Most people agree that Baldur’s Gate 3 is probably going to be the role-playing game of the year, if not the overall game of the year. And it deserves that honor, earning a rare perfect score in our GiN Review. I really enjoyed playing BG3 and will probably go back and do more runs with it. But the video game industry did not stop just because such a great title was released. Eventually, we are all going to want to move on and play something else, so I have tentatively started looking for some new RPGs to scratch that itch.
I was kind of thinking that the next great RPG on my play list might be the Australian-based Broken Roads, but that one seems to be trapped in development limbo with no definite release date yet. So, I went back and looked at Iron Tower Studio’s Colony Ship RPG, which was in Early Access on Steam for a while and was finally released in November. And I was really glad that I did because it tells a fascinating story set in an even more interesting world.
The world of Colony Ship: A Post-Earth Role Playing Game is set on an aging generational spaceship traveling between a dying Earth and the new home world of Proxima Centauri. The journey is supposed to take about 400 years, and your character is unlucky enough to be born a little past the midway point in that journey. That means that you never got to see Earth or any planet really, and won’t live nearly long enough for the ship to reach its destination. Your world, quite literally, will only ever exist within that aging metal monstrosity of a ship. This grim fact tends to make many of the residents of the ship kind of gloomy and sullen, and the dim lighting and hardscrabble existence they endure does not help matters too much.
There was also a civil war among the people of the ship, which again happened many years before you were born. Since no faction ended up winning that fight, it has evolved into a kind of simmering cold war which continues to this day among the three dominant factions onboard. The war did change things on the ship quite a bit, however. Huge areas of the superstructure were breached in the fighting, and the reactors were also damaged, leading entire decks to get flooded with radiation. This caused mutations in both older people and children, who were discriminated against initially. However, because the mutants were the only ones who could repair and maintain the radiation-soaked areas of the ship (like the engines), the mutants were given rights and grudging respect in return for their services keeping the ship working and the people inside alive. The mutants make up a minor faction that you will encounter, one of many within this chaotic political crucible.
The ship itself is a behemoth that is huge enough to support several major settlements that could almost be considered towns within its rusting hull, as well as many ruined places that basically serve as dungeons for exploration and missions. The ship was apparently not in too good of shape when it started its journey from Earth hundreds of years ago, having been converted from cargo hauling duties into its new role as a colony vessel by a religious sect intent on escaping persecution. Choosing to follow a religion or sect, or rebelling against them, is a sort of central theme in the title, a big reason why the civil war happened all those years ago.
The poor colony ship has degraded even more since it started its 400 year-long journey through the stars, and the onboard war made things much worse. Many of the missions you will undertake involve helping to keep the ship operational in some way or another, or exploring the destroyed decks which are littered with bodies that have been resting in silence for decades, alongside some very real threats which are very much alive and waiting for you.
For players, Colony Ship starts like most other RPGs, with character creation. You don’t get to choose a faction at first, other than the fact that your character is quite poor and lives in a section of the ship called The Pit, which is basically the old cargo hold. A small city has sprung up there. Residents of The Pit basically sacrifice anything that could be deemed a luxury, including things like basic legal protections, in return for the freedom to make their own way in the world without having to follow a faction or the tight set of rules that govern them. The title does ask you a series of questions about things like religion and politics to get your character’s starting attitude about such things, and even tracks those beliefs’ changes over time based on your actions, but players are generally free to pursue any type of personal code that they wish. Just know that the various factions will respond in kind too, and it’s very difficult to keep on everyone’s good side on the ship, so expect to make a lot of both friends and enemies.
Character creation is varied enough that it also allows players to approach Colony Ship however they want. A front-line combat type character is certainly an option, and there will likely be some (pretty well balanced) turn-based combat and fighting in every playthrough. However, other options are available. Stealthy characters can likely sneak past most trouble, or at least use stealth to even the odds in their favor for many fights. Those with high abilities in Persuasion, Streetwise and Impersonate (the key charisma-based skills) can also talk their way out of a lot of trouble. My initial character specialized in that area, and I was surprised how often I could trick, intimidate or cajole other characters in Colony Ship into doing what I wanted, even if the situation was clearly heading towards a fight.
You don’t have to try and be everything either. Instead, you can recruit other characters to join your group of misfits. Once they join you, configuring those other characters and leveling them up can make them almost like an extension of your main character in terms of the skills you need to survive. For example, I evolved the recruitable guy I met (who is introduced to you as part of the main story) into a frontline, heavily armored melee fighter who was a decent shot as well. Whenever combat started, I used him to do most of the fighting for me while I hung back and took sniper shots. I didn’t bother giving him any points in speech skills since I was maxed out on those. When I recruited another party member, I continued to round out my group’s missing skills so that I was ready for anything.
The title even cleverly lets you set which party member automatically takes on what roles in a special party management screen, so for example, you can have your salesperson always be front and center when you go to buy or sell something, regardless of who the active character is when you first approach a store.
Another great move on the part of developer Iron Tower Studio is that there are two difficulty levels that can be set at the start of Colony Ship. Playing on the easier setting makes enemies less formidable and your character more powerful, while the harder level equates more to the old school type of really difficult levels found in older RPGs. The punishing difficulty level was a key turnoff for a lot of people (myself included) for Iron Tower’s other big RPG, Age of Decadence, which we reviewed back in 2015. It’s really nice to see that Iron Tower has learned from the stumbles of that game and made sure that Colony Ship appeals to a wider audience. Hardcore players can still find an enjoyable time here with the harder level, while others can enjoy a challenging but more accessible experience using the easier setting.
There is no doubt that Colony Ship is a quality RPG. However, it’s worth noting that it does not have all the bells and whistles of a full-fledged modern RPG. For example, the maps in Colony Ship are static. I spent a good five minutes trying to figure out how to rotate the camera before I figured out that it wasn’t possible. Instead, the levels are designed in a great way where you can see pretty much everywhere that you can go, and just need to figure out how to get there. You also generally don’t need to go behind anything, which could be confusing since you would lose sight of your character. The maps are also kind of dark with muted colors, which is a testament to the gloomy world of Colony Ship. However, all that aside, there is a robust fast travel system, so once locations are discovered, you can avoid navigating the maze-like levels all together to get back to key locations.
There are also no voices in Colony Ship, so expect to read a lot of text as you play. But the music which plays in the background is nice and brings to mind all things sci-fi and space.
Colony Ship: A Post-Earth Role Playing Game is a lot of fun to play. It’s a little bit of a slow burn to get started, but it does what any good RPG should: let players become fully immersed and invested in its unique world. If you are looking for a really deep RPG backed by good tactical combat elements, Colony Ship will fit that bill. It should appeal to a lot of different players, from hardcore old school gamers to those just looking to experience a unique and foreboding new sci-fi world.