Kerbal Space Program 2 Early Access Review: Catastrophic Re-entry

Oh no, poor Kerbal Space Program 2. The highly anticipated sequel to everyone’s favorite rocket-building space exploration game is a real mess. A list of bugs longer than the Saturn V sounds like a terrible medical diagnosis: shaky periapsis, unpredictable methane leak, late separation anxiety, loose loads, uninterrupted combustion, and vulnerable nodes.

The creators, smiling bravely in circumstances probably beyond their control, describe the premiere as giving a ride to a child on the first day of school. Well, the kid forgot his lunchbox, uniform, books and pencil case. They showed up at the wrong school on a Saturday during half term. If you were stranded on a deserted island and had to recreate Kerbal Space Program from memory using nothing but coconuts and string, it would look like Kerbal Space Program 2. The game is nowhere near the end, barely resembles the promotional videos, and is not ready, even by Early Access standards .

If you missed the original game, here’s how it works. You run a space center in a fully simulated and permanent solar system designed to be roughly similar to ours, with analogues of Jupiter, Mars and Venus all reserving them around a central star. Using a Lego-style toy crate of collapsible parts, you build rocket ships capable of safely (or unsafely) carrying a crew of little green kerbonauts into orbit, and eventually to the surfaces of other planets and moons (and back home, if you’re feeling ambitious).

The cartoonish graphics are supported by an incredibly realistic physics system that relies on real-life orbital mechanics to drive the simulation. Your earliest experimental rockets collapse under their own weight or disintegrate quickly on launch. Appropriate alignment is needed to neatly separate the spent fuel tanks as you make your way through the filthiest parts of the lower atmosphere, shedding more and more of your rocket like a great self-shearing Cheestring until you’re flying sideways faster than gravity can catch you.

A rocket hurtling through the clouds in the Kerbal Space Program 2 screenshot

Screenshot of Kerbal Space Program 2 showing a small rocket in front of a huge red planet

Kerbal from Kerbal Space Program 2 stands on a red sand planet next to a planted KSP flag

Eventually, you’ll start to dismiss terms like delta-V, Hohmann transfers, and the Oberth effect in polite dinner conversation. The first time you land on Mun without any fatalities is one of the greatest feelings in gaming – you’ll gaze docilely at your can lander, sitting peacefully on the regolith as if it were your own newborn metal baby.

Over the years, KSP1 has become more and more complex. It has evolved from a simple sandbox to a full campaign, with science gathering, contracts, resources and tech trees. You can populate your solar system with a network of solar-powered communications satellites, linking remote orbital stations together and sending constant streams of fresh data back to the space hub. Mod support has transformed the game’s visuals and added a library of player-created parts to choose from. It’s a gigantic, weird, and not always friendly game.

“There are no missions to complete, so you’re limited to ‘your own sandbox fun’.”

But while the original game still exists, the full-fledged Early Access version of KSP2 will always be a hard sell, no matter what state it shipped in. Aside from the fact that brand new features such as multiplayer and interstellar travel are not implemented, the sequel lacks many of the core features found in the original game. There are no missions to complete, so you’re limited to “playing” in the sandbox. There are fewer parts to build. The physics simulation aspects are simply not there either. There are heat shields for example, but they are pointless as ships don’t really heat up when re-entering.

Rocket taking off into space in Kerbal Space Program 2 screenshot

There are also improvements. Each ship now has a parts manager window that allows you to select and control ship parts using a drop-down menu instead of searching for them in the dark with your mouse cursor. There is a well-developed tutorial system designed to help new players become familiar with how rockets and orbits work. Wings are now created by adjusting their shape with a series of sliders instead of randomly fitting them together like puzzle pieces. The game also sounds amazing, features a fully orchestrated soundtrack and uses audio recorded from real rocket engines.

The vertical assembly building and the spaceplane hangar have been combined into one large workshop that contains several quality of life upgrades. Unattached parts are not greyed out, making it easier for you to work on end-landers and other detailed loads before placing them in the shuttle’s hold. There’s also a trip planner that tells you how much energy you need to get where you want to go, and should reduce the number of times you alt-tab google “ksp delta-v map” by exactly 100%.

But these additions are nothing compared to everything else that is manifestly wrong or missing in this version of KSP2. You can’t see your ship’s thrust-to-weight ratio at a given stage, which, if you’re not familiar, is a very helpful number that determines whether a rocket is going up (good) or a rocket is going down (bad). There are also more glaring bugs that were seen in the tightly controlled environment of last week’s YouTuber’s preview event, but still made their way into the paid Early Access version. Crashes to desktop during simple orbital burns, menus stuttering and spamming the screen with paused messages, Kerbals falling through or hovering over the ground, maneuver nodes sending you on bizarre trajectories.

The spaceship piece is added to the shuttle in the workshop in Kerbal Space Program 2

A jet-shaped rocket flies across the sky in Kerbal Space Program 2

Screenshot of Kerbal Space Program 2 showing a small shuttle in space

Scroll down the subreddit and you’ll see the worst of it: the entire space hub, turned sideways and teleported from Kerbin to the crater of some distant moon. You’d be laughing if you weren’t paying £44.99 for it. We delayed our review for the weekend to see if an early patch fixes some of the worst issues, but the first fixes are still a few weeks away and what will be fixed is still a matter of guessing. The feature schedule, meanwhile, is undetermined – there’s no guarantee that KSP2 will reach a decent state of play in the near future, let alone replace KSP1 as the preferred option.

What’s even sadder is that this version of KSP2 is so fundamentally shaky that it actively discourages you from trying to build something overly ambitious or complex in case the game sabotages your efforts on a whim. There’s no sense of achievement when the odds you face are not about mastering the complex physics of interplanetary spaceflight, but about your own half-finished game code. The Kerbal Space Program that pours cold water on your ambitions is nothing like Kerbal Space Program at all.

Pushed out of the early access airlock before he could put on his EVA suit, Kerbal Space Program 2 is in need of a rescue mission.

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