Well-balanced systems, a rewarding gameplay loop
Steep difficulty curve on the default settings, fiddly camera that can be a hindrance
October 24th, 2022
PC, Steam Deck
Space. The final frontier. Or so the saying goes. Cosmoteer: Spaceship Architect & Commander does a solid job of putting the final frontier at your fingertips, giving you the necessary tools to explore and expand your budding starship enterprise.
Cosmoteer puts you in charge of building and expanding your starship, before setting off in search of loot and glory. Each new playthrough offers up two gameplay modes to choose from – Career or Creative. The former is the mode I spent the most time with, while the latter is exactly what you would expect, and then some.
Cosmoteer hits its stride in Career mode. From the off, you’re given the choice of three starting ships, but don’t fret over this too much as they are just something to get you started. You will soon have your ship customized to your liking as you get to grips with the basics of maneuvering, managing, and maintaining your spaceship, and this all comes fairly quickly. From here the galaxy is your playground as you track down bounties and complete quests within each system to build and expand your ship further.
Traveling between points of interest is as easy as clicking the mouse – it is a PC game, after all -, but getting from A to B is not without its fair share of peril. Zooming out gives a clear view of the various points of interest on the map, and as you unfog each area more locations reveal themselves. There’s plenty to see and do, too, from ship graveyards ready to be picked clean of their goods, to abandoned ships that can be boarded, looted, and added to your own fleet and put to work.
Cosmoteer offers a decent variety of activities to keep you busy without tying you down to one particular avenue or playstyle. I tended to flit between trading and completing bounties, so I built one of my first ships up as a general all-rounder with plenty of weapons and storage, but as I increased my fleet by boarding and then capturing abandoned ships, I was able to set each one to serve a particular role.
Space would not be space without its fair share of pirates and ne’er-do-wells (according to the films I watch, anyway), and the same is true in Cosmoteer. You could be bopping about minding your own business before suddenly coming under fire from a ship that is anything but friendly, and you quickly realize that to succeed it is best to plan accordingly, or else your little starting ship won’t be around for very long.
Upgrading and advancing your ship costs credits and Cosmoteer offers you plenty of opportunities to earn them. Mining asteroids for resources before selling them to other ships is by far the easiest, and often these resources come in handy when it comes to upgrading your ship. Another quick and easy way to bump up your bank balance is by completing Bounties which can be activated and handed in at the various Space Stations dotted around each galaxy.
This cycle of gathering resources, completing bounties, gaining credits then bulking up your ship forms the core gameplay loop in Cosmoteer, and once I got through the tutorials, I quickly found myself hooked by its simple but effective systems. Each of the game’s systems feel purposeful and rewarding, and there was never a moment when I felt unsure what to do next as I was always striving to ensure my systems were working well and resources were well stocked and properly aligned with one another.
It cannot be overstated how well Cosmoteer nails resource management – it’s fine-tuned and well-balanced. As you would expect, adding components to your ship drains resources, which may impair your ship when it comes to performing other actions.
This means the game becomes a fine balancing act between what you want to achieve and the best way to go about it. For instance, during an early session with Cosmoteer, I built my ship out with the plan of making as many credits through trade as possible, allocating every inch of space within my modest starting cruiser with storage decks to acquire as much as physically possible. Things quickly went south when I encountered an enemy ship for the first time. In my eagerness to become the next space-faring Bezos, I’d completely neglected any form of offensive or defensive capabilities which left me wide open for attack. My poor little ship didn’t stand a chance.
I briefly dabbled in Creative Mode to get a sense of what it offered, but even after more than 20 hours in Career Mode I still felt a little overwhelmed by everything it had to offer. Creative Mode further expands upon building a starship by taking it one (or five, six, maybe even seven) steps further by allowing you to create a galactic playground of your very own to run amok in, with customization options ranging from the resources available to the size and location of the planets, and everything in between. I was surprised at the depth, but without devoting hours and hours to mapping out each System within the Galaxy everything ended up feeling a little empty.
Granted that is more on me than the game, as I am sure many creators will go wild in this mode, but I felt that the game sacrifices its direction in order to offer up full creative freedom. Building out your ship in this mode is quite fun to begin with as you stack your ship with every bell and whistle on offer – building up something in minutes that would take hours of grinding in the Career Mode. On the flip side, without the need for bounties or resource gathering, there isn’t much else left to do unless you then flesh the rest of the galaxy too, and this simply didn’t feel as fun as Career Mode does.
A side note for curious Steam Deck owners: I was able to spend a good chunk of my time with Cosmoteer playing on my Steam Deck, and I actually preferred playing it on the nifty handheld rather than slumped over my PC. Aside from a few minor camera issues, Cosmoteer runs incredibly well and the controls map without a hitch to the touchpad and buttons on the Deck.
Cosmoteer is a surprisingly deep and satisfying space sim. Its many systems complement each other beautifully, and, although its grinding gameplay loop may not be for everyone, I really enjoyed the time I spent with it. Exploring is fun, and combat is simple yet satisfying in its execution. The meat of the gameplay is found in how well you manage and assign your resources, and once these systems get their claws into you, they sink deep.
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