A few hours in
Alright, I’m… not there yet, to be honest. But getting there!
In truth, it was difficult at first to make any real progress in Reassembly even after ‘getting a hang of it’. While my ship design was good enough to compensate for my poor steering and navigation, and I’d learned to win some battles, I still found myself getting destroyed as often as not. I was making progress, but it was slow, and halting. And frustrating. Worse, I could never seem to win battles against larger enemies, no matter how well I was playing. They just have… too much power. Too much layers, and armor, and some of them even have shields! How is that fair?
Apart from continually luring suckers into groups of my allies, it seemed as though the only way to take on large enemy ships was by getting on their level. And it looked like that was going to take a lot of slow, incremental resource-collection. Grinding, essentially. The thought didn’t really appeal to me. Flying a spaceship around is fun and all, don’t get me wrong. But grinding powerups from the dregs of the void and hoping I wouldn’t get blown apart before reaching the safety of home base?
And then, more or less by accident, the actual Reassembly experience opened up for me. I’d more or less forgotten about the lower-right ‘tutorial’ objectives, ignoring them in favour of blowing up Space Fools. But then I somehow triggered a crucial progression point anyway, and Reassembly came up to me and said:
“Hey! By the way, you can press Tab to activate Command Mode!”
“So what do I do in Command Mode?” “Oh, you can totally get other allied ships to become part of your fleet!”
Yeah. Turns out that Credits aren’t just good for Power upgrades and block unlocking: you can also use them hire other ships as bodyguards. Once hired, those ships then follow you around, attacking your targets with you and generally getting into any enemies’ faces.
It changed the game for me. Even with only a small fleet of ships at my side, the universe vastly opened up. The fact that I was able to bring more guns to bear helped a lot, of course. But even more importantly, my allies freed me from the burden of having to be good at aiming.
I suck at properly leading Reassembly‘s projectile weapons, for reasons I’m not quite sure at myself. I’m just not good at it! Partially because I can’t get a handle on speed and distance, I think, and partially because the projectiles actually have mass kickback. I once made a ship that had like five big guns in a row, and firing all of those simultaneously produced enough recoil feedback to counteract my engines and then some.
But no more! Reassembly‘s AI ships are actually pretty good at using whatever they have handy. And with a small fleet of skilled dodgers and gunslingers around, I was free to focus on my actual strength: building a ship that was basically nothing more than a giant floating homing missile platform.
You might not think that this would work, but it worked so much.
It still wasn’t a perfect setup, of course. The thing about allied ships is that they’re actually separate ships. They follow the same rules I do, and they have the same desires: blow up enemies and steal their cool, cool Resources. And because the close-range projectile ships were often closer to the wreckage than I was… Still, larger ships and fleets often had so much Resources that all of our cargo holds would be full with stuff to spare. And so I started powering up, not slowly and haltingly, but at a comparatively breakneck pace.
I particularly enjoyed unlocking the Proton Cannon, a giant gun that fires a sweeping turbolaser beam. It’s less ‘aim to be effective’, and more ‘point-and-click eraser button’.
But the power curve didn’t really start spiraling out of control until — at the tutorial’s behest — I unlocked the Factory block. Suddenly, I was no longer limited to scrounging through allied territory to recruit new ships — although I did quite enjoy finding my own designs flying around there like it was natural. No, with a Factory block in place, I no longer needed to buy fleets with Credits; I could just spawn them, on the spot, with Resources.
And just like that, I was untouchable.
Well, okay. Not untouchable. Most normal enemy ships and fleets couldn’t lay a finger on me and my veritable blanket of defense ships. But certain big stacks of ships, or particularly heavy weapons… for all my bravado, my capital factory ship’s core isn’t actually that well defended.
Particularly dangerous were the Agent fleets. These, I learned, are other players’ custom-designed fleets, somehow uploaded into my universe. They roam around, attacking everyone in sight and destroying claimed space stations and basically being huge dicks about everything.
Some agent fleets I could take. Some, less so. One fleet in particular still keeps blowing me up, to this day, every time I so much as get close. I think it’s, like, four times as expensive as mine?
But even death isn’t a big setback in Reassembly, as you simply respawn. You lose Resources, obviously, and your fleet, but you keep your Credits; in the right circumstances, you can almost immediately hire back all the ships you just lost. Even the ones you made yourself, yes. You have to hire those back. Bloody ungrateful independent spaceships. And then it’s off again!
So I took my fleet around the galaxy, several times. I fought enemies of all shapes and colours, unlocking one new faction, then another, then another. I even discovered the secret of fleet uploading when I found my first wormhole!
Wormholes give two options. Either you ‘stay behind’, and copy your fleet ‘across the multiverse’, which uploads it as agent fleets for other players to fight. Or you ‘travel through the wormhole’, which also does the uploading thing, as well as… something else.
Honestly, I’d figured that taking a fleet through the wormhole would be an end, or something. Like, maybe it would lead to a final battle of sorts, your fleet against the best Reassembly has to offer, and then you win? But no: I think it just respawns and re-seeds the universe, and then drops you back in. Otherwise unchanged.
And that leaves me asking an unfortunate question: what exactly is the point of Reassembly?
Now, you (may) know me. I’m not one for the whole WHAT R GAMES debate. So while Reassembly doesn’t seem to have any win state, or even a clear stated goal, that in and by itself isn’t much of a problem to me.
It does, however, influence just what we can say about the game.
Far as I can tell, Reassembly is first and foremost a toybox for building spaceships. But, like, a fancy toybox. Reassembly‘s consideration and simulation of thrust and physics runs deep: not only is the amount and placement of your engines factored in, but also the relative distribution of your ship’s mass. As a result, every new ship feels that much different to control, in ways that — once you get better at intuiting the system — you can more or less trace back to what part you put where. And if you zoom in close enough, you can even watch the ballet of mini-thrusts that keep your ship stable and floating in zero-G.
Similarly, Reassembly‘s AI is pretty good at making strange and extraordinary ships work. It almost reminds me of Spore’s emergent creature walks in that aspect. On multiple occasions, I’ve handed off hand-designed ships I couldn’t quite make work myself off to the AI, only to watch it put them to miracle use. The in-game tournament mode particularly shines here: it allows you to import ships of your own creation, and then pit squads and fleets of them against one another in automated combat.
So if you want to build cool spaceships, the biggest and the baddest around, or if you want to seed the larger multiverse with your most efficient killer-fleets, then hey! Reassembly might just be the game for you. And next to its technical merits, it’s also graphically really pretty, and aurally really well supported. Plus, and I consider this to be pretty important: if you bring enough firepower to the table, you can carve your way straight through a planet.
For everyone else, though, Reassembly can feel a little like a really cool engine in want of a really cool game.
I mean, don’t get me wrong. I enjoyed the space battling well enough. It feels well-designed: the controls are pretty tight and responsive, to the point where any failure to get your ship to do what you want is operator-driven, not engine-driven. It’s one of those systems with a high skill ceiling, meaning that those of you looking for something else to master — after you’re done climbing Mt. Everest barefoot or whatever it is you people do — have their challenge cut out for them here. And even I had a decent amount of fun just finding the niche that fit me the best, and then expanding that niche into a galaxy-marauding death fleet.
But after getting cool enough to beat everything but the most extreme threats easily, I found myself thinking more and more that there wasn’t really anything to do in this game. Reassembly pays lip service to you ‘conquering the galaxy one sector at a time’, and I guess you can do that. Galactic sectors are colour-coded to the dominant faction in that region. So it’s totally within your power to travel each and every sector square — a casual estimate suggests there’s about 3600 of those, and each takes half a minute or so to cross — and wipe out everything that isn’t your chosen colour. Maybe even drop some home-made space stations there, really secure the place for yourself. Yeah!
And then go through a wormhole, and do it all again! Double yeah!
For me, though, slowly grinding a giant procedurally-generated universe into submission doesn’t really sound like a good time. What’s the point? Maybe if there was some sort of ulterior goal to all of this…
Reading that last part back, I’m struck with how much Reassembly seems to parallel the Minecraft experience. I asked myself what the point of Minecraft was too, back in the very early days, and look at how out-of-touch that made me look. So maybe I’m approaching Reassembly wrong. I’ve been describing it is ‘these and these parts are fun if you’re into that sort of thing, but for everyone else…’
Maybe there is no everyone else. Maybe the point of Reassembly is to be the raddest, fanciest ship-building sandbox around. Maybe all the things I’ve been describing as ‘cool features in an otherwise underdeveloped game’ are actually the game’s intended core.
If that’s the case, then I have nothing more to say about Reassembly except that it does really well what it sets out to do! It is a fancy shipbuilding toolbox and fleet action sandbox, no doubt about it. It lets you tool around with blocks, it lets you build art, and then it lets you use that art to destroy everyone else’s art. Even playing the jaded cynic role, I can see the appeal.
It still hasn’t really hooked me in, though. I tried playing some of the other factions, enthusiastic as I was about unlocking them when it happened. But every new game, I mostly found myself annoyed at having to get back up to my previous power level. And having to re-learn the intricacies of every faction’s meaningfully unique spaceship components and design aesthetic. Some of them don’t even have beam lasers. Can you imagine?
If building your own blocky spaceship murder art sounds like a good time to you, Reassembly runs about fifteen bucks on Steam. Which seems like more than a fair price, for the amount of work and effort that has clearly gone in. So if, at any time during reading this, seeing any of my ship screenshots made you think:
“I could totally do this better!”
Then give Reassembly a whirl, I guess.
And let me know if you run across my fleets in the void, yeah? I’m wondering how those guys are doing. They never call.
Jarenth is less interstellar battle architect and more fussy spaceship mom. Trade design tips with him on Twitter or hang out with him on Steam. And if you dig Indie Wonderland and Ninja Blues in general, why not consider supporting our Patreon campaign?