Earthless is a sci-fi deck-builder full of tough decisions | Hands-on preview

by on October 2, 2023

There’s no real way of knowing what the future holds for humanity, and that’s why we have sci-fi. Hopefully, in a thousand years we’ll all be hanging out with wacky aliens, but more likely there’s some sort of planet-based catastrophe looming that’s going to be a real problem for those future generations. Well if everything goes wrong in the year three thousand I’m sure there will be some brave heroes who’ll save the day and find somewhere new for humanity to live, like the crew you’re leading in the Roguelike deck builder Earthless.

The human race in Earthless felt confident that the sun would be a helpful source of warmth and light for many millions of years, but unfortunately, the universe had other plans for these poor souls. Now as the captain of a generation starship, you have been given the task of finding a new place for people to live, which means going across the galaxy and making a whole lot of tough decisions as you go. In this preview build, I only had to travel across a single map, and in the full game, I can only imagine how much harder this quest will be.

A screenshot of Earthless

Traveling through space is risky business, with asteroid fields and hostile alien ships lurking in every corner. When you enter an encounter you’ll be faced with a grid full of rocks and baddies, and an objective to either escape on the other side of the map or to kill all the hostiles. Whatever you need to do, you’ll need to grab your deck of cards and use them effectively to survive.

With each turn, you can move a set number of squares based, depending on how hot the ship is, and can play as many cards as your energy will allow. At the start of the game, your deck is mostly full of cards that fire missiles, cards that grant shields, and cards that vent your engines to cool them down. Before long though you’ll have more complex cards that give you bonuses for playing them after other cards, ways to draw even more cards, and powerful weapons that’ll ruin the enemies’ day.

There are so many ways you can tackle each encounter in Earthless, so whatever cards you draw it always feels like you’ve got the tools you need to survive. It helps that your ship is fitted with some advanced technology that allows you to see what enemy ships are going to do next too, because then you can plan accordingly and either bulk up on your shields or blast them before they get a chance to attack.

A screenshot of Earthless

As you’d expect from a Roguelike deck builder, you’ll need to upgrade your deck as you go. After each encounter you survive you’ll be presented with three new cards to choose from, and alongside that, after every three encounters, you can delete a less important card from your deck entirely. If you collect the right components you can also craft your own cards that are way more powerful than the cards you find elsewhere, but in the short time I spent with Earthless I only got to do this once.

Earthless is a game full of tough decisions to make, which you’ll quickly realise when presented with the star map and made to choose which path to travel on. Some of these are fraught with danger and enemy encounters, others have powerful technology to salvage for the ship. Even getting some powerful new tech leads to you having to make another tough decision though, because your crew all have different ideas on how to use it.

In this life-or-death situation everyone is on edge trying to ensure the future of the human race, and keeping everyone in your crew happy isn’t easy. The choices you make will inevitably make some departments happy and others upset, and if morale is low in a department the performance of your vessel will suffer in some way. I was, fortunately, able to keep everyone fairly happy in my time with Earthless, and even boosted the engineers’ morale, which meant they worked so hard that my engine cooled down extra every turn. I imagine this balancing act is going to be much harder on a full-length run though.

A screenshot of Earthless

I really enjoyed my time with Earthless, but there are a lot of features planned for the early access release of the game that weren’t available to try. The game will have co-op for one, which I’m sure will lead to many arguments about the best way to survive in space. There will also be multiple factions to play as with totally different decks and ships, which I’m really interested in trying out.

Earthless has the potential to be a landmark deck-building game, full of tough decisions to make and aliens to blast. I was really impressed with how many ways you could tackle each of the encounters I was faced with, and balancing out the crew’s morale is sure to lead to some tricky situations later on in the game. With humanity on the line, you should probably be ready to jump into Earthless next year.