Citizen Sleeper’s first DLC recontextualizes the RPG’s tough decisions

If you loved Citizen Sleeper, the text-heavy sci-fi RPG, then the game’s new free DLC, Episode One: Flux, will be a welcome addition; it adds tough new story decisions while also deepening the well of wonderful world-building and vivid characters. But it’s also a great excuse to start this melancholic game for the first time — it left an impression on me and is still one of the best releases of the year.

In Citizen Sleeper, you role-play as a Sleeper, a character who’s not quite human and not quite machine, but entirely owned by the megacorp Essen-Arp. Your body is designed with “planned obsolescence,” and you must take a proprietary kind of medicine to stay alive. The game unfolds across Erlin’s Eye, a ramshackle space station that’s the victim of late-late-stage capitalism. The station has been abandoned, and a number of the remaining people on it have organized across political factions — others simply attempt to live another day or find a way out. Among these denizens, you build a life. You must take jobs and help out where you can, finding ways to afford your meds in order to fight another day.

The Flux update kicks off in the Greenway, a mid-to-late-game location less densely packed than the rest of the station, and an excellent spot to park new storylines. The DLC introduces a new variable: refugees living on a flotilla who seek a home on The Eye, but are trapped in limbo thanks to station bureaucracy. It’s a sharp addition that changed the way I approached my entire playthrough — far from feeling appended, Flux wove itself naturally into the existing tapestry of gameplay. In an unsettling paradigm shift, it forces you to think of influencing The Eye in a magnitude large enough to handle an influx of human life. How would The Eye support them?

A Black woman named Eshe, standing with her hands on her hips. Image: Jump Over the Age/Fellow Traveller

First, there’s the matter of helping the refugees find asylum at all. Like all of Citizen Sleeper’s quests, Flux is about competing interests and snarled outcomes. You’ll meet a handful of new characters: Eshe, captain of the Climbing Briar, and Peake, a member of the ship’s crew. Both of them hail from another station called Hawthorn, which has its own problems thanks to corporate ownership. The needs of the refugees easily get lost in these power struggles. I decided I would not leave these people without resources or help, no matter the bureaucratic hurdles.

In this way, this chapter of the new quest shifted my priorities toward investing in the station’s long-term viability. In my previous playthrough, I played as an Operator, mostly hacking away at the station’s digital infrastructure. I focused on making friends and sticking by them, rather than research efforts in the Greenway that might benefit more of the masses. Playing Flux as a Machinist, with a new mid-game save file courtesy of developer Jump Over the Age, gave me space to try out a new play style while navigating a new set of constraints. No longer content to focus myself entirely on the individuals I made connections with, I set about molding my play style to attempt to make more choices for the benefit of station sustainability.

Citizen Sleeper consistently requires players to make tough decisions. There are countless trade-offs between which jobs to take, factions to side with, or individuals to help. This is made more urgent by the game’s central mechanics — every morning you awaken with a limited number of dice rolls, and you have to spend them wisely. Do you help a man and his adopted daughter escape The Eye? Do you hack into the station’s underbelly, or help a botanist understand why mushrooms thrive here?

The Machinist character class in Citizen Sleeper Image: Jump Over the Age/Fellow Traveller

Like each of the base game’s excellent quest lines, Flux reframed the way I approached my time as a Sleeper, and it once again revolved around that looming question of staying or leaving. This isn’t a spoiler. The game opens by asking: Do you wish to escape, find the truth, or make a life on this lunking station? And as you go about the day-to-day on The Eye, you’ll participate in the station’s many power struggles, and find new ways of organizing. Flux added additional depth to the game, effectively reframing the final choices I’d made during my first playthrough.

The DLC ends on a cliffhanger. Because this is the first of three episodic updates, we’ll have to wait until October to know where the story goes before it wraps up with episode three in 2023. I wait with a mix of excitement and agita. But I’m happy to have more excuses to revisit one of my favorite games of the year — especially if new storylines continue to reframe it all.

Citizen Sleeper Episode One: Flux will be released on July 28 on Windows PC, Mac, Xbox One, Xbox Series X, and Nintendo Switch. The DLC was reviewed on PC using a pre-release download code provided by Jump Over the Age. Vox Media has affiliate partnerships. These do not influence editorial content, though Vox Media may earn commissions for products purchased via affiliate links. You can find additional information about Polygon’s ethics policy here.