It’s been a while since we’ve looked at Neon XSZ and a lot has changed in the intervening months. The game released on Desura as a solid, fun, but slightly aimless Descent-style shooter, more concerned with the joys of blasting enemies and upgrading your ship than providing any type of structure to the neon-drenched action. That changed with the latest update back in April, which was part 1 of a multi-part enhancement that added arenas to the center of the massive complex. The second stage of the upgrade landed today, bringing with it not only more arenas for the advanced levels but also a pile of new weapons, gadgets, and even elemental effects.
The four factions inhabiting the complex are constantly fighting for dominance, with green and blue warring against red and orange. The limbs of the complex are color-coded to a particular faction, with bases where you can fly and cause trouble or just go shopping, raising your reputation with each depending on who you work with or attack. This influences how much help you’ll get when you call for it during troublesome encounters, but once you hit the arenas you’re on your own.
There are four arenas in the heart of the complex, each a unique challenge and swarming with enemies. Fight your way through and you can choose which friendly faction to award the arena to while also earning the reward of a major new tool which, in standard Neon XSZ style, you can chose to equip or not as you see fit. Clear all four arenas and you’ve opened up the next building complex, stocked with higher level enemies packing far more dangerous weapons. As game structure goes it’s hardly War and Peace, but it does add a clearer goal to the proceedings that makes progress much more satisfying.
Other new upgrades include new missile types and modifiers that are low damage but with debilitating effects on whatever they hit, plus new elemental effects that tie into the existing gun properties. The low-range, high-power lightning gun has the obvious electrical elemental effect, for example, and you can now get shields to guard against it in addition to the upgrades to enhance it in your guns. Learning when to switch out which upgrades is important, because each ship only has so much storage space for gadgets and add-ons. Upgrades also add mass, which detracts from the ship’s top speed, so there’s always a balance to consider when creating a loadout.
Neon XSZ was great fun when we played it last fall, and its ongoing development has only improved the game flow, structure, and balance. There’s a ton of content already, with the greatest polish being in the first 20+ hours but plenty more to find beyond, loaded with shooty action with a full 6 degrees of freedom to fly around in. There’s still months to go before it lands on Steam Early Access, but if you don’t mind venturing from the overly-comfy confines of Valve’s service Neon XSZ is worth the journey, and will be available there soon enough if not.