I am not a rocket scientist.
If that wasn't clear before I spent three hours trying out Kerbal Space Program 2 in a sneak preview, it's pretty clear now and I had a blast figuring it out. KSP 2, the long-awaited sequel to the popular space simulator Kerbal Space Program, will launch into early access on Feb. 24 and it has never been easier to launch rockets and space planes.
First, some background. I got a sneak peek at KSP 2 from its makers Private Division and Intercept Games in a preview event this month at the European Space Research and Technology Centre (ESTEC) of the European Space Agency in Noordwijk, The Netherlands. I, along with a small group of other space writers and Kerbal Space Program gamers, got a hands-on look at KSP 2 before its release. At first glance, the new game is amazing.
Exclusive Video: My 1st look at Kerbal Space Program 2 with ESA
The original KSP, which has drawn praise from space industry mavens like Elon Musk of SpaceX and Tory Bruno of United Launch Alliance, is known for its high-fidelity physics and high bar of entry to successfully launch rockets. I must confess, when I first tried the original KSP, I had a hard time. I could barely get through the text-heavy tutorials to successfully reach space, let alone the Mun (the game's stand-in for the moon) or other planets of the Kerbal solar system.
The first thing I noticed about Kerbal Space Program 2 is its revamped tutorial system, which trades the text boxes of the original game with slick, easy-to-understand animations and steps to get the basics across. Using that, I was able to build my first rocket and reach space fairly quickly, even if it was just a barebones flight without a destination. (I did forget to check my G forces, though. I'm so sorry, dear Kerbal astronaut).
"The game itself is always a challenge," Shana Markham, Intercept Games' lead designer for KSP 2, told me in an interview. "In making ourselves more approachable to a new audience, we hope to bring more people to the community, more curiosity sparked in space travel." The new systems are also designed to help more expert players "get off the ground and executing their own dreams faster and more efficiently," she added.
With its Early Access launch on Feb 24, KSP 2 is launching with a basic sandbox mode for early players. Some of the most tantalizing features, like interstellar travel and space colonies, are coming in future updates.
The new features included at the start include the aforementioned enhanced tutorials to offer a gentler introduction to the games mechanics. New sphere of influence indicator lets you know when the gravity of a moon or planet is taking hold, and an atmospheric indicator to help know when to deploy your parachutes.
There's also some user interface upgrades and a really handy time warp feature that allows you to fast forward through long stretches between engine burns, with pop up alerts when a mission event is coming up (like reentry or a new maneuver) to get you to slow down and buckle in for the next step. This was really handy for me as a relatively inexperienced player, as it was a clear signal to start paying attention and plan for the next event.
For KSP 2 senior systems engineer Chris Adderley, that time warp element will be key for players on long space missions using ion engines to explore strange new worlds.
"Acceleration under time warp is something that I think is really cool because I like ion engines and we're seeing space missions that are deploying more and more ion engines and more kinds of solar-powered ion craft are getting planned or launched," he told me. "And having players able to execute those mission profiles, maybe they're new players or maybe they're advanced players, is something that isn't really possible in KSP 1 and is something that I'm excited to see what people do."
The game also brings spectacular new visuals into play, with stunning graphics during gameplay as well as scenic backgrounds during launch. When I launched a rocket at sunset, for example, I was blown away by the sheer beauty of the setting sun and twilight colors as my rocket soared upward in silhouette. Those visual upgrades apply to the entire game, including its planets and moon terrains.
The sound of the game, too, has enhanced realism. KSP 2's audio director Howard Mostrom recorded actual rocket launches to better shape the sounds of ignition and spaceflight to offer a better player experience.
"This is a great opportunity for me to, from the source, have something that I can start with and manipulate and make our own," Mostrom said in a behind-the-scenes video.
Perhaps one of the best additions to KSP 2 are its upgrades for spacecraft and plane customization. The game finally allows you to select colors for all of your vehicle parts, meaning that at last I could build a completely orange rocket and launch missions in my favorite color.
Other additions include new engines and other spacecraft and vehicle parts that themselves can be tweaked.
If you're building an aircraft or space plane, you can now adjust the shape of the wings to reflect exactly what you're trying to build. And if you need a more precise view of your creation, a new blueprint mode lets you get super detailed views to make sure everything is aligned properly. I made a sleek red rocket plane as a test, but have some more to learn on how to take off, let alone fly it. (I kept crashing.)
"Some of the new systems that we're bringing have a ton of possibilities inherent in them that players from KSP will not have experienced yet," Adderley said. "You played around a bit with building a plane, and that ability to change the shape of your wings and stuff, that's completely new and that's something that gives a ton of flexibility in aircraft construction."
KSP 2 is an Early Access game and that means there are still some bugs to fix, which Private Division made clear in the preview. I had some symmetry glitches trying to get landing gear on my rocket plane inside its Vehicle Assembly Building, for example. And when it came time to try it out, my display kept defaulting my view into a vertical position despite my flight needing a horizontal runway to take off.
Those glitches are sure to be addressed over time as Private Division gets bug reports from Early Access players. Also, like KSP 1, the new game is not optimized for the new Steam Deck as it is targeted mainly for PC players. So if Steam Deck is your primary console, you may want to wait or try it on PC first.
Some of the most anticipated features with KSP 2 are actually ones that aren't included in Early Access and will be rolled out in future updates. Those include a science mode, the much-anticipated space colonies and interstellar flight, as well as resource utilization in space, exploration and — eventually — a multiplayer mode for either cooperative or competitive play. So, space races to the Mun may actually be coming to KSP 2 in the future.
For now, the folks at Private Division and Intercept Games are clearly excited at unveiling the first phase of KSP 2 and delivering new experiences for new and veteran players.
"This has been years in the work and being able to show this to the world at large is awesome," Markham said.
"It's reaching out to our existing KSP community by making sure that we have a solid foundation and ensuring that they have an authentic flight experience, where they're able to build and fly and fail and learn from that and continue," she added. "I think the revamped celestial bodies will give them a lot of new places to go explore, and just discover things that they may have not been able to spot."
KSP2 Early Access will launch on PC on Feb. 24, with the full release also hitting PlayStation 5 and Xbox Series X|S at a later date.
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Tariq is the Editor-in-Chief of Space.com and joined the team in 2001, first as an intern and staff writer, and later as an editor. He covers human spaceflight, exploration and space science, as well as skywatching and entertainment. He became Space.com's Managing Editor in 2009 and Editor-in-Chief in 2019. Before joining Space.com, Tariq was a staff reporter for The Los Angeles Times covering education and city beats in La Habra, Fullerton and Huntington Beach. In October 2022, Tariq received the Harry Kolcum Award for excellence in space reporting from the National Space Club Florida Committee. He is also an Eagle Scout (yes, he has the Space Exploration merit badge) and went to Space Camp four times as a kid and a fifth time as an adult. He has journalism degrees from the University of Southern California and New York University. You can find Tariq at Space.com and as the co-host to the This Week In Space podcast with space historian Rod Pyle on the TWiT network. To see his latest project, you can follow Tariq on Twitter @tariqjmalik.