How Void Bastards Work? A roguelite that teaches players how it wants to be played.


Hello, I’m Kinglink and today we’re going to talk about “How Void Bastards Works?”

Void Bastards is a new game from Blue Manchu and published by Humble Bundle. It keeps getting talked about far more than most Roguelites and after playing through it I think I kind of understand. It’s extremely well-paced and interesting, as well as having a great aesthetic and gameplay that stands out.


But let’s talk about the game mechanics and design that make this game work.

Two things before we begin, I’m going to also talk about a second game to compare to Void Bastards. This is Rogue Legacy. Now it’s completely different in genre and style, but they are both roguelites and have some interesting similarities that should help illustrate how both games stand out.

The second issue is a war I’ve been conscripted in. These are Rogue-Lites, not a Rogue-Likes. These games don’t have a true permadeath system, pieces of the characters copy over and so on. That’s not the topic I want to bring up here, it could make for its video, which could allow me to finally talk about Nethack. However, I just want to be clear if it sounds like I’m saying LITE and not LIKE, I am. At the same time, much of what I’ll be discussing about Void Bastards is not dependant on the rogue-lite genre and most would apply to rogue-likes or any genre.

With that out of the way let’s start with what I think is the biggest piece of Void Bastards’ appealing game design. The combat. As a gamer, I’m a bit aggressive in my gameplay. I love rushing into a room or location, killing all the targets, and then spending my time exploring the location, if there’s the option for it or moving on to the next part of a game if there’s not. The lack of danger is what I normally strive for before I think about my next move.

Void Bastards supports this idea, but after playing for a couple of hours, I noticed I wasn’t playing aggressively. I no longer cleared every ship, and by the end of the game, I often would choose to focus on specific objectives rather than risk combat. If I wanted to get fuel for my ship, I might rush to the engine room. If I needed a specific item, I could guess where these were.

This is not how I normally play games, I like exploration but only safe exploration. The fact is, Void Bastards allows aggressive players but it doesn’t seem to want you to play itself in that manner. While many games push stealth or non-combat as the main goal, Void Bastards does something more important. It teaches players how to not play aggressively.

I’m sure some people might ask “How?” Combat in Void Bastards is … to put it in a single word, unrewarding. The combat itself feels good, and this is a great first-person shooter. While fighting enemies is interesting, enemies don’t drop items for the most part. So players will eventually start to ask themselves “Why should I attack enemies”, and this is a valid question.

Before we talk about the reasons for combat, there are more issues with an aggressive playstyle. First, there’s no melee attack in the game and in the early game this feels like a major oversight, however, it’s a key to what’s going on here. Ammo is very sparingly given, and players are only allowed to bring a weapon from each grouping onto a ship. If you run out of ammo for your weapons and items, you’ll have no combat abilities. So your ammo becomes a critical resource.

There are some very hard enemies. In the early game, you will deal with enemies called “Screws”. These are the big hulking guards who you won’t want to tangle with. With the name Screws, I always think jailors or security guards and that’s not a bad description.

The thing is, Screws are very hard to kill. They aren’t impossible but they’re going to use up a huge amount of your ammo, resources, life, and time all of those are important. They’re just hulking enemies and if you’re stuck dealing with them, you’re probably going to have a bad time especially in the early game.

The thing is, this isn’t that different in the end game. The player doesn’t become super powerful. While they will get better weapons, and, eventually, rocket launchers, Screws never become a trivial confrontation. That feels odd in some ways, you’ll earn new tools to deal with enemies but don’t gain dominance over challenging enemies.

So let’s summarize this system. You have enemies who don’t reward you for combat, require a premium currency in the form of ammunition, and never get easier. So what’s the purpose of combat? The answer is simple, it’s the ability to give players agency and if they wish, they can clear a ship out. I’ve done that a few times, and it works. The point though is combat is a gameplay system, not a requirement or an end goal. This isn’t like most first-person shooters where clearing the enemies and aggressively pushing against their line gets you the win.

Instead, here you have other options, such as locking enemies into rooms by authorizing doors to lock, and by doing so you can hinder the enemy and potentially capture them. What that means is that jailer falls into his version of jail and the player can continue to scavenge on the ship unhindered.

Now let’s look at another version of this. Here is Rogue Legacy and it’s combat. These are very different games, but we can compare them effortlessly. In Rogue Legacy, the combat is essential to the game. While a player can avoid combat, and may choose not to fight certain enemies, combat is what causes enemies to drop money and money is a key resource in Rogue Legacy.

Combat in Rogue Legacy is fast if you do poorly or fight something over your level, you’re probably going to be dead before you know it. You want to gain as much money as you can, explore more of the castle and then use that money to expand your manor so you can reenter the castle more powerful. So you’re going to have to focus on Combat to improve your chances.

This is a typical system for Roguelites, buying upgrades to make your next run a little easier. What’s important is neither combat is not better than the other, but where Void Bastards teaches you how to play by the gameplay system and rules they’ve implemented, I’ve never felt Rogue Legacy was able to teach the player much, except don’t attack high-level enemies until you have better stats, which didn’t need to be taught.

Another major difference here is in Rogue Legacy, let’s call your time to live is very short. In your first couple hundred games you probably won’t be able to take a large amount of hits. Even once you get better at Rogue Legacy you’re still going to be limited by the damage your character can take. You might have better defense, better health, better damage, but you’re still very weak and a few mistakes will end almost any run.

Compare this to Void Bastards where even if a player wants to kill off a character quickly, there are only a couple of solutions, and most don’t involve combat. Trying to let the game kill you takes a long time. But this longer lifespan also allows you to learn and try to figure out situations you are in. If you are spotted by a Screw, you will be in danger, but you also have time to try to lure him to places where you can lock him in, or just flee from him.

Having more life helped me to understand the system instead of throwing away runs. In Rogue Legacy, if I got hit a few times early on I might take a quick death and restart with a better character, whereas in Void Bastards, the few times I got a bad character, I ended up trying to use them and found them to be useful.

Each time you die in Void Bastards you are given a new character. You can’t choose the character but you’re assigned a new role and you’ll play from there. But with the inability to sacrifice a character easily, it made me attempt each new character even if I didn’t love the new traits on the character. It forced me to make some attempt on even the worst character I ever got, and that pushed me to see how far I could go. I did amazingly well with that character.

In Void Bastards each character starts with one or two traits and each trait has some use. Some of them seem strange such as having long arms and can activate objects from a long distance. Not exactly exciting. There’s another trait, Navigator, which gave me more options on the star map, a decent addition.

Void Bastards has clear positive and negative traits and that’s a solid system that informs the player of the point of each ability. There are even locations in the game that allow you to gain new traits or lose them. Let me talk about that in a second.

Rogue Legacy, on the other hand, has different traits. They also have classes, and the player can unlock more classes over time. Players are offered three characters each time they die and have to choose which character to take on the next run. Rogue Legacy has an interesting system here, but it tries to play traits as both positive and negative abilities. You might be tiny and can’t hit anything, but you’re able to find hidden passages. Or you might be able to get an ability that knocks back enemies farther but it makes it harder to combo enemies. The reason for many traits has to be discovered as not everyone is immediately clear to players.

Rogue Legacy traits aren’t that special though, and while players can learn and discover something about each one, many of the traits tend to be of little use, and only a handful change the actual game.

I spoke earlier about the ability to change traits in Void Bastards. This allows some level of customization, which is something Rogue Legacy lacks and forces you to just choose one of three characters, hoping that at least one of them would be a positive choice for you.

In Void Bastards though your character will be preassigned, you’ll have to ability to customize them at some WCG ships. The game itself tells you what is on each ship so you can locate a gene station on a ship that will give you three options randomly chosen from a list of applying a new trait, replacing a trait with another or removing a trait.

All ship layouts are pre-determined and when you see ships of a certain type you’ll usually have a good idea what you might find. Lux Ships, for instance, tend to have the best food resources, and usually a large dining area with enough food to fill the player for days. From there the player can usually hit that one section and leave if they only wanted food.

This style of map generation allows players to start memorizing where they want to go on each map, and target goals. Most times when you board a ship, it will be for a couple of specific goals, such as getting food and perhaps a Whizzy Rocks, which was something I chased down in the end game. However, Whizzy Rocks is a food item, so rather than searching the entire unknown ship, I was able to localize my search to the dining hall and found them there quite regularly.

So, yes, players can consider where they are going in Void Bastards along with what they are searching for to make their trips into hostile territory faster and allow them to quickly pick up what they need.

The different ships though take on greater meaning in the late game, as players might be targeting specific goals. Finding a med ship when low on health might feel special but since each ship is laid out the same remembering where certain items can be found will make runs that much faster.

After finishing the game though I thought a bit more about this and realized this is probably a negative design. While what is on the ship, and items being located in certain areas, make a lot more sense for realism and is a great gameplay system. The fact each ship of a certain type is laid out the exact same is probably realistic, but it harms the gameplay system and doesn’t lead to a better experience.

On the other hand, Rogue Legacy has very few rules about their map. Every time you enter the castle, it’s a new layout and new challenges. There are four distinct areas in the game each with their own set of enemies and bosses, but the rooms you will discover as you move around are very random.

This is also an issue I have with Rogue Legacy. Many times players will be offered challenges for bonuses that they won’t be able to complete with the current character, or possibly any character, and some layouts are significantly more challenging than the other. While I get this is part of the game, it’s strange that a big pull of Rogue Legacy is finding out how easy or difficult the dungeon might be the next time you enter it, granted that’s very true with how Roguelikes are, but I don’t think that was necessary for Rogue Legacy.

One final section that these two games have in common is how they handle upgrades. In both games, your character has a finite life and eventually, your character will fall. In Rogue Legacy, this happens very often. Your character though will collect money, blueprints, runes, and random trinkets. The money allows you to upgrade your character, their armor, or the runes they’ll bring in. All three are valuable, with the Manor being the biggest piece.

However, there’s a part that has never sat right with me. Each upgrade you buy in Rogue Legacy ends up making every other upgrade both unlocked and locked cost more. So an upgrade that might cost 400 gold, could end up costing 800 gold or more if you neglect it while chasing other upgrades that aren’t as important.

This means each upgrade is more important and valuable, so you’ll want to focus on buying important upgrades, but it means there’s less experimentation and players may neglect what the developers think is important upgrades.

Compare this to Void Bastards. Players will usually be able to swim in a wealth of special items, finding one on almost every ship they board. Each item is useful for upgrading some parts of the player’s inventory and collecting these items will increase the viability of any character.

When your character dies your crafted items remain, however crafting item 1 only unlocks more items to craft, but doesn’t cause other items to cost more. This gives the player a benefit for experimenting and chasing each of the different crafting supplies.

Void Bastards goes one step further. Players can gather scrap of five different types. This is the primary loot you’ll find in almost any drawer, locker or cupboard. This loot is stored and can be used to create any item needed for crafting. It’s a strange system but works well. Though it is one I didn’t use until the end of the game.

When I reached the final stage of the game, I was curious and ended up crafting all three items for the final required item the game wanted me to build. After crafting it, I clicked the button and suddenly I saw the end game cinematic. That’s strange. Void Bastards allowed me to skip the most challenging part of the game due to this crafting system? Interesting.

So what are these two games about? Well, they have similar systems, with twists on permadeath, and trait systems, while tackling different genres and themes.

I spent most of the time with Void Bastards with an experience that made me learn about what the gameplay wanted me to do. Long lives for my character means I didn’t ditch undesirable characters, it also gave me time to understand and appreciate the combat. That combat stopped being an end goal and became a means to an end for when I couldn’t avoid danger.

The loot allowed me to gain power and experiment, and even if I couldn’t find a specific piece of loot, Void Bastards gave me alternate options which allowed me to carve my destiny at the end of the game. Void Bastards feels like a comfortable friend that has worked with the player to craft an amazing journey and it’s one I’d gladly return to when I want to tackle a new difficulty, or now with a list of bonus challenges that will change the game.

On the other hand, Rogue Legacy is a more cold-hearted game. It doesn’t want you to do well and will challenge you to beat it at every level. Players will have to struggle against the game and may likely die to each enemy grouping at least once to learn their patterns. Choices in the upgrade system can make the game easier or more challenging because each purchase raises the price for the rest of the choices. Ultimately, the game seems to want to reward the best players and create a system that only the most diehard fans survive.

I don’t want to call Rogue Legacy Dark Souls, there’s a lot of difference in Rogue Legacy and Dark Souls. However, I think there’s a valuable comparison here because Rogue Legacy wants to challenge the elite players and make them rise to the occasion. It’s not a game that wants to welcome the weak, and demands focused effort to piece out almost any victory in the game.

Yet, when I reach the end of the day I feel like you have two very solid but different Roguelites here. One of them is Void Bastards which is a comforting experience, which will appeal to fans who haven’t fully bought into the Roguelite genre. On the other hand, people who want a real challenge, and want to prove their mettle, can tackle Rogue Legacy and hopefully overcome it’s extremely challenging gameplay.

So if you’re new to the genre, check out Void Bastards, and that’s likely why it’s gotten so much attention, not because it’s the best Roguelite, but instead because it’s one of the most welcoming Roguelite on the market. Rogue Legacy, on the other hand, is for people who already appreciate the genre and want to play one of the more challenging options in it.

I honestly love both games and will recommend them both to different players. Though I am a little partial to Void Bastards currently, I think if I had to choose a desert island game, I’d go with Rogue Legacy.

One day I’m sure we’ll be back here to talk more about Roguelites, Roguelikes, Binding of Isaac, Legend of Bumbo and Nethack, but for now, I think that’s enough. Though let me ask you, which game is more appealing to you, Void Bastards, Rogue Legacy, or is there another Roguelite you’d love to discuss. Hit me with it down in the comments.

This is the second in my new series focused on game mechanics, and I think the first video has gotten a good enough response that I’m looking forward to continuing this series. I’m not completely abandoning reviews, but I’m looking to do a monthly or bi-monthly review wrapup depending on how many games I play. I’ll have one of those shortly, along with the Humble Monthly Bundle for March 2020 and then I’ll be back for even more fun.

If you want to see more consider subscribing, it’s the only thing I ask for from fans, and ring that bell for yourself you deserve it. Feel free to let me know what game you’re looking forward to and I’ll leave a pinned comment with a poll if you want to vote on an upcoming topic for the video.

I’ll also be linking my first video in this series. “How Stardew Valley Works? Which I highly recommend, and a link to the playlist for the future, when this is but one of many.

Until then, I’m Kinglink and thanks for watching.