Review: Voyageur15 Feb 2017 1
Released 08 Feb 2017
Humanity has survived its own worst intentions and reached the stars. Like seedlings in the wind we spread far and wide and, over time, many different human civilizations formed throughout the galaxy. Most of these civilizations remained out of contact with each other in large part because of the sheer distances involved.
An ancient alien artifact found buried in scattered sites all across the galaxy changed that. Untouched for millions of years humans discovered what became known as Descent Devices. When equipped to a spacecraft a Descent Device enables faster-than-light travel, but only in one direction, toward the center of the galaxy. Human scientists don't understand why, or much about the technology in general, but that has hardly stopped intrepid voyageurs from making use of these devices.
Voyageur is an interactive science-fiction game in which you are embarking on such a journey. The game starts off with a choice: What made you decide to take a one-way trip on a faster-than-light ship to the center of the galaxy? Are you an explorer with an itch to see the greater galaxy? Are you drawn by a desire to seek out and understand other human civilizations? Maybe your aim is adventure rather than exploration. Are you looking to gain new and exciting experiences and earn a tidy profit while doing so? Perhaps you embark on the journey less as choice and more as the lesser of many bad options. Is your goal to escape something…or someone, in the depths of space?
I started out my voyage, too many light years back to count at this point, as an adventurer. I wanted to see the galaxy and make my fortune. I don't mind telling you it was a bit of a rough start. I was plagued by pirates those first few jumps. It's an ugly choice out there in the cold depths of space, far from any friendly orbit. You can take your chances and run, or jettison your cargo, which is of course what they really want anyway. I've done both, depending on the value of what I was carrying.
Three things really turned the tide for me. First, the excitement over the Descent Device within the scientific community on any world big enough to have such a community. They'd happily shell out some credits just for time to examine the thing. I'm not sure any of them ever learned anything about the device or the Precursors that made it, but I'll take their money, that's for sure.
The second big boon for me was a bit of a surprise—the speaking circuit. Turns out you can make money talking about what you've seen and done across the galaxy, even if you haven't been doing it very long. Most folks don't ever leave the orbit of their own world and long to learn more. And if I embellished details a bit to earn a bit more now and then, who did it really hurt?
Finally, I got a little something at the cybernetics tailor to improve my gracefulness at the helm of my ship. Being an adventurer at heart meant I was already more graceful than most, but a little extra augmentation really made the difference. There weren't many pirates that could stay in pursuit for long once I got that baby installed.
From there, the credits started piling up. The great thing about faster-than-light travel is that you can grab the most mundane thing and expect to eventually turn a profit with it deeper into the galaxy. The novelty alone drives up the price, but if you grab advanced tech or spirits of any type, well, all the better. My motto became "ship booze, never lose."
I turned those profits into improvements for my ship. First, I added a compartment for ferrying passengers, paying passengers. People will pay a pretty good fee to take a ride, if only down the Descent trail a world or two. Might be that I also added some other compartments for the transport of, say, more discrete items. I've never been great with laws…
At any rate, a profitable trading career, and other activities, allowed me to do a little recruitment and put together a crew for my ship. Mila Lei was the first, a pro trader. Her knowledge really helped make better decisions on future destinations. Later I added an engineer, security officer, navigator, and medic. Each addition complemented the crew nicely.
Having a crew opens new opportunities, not the least of which is taking planetside expeditions that can be very profitable. You need a bigger crew to pull these off, and it is especially handy to have a security officer armed with more than wits and charm, I'll tell you that. There were a couple expeditions where we made some grand discoveries and turn them around for a hefty profit.
My crew also saw things I would never have noticed, not necessarily. There are so many mysteries of the galaxy to investigate. Most relate to the Precursors and what became of them. We've investigated their biology, the Descent devices they left behind, their culture, and more.
The Precursors are long gone, but humanity is not, and traveling through the galaxy reveals a lot about people as well. Civilizations evolve differently which has led to five dominant ideologies throughout the galaxy, each with a different take on humanity's place in the stars. Ladder is all about pragmatism and progress. You make the adjustments you can to improve your lot, and let go of the unchangeable. Chrysalis on the other hand is believes in change and adaptation, including the very idea of what it means to be human. Dome stresses the security and stability of governmental systems to defend against the hostility of the universe. Hammer believes such systems must periodically be smashed and renewed to best serve the course of justice. Star believes in knowledge and planning, through which utopia is achievable.
My travels have led me to understand these philosophies to varying degrees. I profited mightily in Ladder controlled space, thanks to their insatiable interest in science and technology and love of trade. I almost got sidetracked by some anti-government dissidents in Dome space. Let's just say I could relate to their cause and had a bit of a revolutionary flare up. Then there was that time I tried a fungal dream with people of the Chrysalis…that was different.
My journey is nearing an end and regrets, well, sure…I've got them. The one and only time I jettisoned some stowaways, for example. I'm not proud of that and the crew didn't much approve either. I'd take that back. There were also so many paths untraveled. I was offered tenure at more than one university, if you can believe that, just to talk about everything I've seen and experienced. Then there's the Ladder worlds…yeah, it was tempting to retire there, living out the end of my days as an eccentric tycoon. Sometimes I wish I had gone deeper into those trippy dreams.
I didn't make those choices. I made others that have me and the crew on the precipice of taking a big plunge. We found the kind of trail an adventurer just has to follow, you know? Just has to. I'm told we're about to travel tens-of-thousands of lightyears in just a few seconds. We don't know what's out there, but we want to find out. That's what makes us adventurer's after all, it wasn't only about the profit. Farewell, Milky Way!
Voyageur is a compelling mix of Space Trader style trading game, interactive fiction story, and character development. It isn't an interactive fiction game in the same way as the Sorcery or Lifeline games, however. The story is less fleshed out and more what you make of it. You blast off deeper and deeper into the galaxy and must decide what you're interested in getting into. Exploring alien mysteries? Learning more about human ideologies? Becoming rich and famous? Giving in to a shadier style of living? You can do all of those and more.
As you progress through a story of your own making you, as the main character, will change. You have stats—wit, grace, charm, and luck—that determine your ability at things like piloting a ship out of danger or to spin a yarn. There are also traits and "curios" that help define who you are and what you've seen and done. All of these change over time based on the decisions you make and have an effect on the game.
There is a fair bit of repetition in Voyageur, from the descriptions of planets to events that happen there, which may turn off some people. This is mitigated by the speed at which you can play through any planet you don't find particularly interesting. A few clicks and you can buy and sell at the market, resupply if needed, and blast off to the next world.
The game is also re-playable to the extent you are interested in trying out different starting choices, diving into alternate mysteries and storylines, and discovering different endings. Here again, repetition may take its toll on some gamers as you have to build up knowledge and assets to even be presented some options. I do wish there was an ability to save a game and return to it later to make different decisions and see where they take you.
Voyageur is a game about exploration and imagination where you decide who you are and why you're hurtling through space faster than light. I recommend it to gamers who enjoy a more open-ended experience, and don't mind a bit of repetition.