A unique spin on an established sci-fi game genre.
First released online fifteen years ago as a freeware game, Transcendence has since developed into a fascinating space simulator experience which is wonderfully reminiscent of classic Ambrosia Software titles like Ares and Escape Velocity. Having been in development since the nineties almost single-handedly by programmer George Moromisato, this two-dimensional space trade and combat simulator begins with the player being called by the nebulous deity Domina to reach her throne in the galactic core. The player is then tasked to traverse the stars while trading, fighting, and looting through the galaxy in hopes of meeting the legendary goddess.
Refreshing Combat and Economy Innovations
As you would expect of a game in this category, there is a mix of combat and commerce, with emphasis based slightly on the latter throughout most of the game. The trade system is a bit more intricate than games like Escape Velocity, but it is not as massive and wildly complex as the exchange system found in Eve Online. One notable difference between Transcendence and other space trade simulators is the looting system. Unlike other games in this genre where riffling through wrecked vessels is an infrequent occurrence, looting for equipment and supplies is a staple in Transcendence as said looted equipment can be sold for credit or used to create customized gear.
Another unique element of this game is the incorporation of Power of the Domina or supernatural abilities which can be acquired by boosting your relationship with the stellar goddess. This is achieved by donating money, and specific items to the various Domina monastery stations found throughout human space and these abilities provide a keen advantage during certain missions and situations.
While mastering combat is initially necessary the plot of the game drives the character to progress through the galaxy and explore one system after the other, each of which is populated by many different factions which offer a variety of jobs and challenges to complete, or items and money to steal. As such the player has the option to play between different extremes, one being the option to fight their way through every system they enter, raiding merchant ships and looting vessels for equipment and credits to keep their ship fueled and loaded up with cutting-edge weaponry as the player advances. Alternatively, the player can instead opt to trade goods, defend convoys, and mine ore to buy supplies and upgrades, as they near the galactic core.
Regardless of which extreme the player chooses exploration within each system is more rewarding than most other top-down space simulators due to the games unique design. The primary reason is that most star systems in the game are randomized with different layouts every time you start a new game file.
Not only does this force the player to meticulously explore each system they jump into to locate resupply bases, trading ports, and a new hypergate for each game they play, but also adds considerably to the replay value. Plus, Transcendence presents a far more realistic and varied depiction of space topography compared to older games in the genre like Ares and Escape Velocity, as systems often possess multiple stars, exotic asteroid belts, and a variety of unique planets which adds to the sense of immersion.
Certain Mechanics Can Be Tedious
One downside to this game is the limited method of travel between each star as travel between star systems is done through a series of hypergates wherein there is a maximum of two gates per system. This means that the player’s journey from the starting system to the core can only be done in a linear fashion and the player will have to jump manually between each system, unlike most other space adventure games. This means that Transcendence can become at times frustrating slow, especially when you have to travel seven star systems just to unload a specific form of cargo with a particular trader.
The greatest con of Transcendence is being stuck in the same ship. Distinct from other games in the genre you can’t sell your spacecraft and upgrade to a better or different model. Given the fact that the standard game download only allows the player to select from three starter ships you may consequently be constrained by which missions you can do (or at least do well) much later on.
An Ever Developing Adventure
Since the game has been developed almost solely by Moromisato himself Transcendence, while playable, is not officially yet finished. However, Moromisato has continued to release new add-ons to fix glitches and produce more downloadable content to add to the experience. The game's most recent version (v 1.8 beta 2) came out this summer, and more updates and patches are likely to follow. As a bonus for those who can program this, Transcendence's XML format can be easily modified, which has led to some pretty neat fan-made mods and quests over the years.
While not terribly innovative in any one category be it storyline, gameplay, or graphics Transcendence is still fun to play if you are into retro space-based trade and combat simulators. On Steam, you can get Transcendence for $8.99 with both expansion packs included, or you can download the basic version of the game for free off of Moromisato's website.
If you are looking for a decent two-dimensional space trade and combat adventure, start your journey today with Transcendence – the goddess awaits.