficient way forward. Others offer optional quests that confer useful items.
Generally, their demeanor is something to be discovered and exploited. Alien relationships with one another are a factor to be considered. This leads to some tough choices about who to chum up to, and who to avoid. On the whole, aliens won't automatically see humans as a threat — more a faintly harmless curiosity — so it's up to the player to avoid cultural errors that can lead to conflict.
But space is also home to various scumbags such as crooked customs officials and pirates. And so there are occasions when combat is unavoidable. Battles take place in age-of-sail style dodge and maneuver, with gun ports stationed on ship broadsides. But the cost in damage makes combat a chore to be avoided.
The Long Journey Home is currently in beta, and launches fully at the end of this month, on Windows PC with PlayStation 4 and Xbox One versions to follow.