Citizen Sleeper 2: Starward Vector Combines Tabletop RPG With Classic Sci-Fi TV


July 3, 2024

Citizen Sleeper 2: Starward Vector Combines Tabletop RPG With Classic Sci-Fi TV

When crafting a sequel, innovation is a delicate balance – the need to expand on the elements that people enjoyed in a game, without straying too far from the specific formula that made people love it in the first place. Citizen Sleeper creator Gareth Damian Martin is no stranger to this, and – following the recent announcement of a release window for Citizen Sleeper 2: Starward Vector stopped by to chat to us about the road to building a successor to their RPG hit.

We were also able to get our hands on a demo of Citizen Sleeper 2, and get a closer look at the brand new stories, situations and systems that Damian Martin is crafting. Just like the first game, you’re beholden to the roll of the dice, which means no two experiences will be the same. Like the first game, Citizen Sleeper 2 plays out in ‘Cycles’, and at the start of each, you’ll roll a set of six-sided dice, and you’ll use these dice to perform actions throughout the Cycle. The higher the dice number, the higher the chance of success in those actions. 

There are also a ton of new mechanics to explore, as well as fresh dynamics – you’ll run a ship, assemble your very own crew, and cut your teeth on a variation of Contracts – standalone missions that’ll help you and your crewmates make credits and build a future. It’s tabletop-role-playing-meets-sci-fi-television, and you’re going to love it.

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The demo begins on the Hexport, a space station serving as your hub that is modest in size but brimming with opportunities to earn cash and make connections. You’ll need to do plenty of both, as you, alongside your friend Serafin, are also on the run from a former employer, Laine. The escape was a partial success, but you’re now tasked with fixing up The Rig (the stolen ship you made your escape in) and making sure you can stay ahead of Laine.

This is where Citizen Sleeper 2 starts to really shine – in its portrayal of a dystopian interstellar gig economy, where jobs are high-risk, high-reward and the schemes are often harebrained. By taking Contracts, you’ll be able to embark on individual missions either alone or with a chosen party, and complete them in whichever way suits you best. Damian Martin describes these as mini-episodes of a sci-fi TV show, which all offer their own narratives. 

Damian Martin’s own goal was to lean into the idea of a classic ship-and-crew story, where a ragtag group of misfits can assemble, adventure together and lash together a sense of belonging in their cruel, fruitless surroundings. The addition of these colorful, NPC companions is a big evolution for Citizen Sleeper 2 from a gameplay perspective too. You’re no longer reliant on only your own skills to survive – you can utilize the strengths of other characters via their own dice if you take them out on Contracts with you.

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Damian Martin has harnessed this opening setting to make a few changes to the logistics of being a Sleeper too. In short, a Sleeper is a human mind that has been immortalised in a robot body, to be kept under control by a corporation. Thanks to Serafin’s attempts to reboot you both, you’re no longer reliant on the Stabiliser, the material used by the corporation to keep you alive in the first Citizen Sleeper, which is a design choice as much as a narrative one. 

“It’s a massive change,” Damian Martin says. “You essentially reboot yourself at the start of Sleeper 2, you wake up with short term memory loss and no need for the Stabiliser, because that’s what Laine has been using to control you. Changing that up has been really fun, and it means the game has a fundamentally different arc.”

That adaptation has not been made to make your life easier, mind. Your Sleeper can now feel Stress, another new mechanic that means not looking after yourself – and taking risks – will have additional consequences. This can be as simple as ending a cycle without eating, for example – and can lead to further hindrances like ‘breaking’ a die, which means you can’t use it for an action that cycle. 

This system is designed to force a gamble, which, in the unforgiving world of Citizen Sleeper, can be the difference between life and death. Gambling on stress lets you utilise a new ‘Push’ mechanic, which will give you a boost where it’s needed most in exchange for a higher Stress level. You’ll have to address that later on, but the idea is that, in this moment, where success is so crucial, you can lean on a risky bargain.

“The systems I’ve been exploring have been about finding ways to model things that feel like long-term harm or difficulty, which is something that games don’t necessarily explore that often,” Damian Martin explains. “Harm in games is usually short term, but here, you’re constantly spinning the plates of this body that you’re trying to work with.”

Citizen Sleeper 2 also goes one step further with a class system, giving more flexibility in how you choose to roleplay your Sleeper. The classes featured in the demo – Operator, Extractor, and Machinist – each offered proficiency in certain skills, but a debuff in others. I opted for the Machinist role, which offered useful bonuses in engineering situations, but a sizeable difficulty in succeeding in social interactions. Over time, you’ll be able to level up most of these skills,  but each class also has one skill that is completely locked out – you’ll never be better at it, so you really have to play to your strengths as you progress.

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The addition of these skills means that there are several more avenues to success that you can attempt. As the Machinist, I prioritized routes that required the Engineer skill, which wasn’t easy at first. After running out of credits and almost starving to death, I was eventually able to power through some shifts and replenish my ship’s supplies. Citizen Sleeper 2 deftly keeps you on your toes – those big dice rolls, paired with skill proficiency, will boost your confidence, but the reality of the rolls and the ever-looming prospect of total failure will keep you grounded in this world.

“I quite enjoy that [Game Master] trick of not necessarily always giving the players what they want, but giving something that that that they might enjoy, even if it’s difficult,” Damian Martin adds.

Citizen Sleeper 2‘s main objectives come in the form of Major and Minor ‘Drives’ – the former is a wider goal that will take you a few cycles to get through, and how you approach that is largely up to you. Minor drives are smaller, sometimes optional tasks that help you on your way to the Major drive.

“When you run into people, you actually have something they want, which is often the opportunity to escape the situations they’re in,” Damian Martin says. “In the first Citizen Sleeper you were often receiving aid from others, but there’s now an interesting texture to the responsibility you have for the characters that come onto your ship, and a big part of the game is how you treat those people.”

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One key thing to note is that you are not solely in charge here – it’s not a fantasy in which you’re in complete control of the companions you amass, even if you can utilise their skills. Sometimes a certain character will have their own things to do, and giving them agency will put you, the player, in interesting circumstances as a result of their choices.

“I really didn’t want this feeling that you are their boss,” Damian Martin says. “Cowboy Bebop is a great example – who is the captain of the Bebop? It’s not really an official position, and even if it was, nobody would really respect that position.” 

This also helps solve a wider gripe for Damian Martin. In RPGs, there’s often a tendency for companions to be pawns to push around, and you have total authority over what happens to them. This won’t be the case with Citizen Sleeper 2: “One of the philosophies of the original Citizen Sleeper that’s carrying through here is that you’re just a person in the world, same as anyone else.” 

We’ve only seen a snippet of what Citizen Sleeper 2 will offer, but so far, the evolution is extraordinary. Stay primed for the full adventure, launching on Xbox Series X|S, Xbox One and Game Pass in early 2025.

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