Rymdresa lulls you into a trance before blasting you to bits

Relaxing space music fills my ears as I drift across the cosmos collecting stars, exploring wonders, and gathering resources to rebuild Earth. Here, space is serene and filled with bits of poetry waxing poetic about a lonely existence, rebirth, death, and life. Playing Rymdresa is not far from a zen-like experience, until an asteroid shoots across your vision and blows you to bits.

The worst was when I had carefully accrued 1500 resources, the maximum I could carry, to bring back to Earth. I had gotten lucky by exploring far reaches of space and had stumbled upon a huge asteroid belt with resources seemingly for the taking. I was even rewarded with a special protective bubble shield. I was carefully making my way home, looking forward to unlocking the next chapter with my haul. I decided to stop by a planet and investigate it, as I needed more resources to reach Earth. I was rewarded with a poem and the text -200 Space points, -200 Resources. I only had 144 resources at the time, so I blew up.

That’s Rymdresa, a game which is relaxing and zen-like and then suddenly cruel.

Of course, after I died, I remembered that I had an item which could open a wormhole and take me straight home.

Combining an exploration game with permadeath is both good and bad. Without the danger, the game would be boring as there is not enough to the exploration part to really keep you going. On the other hand, it makes the game much more demanding which contrasts with the aesthetic it tries to build. It is hard to relax when a stray asteroid or an unlucky quest can end it for you right then and there.

You have a ship and you fly around on a 2D plane to other flat objects – planets, abandoned space ships, junk, and anomalies – and press a button to open up a quest. Sometimes you find stuff, sometimes you lose stuff, sometimes you just die. It can be hard to see just how fast you are going since sometimes the background stars and planets do not move very fast. Your engines also take a while to do something, which means it is usually safer to almost float around than go full steam ahead.

The game isn’t terribly clear though. You have a sentry which points you towards where you have to go, but not all the time. Later in the game, you can unlock a map of the zones around you – different coloured and named areas of space – but it is not clear what each zone means. Is purple better than blue? The game tells you that each zone has certain elements that it specializes in but I haven’t been able to figure it out. There is also something called a legacy bonus which I don’t think was explained very well, but from what I gather, is a number that increases with each run and that can unlock a bonus for one specific run only. With how prevalent and fast death can be, legacy bonuses are a high risk/high reward mechanic like many other aspects of the game.

The quests which give you a choice are also completely up to chance, I think. There is one where you explore a planet but your spaceship fails and starts to crash. You can either go at it manually or trust the autopilot but I have chosen different answers multiple times with different outcomes. In games like The Banner Saga, I don’t mind this at all because it builds an interesting story but Rymdresa doesn’t have enough there for me to forgive that.

To help players along and give them a reason to play, Rymdresa also keeps continuity between runs. You get to keep your items, research,  and resources gathered (except in the first chapter) and your pilot accrues experience by collecting stars which unlocks abilities. At the beginning of a run, you can use your space points to purchase bigger, better ships, although they only last for one run. These space points act like currency so once you use them to get a ship you will need to earn them back if you want the ship for the next run.Get sucked into a sun or shot down by alien space craft and you most likely will have to go back to the starter ship. These things kept me going back to the game even after frustrating runs. However, this sometimes kept me from using the mid-tier ships that I could afford because sometimes death was so sudden and unavoidable that I felt like it would be a waste to use them. Not the wisest decision, since I was rarely able to make much progress with just the starter ship. As a whole, this should make it slightly easier every run, and is a way to measure progressions outside of the sometimes tedious resource gathering-and-then-dying grind.

This might not be the most off putting thing about Rymdresa – that would be the text that is written in space. It is clear from the beginning of the game that this universe is not like our own.¬†Planets zoom past and impossible speeds, someone has left a shit ton of mines lying around for some reason, there is metal bumpers and boost arrows that make it look more like a pinball machine than a galaxy, and there are blocks with creepy faces on them that float around and do fuck all. There are also thousands of cheap fortune cookie fortunes and cliche sentences from self-help books, such as “Trust the nature” emblazoned across space, surrounded by experience stars. I think, but I am not sure, these were added to prod the player to think and meditate. However, it comes off as forced and very quickly I was looking for the text just to find star clusters.

In addition to these kinds of phrases, the player unlocks audio logs from an astronaut (themselves?) in the form of short poems. I did not find them bad although I haven’t come across an entry that has stuck with me. I am sure they will be turnoffs for some people. The thing I found interesting about them is that they paint a picture that is unlike the cut scenes at the beginning of the game. The set up is that Earth is dead and you are the lone survivor who needs to explore space to build up enough resources to find a new home. But from listening to the poetry, I am not sure that is actually the case. At times it feels that we are not traversing space, but rather traversing someone’s mind or at least thoughts. perhaps they are in a coma or in some kind of mental distress. This would also explain the text written in the galaxy – are these passing thoughts?

Maybe the truth will be uncovered when I get to the end of the game. In the meantime, I am enjoying my time collecting space points, dying frustrating deaths, and slowly mastering this game. Despite finding parts of it frustrating and the text unappealing, it is so easy to just jump in and out. When it goes well, and you are doing well, it feels great. There are some really satisfying experiences in the game, but its presentation and how it plays might be better for a special niche of players who want to experience both a peaceful, lonely romp through space with the occasional unavoidable and unfair death.

 

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