Preview: Beyond Despair - A World More Dangerous Than Ever Before

After 6 months since our previous visit to the dark world of Beyond Despair, we return to find an ever more unforgiving and hostile world to explore and survive.

It’s been a good six months since I last paid a visit to the dark and horrifying world of PixelMate’s Early Access survival game Beyond Despair. With so many updates since my last visit, I decided to see what new and deadly threats lurk on the island of Ansora that would put my survival skills to the test.

What I found was a test indeed -- new hostile enemies join a balanced starvation, dehydration and stress system. A new chapter in the plot, along with a crafting system push the game forward as well.

What’s new?

The sheer amount of work that has been done with Beyond Despair in the space of six months is something quite amazing for a small team of developers. The changes mentioned above are only a few of what was added to the island of Ansora. Let's take a look at what there is to offer.

New areas are now occupied by the denizens of Ansora

Previously, only a few parts of the island were occupied by creatures. In the build I played back in January, the only areas that had life were the southern coast, the cinema, the train station and other areas in the south-west side of the island.

While I am yet to explore the island in its entirety, I’ve already noticed the north-eastern coast is now full of life from madmen to new and strange mutant creatures like the Sapsy.

Along with plenty of enemies, the lands have been filled with various anomalies that can deal damage to you, and the ruined villages are now full of containers ripe for looting -- if you’re brave enough to do so.

To further the dangers of Ansora, two factions attempting to take ground on the island are at war, The Marauders and The Patrollers,. These armed squads are not just dangerous. but extremely tough and should be avoided at all costs for new volunteers (players).

The new enemies bring the game to a whole new level, for new and experienced players alike -- and it gives all the more reason to go out and explore the world in full.

Chapter 2 Begins

The last time I played Beyond Despair, only the first chapter of the plot was implemented. Chapter 1’s purpose is more of an introduction to the mechanics of the game than anything else, though the plot does start off near the end.

In Chapter 2 the plot begins to thicken and become truly interesting. I can't say much without avoiding spoilers, but what I can say is it starts off pretty straightforward, but begins to become more complex when the player starts losing trust in the characters.

The plot is quite interesting, and makes me want to keep progressing to see what it has in store for me. Once the story really got going, I found it hard to put the game down for any length of time.

The Crafting System

With the introduction of the crafting system, every item has a use of some kind. In some cases, specific items are needed to craft equipment, tools, and supplies. Even the items that would be considered junk have a purpose, where they can be recycled into parts which can be used to craft important materials such as steel and barbed wire.

Unused weapons, depending on strength and rarity, can also be recycled to give you a good amount of parts. There’s plenty to craft between medical supplies, weapon upgrades, food,  armour to keep you busy.

There are 66 crafting recipes to find and unlock, which are found randomly in lootable contains throughout the world. Once learned they will always be available for you to use.

The recipes are well balanced, right in between easy and frustrating. Giving practically every item a use in the game really adds a whole new level of depth to it, making even the small and seemingly useless item handy to find.

The skill system

The skill system works in similar ways to other games with RPG elements. You have three skill trees, each of which contains specific sets of skills. As you level up new sets of skills become available. For example, the second tier unlocks when you reach level 10 and the third tier at level 20.

The three trees consist of skills in crafting, fighting, and survival. The crafting tree skills make the player a more effective crafter, giving bonuses and allowing them to recycle otherwise useless items. The fighting tree gives the player skills that allow them to do more damage, have better aim with guns and an increase in their carry weight. Finally, the survival tree focuses on your character's fitness and stealth abilities, allowing you to run for longer and sneak around quietly.

You gain experience by killing enemies and completing plot missions and side quests. Each time you level up, you gain one skill point which you can place on whatever skills you wish to.

If at any point you want to change your skills, you can regain all your skill points at the cost of 1,000 parts. The skills like many of the new features add another depth of gameplay to the game. Not only do they make things slightly easier they give the game a bit of a tactical feel to it, as you need to plan out what skills are most useful to your play style.

Not all is lost upon death

Previously when you died you lost everything and started over from scratch. Now, a safe is located at the Oasis -- where you can place weapons, supplies, materials and so on for safe keeping. While you will still lose everything in your possession at the time of death, anything you have in the safe will remain there.

It allows the player to keep a stock of weapons and supplies as backup. It’s unfortunate you still respawn at the southern coast of the island.

While this is logical for new players, for those who have been to the Oasis and have items in the safe, it feels like a needless trek back just to get some of their equipment. If anything it is a bit frustrating knowing you have items in the safe and need to run the whole way there just to get them. Changing the respawn point to the Oasis once a player has been there at least once would definitely be a much more convenient respawn point.

Aside from the one criticism, having the safe is a godsend. It allows you to put items you don't need at that time away until you are ready to use them.

Lots of balancing and visual updating

Along with the many new features introduced to the game, there has been a considerable amount of balancing and visual upgrades done. As previously stated, the thirst, hunger and stress mechanics are now fully implemented and are far more balanced than they were in the earlier builds.

Unlike a lot of recent survival games, the thirst and hunger mechanic is really well done. You don't end up with a character who is a bottomless food pit that needs to eat and drink every few minutes otherwise they die off. With your thirst and food maxed out, it can take over an entire in-game day (24+ minutes) before you will need to eat and drink something.

The same applies to the stress and temperature mechanics, where the player doesn't become as stressed as easily and it is rare that you begin to take damage due to temperature drops, unlike before.

Enemies are a lot better balanced too with their damage outputs now being much better. Before, some enemies dealt too much, while others not enough. I would say now the enemy damage feels more fair. As for the visuals, there has been a major improvement to the lighting especially.

I am also certain some of the character models have had a bit of an overhaul too, making them slightly more fearsome than before. I especially found this with Lily, a creepy supernatural little girl that you see from time to time. Her design always sent shivers down my spine, but now she looks truly menacing.

The game runs exceptionally well practically anywhere in the game, moving on from some of its prior framerate issues. Despite using the Unreal 4 engine, the game isn't a system hog. Even with an older graphics card and 4GB of ram, the game runs like a champ in medium to high graphical settings.

Overall, between new features, visual upgrades, balancing and optimisation, Beyond Despair is well on its way to becoming a great survival game.

Becoming one of the best survival games on Steam

Beyond Despair has come an exceptionally long way over the course of the past six months.

The game plays incredibly well considering it still has a ways to go in Early Access.

With all the new features in the game along with the balancing, optimisations and visual upgrades, it is becoming one of the most solid survival games that you can find on Steam. Whether you’re playing alone or bringing a group of friends along to the post-apocalyptic island of Ansora, one thing is for sure, Beyond Despair will put all your survival skills to the test.

Back when I first wrote about the game in my Top 5 Unreal 4 Engine Indie FPS Games to Keep on Your Radar article, the developer said that they hope they wouldn’t disappoint me -- and they haven’t in any shape or form.

Published Jun. 27th 2017

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