Very few games capture the heart straight from the beginning, and each that do does so in a unique way. Recently I have found that missing from games, and to my recall the only game which recently struck home was Undertale, which I finally made a point of playing.
Starting The Long Journey Home you launch your lander off planet Earth. As you engage the thrusters and gain escape velocity you can hear the cheers of the world below and the crackling communications from ground control through your ear marking your launch in the history books. You see the cityscape around you stretch out further and further as you gain height, knowing this will be the last time you will see home for a while.
I just wish that the launch had been longer.
When your biggest complaint about a game is that you wish it was longer there is not much to complain about, and with The Last Journey Home you really don’t have much. A game that breaths energy back into the waning roguelike series in a way no other game has in quite a while. It wears it’s homages on its sleeve: FTL and Star Control to name just two, but it transcends theme homages creating a Roguelike I may never put down.
Goddamn I love this game.
The Long Journey Home tasks you with getting the Daedelus-7 and its crew back home safely after a space jump goes wrong, stranding you around 37000 parsecs away from Earth (roughly 7.0942e+17 miles, so a long way.) Doing so will lead you to strange new planets, meet various alien species, and do various tasks to make sure you can get home safely.
The Roguelike element here is that each Journey is entirely randomly generated: You will be travelling through roughly 14 random galaxies with around 14 random star systems, each with different planets, stars and tasks to complete. Unlike different Roguelikes which transferred some value reward to the next run, such as Rogue Legacy with money, you get nothing in your next run here, only the knowledge of what you did before: What worked, what didn’t, who likes who and the slow grasp with how to move most efficiently.
Before you even begin playing you will have to pick your crew, your ship, your lander and your seed. Crew members each provide a singular benefit, usually in the form of an object they bring with them, such as a medkit which can cure all a person’s ailment or a hull repair system for a free repair. With ships and landers, the choice is simpler, as each has a set amount of cargo space, fuel space as well as various other characteristics which will change how you play. You only get a choice of three on each: One average and two with obvious strengths and weaknesses, although the ‘average’ ship and lander seemed to be well above average in all regards rather than square in the middle. The homage to lovers of science fiction is strong here, with all the base seeds being references to famous shows and movies.
The bulk of your gameplay will be resource management. Within each system you will be able to fly to various planets in a top down view, using fuel to push yourself into enough of an orbit to allow the ship to auto orbit and let you land. Your ships trajectory is show as a running line, editing on the fly as you use your engines to adjust your transit.
Once you lock yourself into an orbit you can send down your lander, the game enters a 2.5D side view as you take control of the lander and try not to bomb it into the planet surface. If your game will go wrong it is normally here as getting the lander under control and not plummeting to the surface is a fine art, especially on planets with a strong gravity. Each planet can have various resources to mine, such as Hydrogen for fuel or Iron to repair the ship, and various structures to land and explore, containing possible treasures or civilisations to contact.
While a game is very long (press pack estimated 4-6 hours, I would go closer to 8-10) the cycle is very short: Move to a new area, mine resources, explore, and move on. Resources generally do not last more than two systems, and you will be throwing them into keeping your ship in a stable manner constantly. More unique events can happen in the game also. Combat is rare than other Roguelikes, and takes the form of a top down battle akin to Star Control. You can also find unique objects planetside. Bringing these to your lab gives you various options with what to do with them, depending on the crew member you put to the task.
But the gameplay cycle works. The first run in my game I bombed the lander into the planet, and did the same on the second run. However in my first run I found an alien who offered to open a banking account for me at the galactic bank for 800 credits, which I accepted not knowing different. However this is not necessary, and getting money automatically makes an account. So next time he showed up I declined the offer, learning from my mistake. With each run you will get better, using planets to slingshot yourself about to save fuel, becoming more picky with where you go and learning the finesse of the controls.
And the whole thing works so well. While there are a lot of things to grasp, no mechanic is too complex that you will become confused with what to do. You will find it coming almost naturally, and the whole game fits well around a controller or a keyboard and mouse, though they recommend a controller. If I had to find a flaw with this game is that the ship controls by default are not set to absolute controls which I prefer. However this is obviously a personal gripe.
I could go on a lot longer about this game but the summation is simple. The Last Journey Home is a game you need to play. It is a game you need to go out and buy. This game is a 10 the first run you do to the last. Everything about it is as near perfection as it can possibly be.