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Jumplight Odyssey combines Rimworld and Faster Than Light, but desperately needs more meat

League of Geeks' anime-inspired space game has some promise
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There is something about a Battlestar Galactica-esque scenario that just draws you in: Your entire civilization has been reduced to a single space ship and its crew, your homeworld has been wiped out, and the enemy fleet is chasing you through the stars. It’s up to your ingenuity and willpower to help the survivors go on. Jumplight Odyssey is building on this premise, combining it with colony management akin to Rimworld.

Speaking to a developer at gamescom 2023, they tell me that 70s sci-fi animes and Star Trek were a huge inspiration for the aesthetics of the title as well as what they consider one of the cores of the gameplay: relationships. Each of your crew members will have relations with someone else – they’ll be friends, enemies, family, or lovers. Your ship, the developer explains to me, basically will be the setting of a telenovela with all the soap opera drama this entails.

Jumplight Odyssey key art.

Battlestar Galactica meets 70s anime, Star Trek, and telenovelas in Jumplight Odyssey.

That’s a great idea – what would Star Trek be without the relationship between the characters? What would Rimworld be without the drama of someone’s lover dying and sending your colony into a death spiral? However, there is a giant hole in Jumplight Odyssey’s execution of it, at least in its current Early Access.

We usually start a game of Rimworld or Dwarf Fortress or most other games of this sort with a small group of people, maybe a handful, and grow the group over time. That not only gives our characters time to grow relationships with each other, but – more crucially – allows us to follow the development of these relationships and ourselves to grow attached to these characters. We see how they struggle, we need their specific skills, we must deal with their flaws – we see it all.

In Jumplight Odyssey, though, we start off with several dozen crew members. There is very little room here to follow individual stories and grow attached to anyone, because our ship already feels like an ant hive from the very beginning. There is also very little indication of relationships happening between the characters on screen aside from a few conversations people have in the hallways. You need to dive into each one’s log to find out about them – and sure, it can be fun catching up with developments in this way, but not if you’ll have to do it for over fifty people. Jumplight Odyssey at the moment lacks the intimacy needed to make one of its core features work.

Jumplight Odyssey ship battle.

If the enemy overtakes you, boarding parties, strike craft, and broadsides will follow.

As overblown as the old “one death is a tragedy, one million is a statistic” is, it holds some truth in this case: I don’t really care about the death of a literal redshirt whose name I didn’t have time to learn. Sure, they were someone’s lover, sibling, friend, or enemy and their death will impact those characters, but that doesn’t matter if I didn’t get a chance to also get to know them.

This seems like a structural problem, since the ship you start on is already quite huge – perhaps it could be remedied by offering smaller starting crafts and the ability to change ship during a run by entering an abandoned shipyard or something of the sort?

Other issues Jumplight Odyssey has should be able to be fixed over its Early Access period – and there is a sizable amount of those right now. Some of these are on a technical level: It’s a bit prone to crashing at the moment and some other players have reported persistent lags, though I myself have largely been safe from those.

More problems are on the management layer: You can’t really customize your crew’s work and rest schedule at the moment outside of changing the alarm level, which while itself being an awesome and thematic feature is a rather crude way of doing things. There is no way to tell your crew where to go manually or to prioritize certain tasks outside of a construction priority setting. There need to be better ways to keep tabs on your resource production than going through all your greenhouses and what not and manually calculating it on paper. When sending characters to away-missions, crucial information about their traits should be presented on that screen – I shouldn’t have to check each person’s individual overview. Rescued civilians should be able to be drafted for service and not just be additional mouths to feed. Pathfinding is a little iffy with traffic jams being a common occurrence.

Jumplight Odyssey screenshot of the bridge during red alert.

Many management features are still rough, but in terms of intensity Jumplight Odyssey already feels great.

I’ve been very negative so far, but I don’t want to give you a false impression: Jumplight Odyssey, aside from these mentioned drawbacks, has great potential. Managing the “Hope” of your crew throughout the journey is a really strong idea, reinforcing its narrative and adding another aspect to gameplay. The core FTL-like loop of being chased by an enemy armada as you jump from system to system, where you scramble to extract as many resources as you can before having to leave, balancing risk and reward, is immensely satisfying. 

The visuals, too, are fantastic – the intensity of being on red alert with your crew at their stations and the enemy closing in as you await the last bits of energy to make your next jump really is something amazing. It’s got some of that scrappiness of FTL, allowing you to open parts of the ship to the vacuum of space to suck out boarding parties when things get desperate.

Jumplight Odyssey is a true Early Access title – it has a fun core gameplay loop that draws you in, but needs a lot more meat on its bones before truly being able to live up to that potential. If you want to help shape that journey, Jumplight Odyssey is now available on PC via Steam.