Platforms: Xbox One, PC
Only recently have I truly started to enjoy exploration based survival games but when I first heard about Astroneer, it sounded like a game worthy of investing some hours into. The game is in pre-alpha still after releasing in December 2016 and it has developed nicely since it launched with bug fixes and some additional content. What is underlying here though it that the game is thoroughly enjoyable for anyone who has a wonderment with exploring space and the great beyond! But is this the games only appeal?
A Shining Star
Astroneer excels in imploring your curiosity as you will start by landing on a foreign planet looks for resources to build you base. Whilst the experience appears to revolve around harvesting compound and resin, you will soon start realising a need for more exotic materials that can only be found by venturing out further from your base. The exploration component in the game is perfectly balanced against your need to survive. Where other survival games require you to eat and drink Astroneer makes use of your requirement for oxygen to survive and the results feel very natural. However, you will find most likely find your oxygen needs tedious at first until you have either crafted some tethers to extend your reach with an oxygen supply or you have learnt how to craft oxygen capsule to increase your capacity! This is only achievable through exploration so you can see how easy these both feed into each other.
Exploration will involve traversing a planet’s surface where you can find basic resources but if you can venture out far enough, there will also be spaceship wreckages that often cough up some very useful research modules. These research modules will help you learn how to craft new items and print more advanced technology to help you in your journey. This could range from dynamite to new spaceship! Of course in order to be able to create these new items you will need to harvest more valuable resources from the planets in your solar system. Venture through caves and colourful environments and even travel to different planets when you are advanced enough to find more exotic commodities!
This is by far the most fun you will have playing Astroneer and the threat of death from suffocation or the harsh environments you find on your journey will be enough to keep you interested long term.
The exploration in the game is great and the planets look great thanks to the colourful environments that present themselves to you but there is still a feeling that the Astroneer world is a very lonely place. You do have the option to play with a friend which helps to breathe life into this game but it would be nice to feel this is life out there in space. Maybe this is too idealistic and maybe the game is trying to take a more realistic approach to the game but there is no escaping the emptiness of space when playing through Astroneer.
Some may suggest this needs to be more like an MMO survival game with large servers of people travelling around your universe but I honestly don’t think this will enhance the experience. Some wildlife wouldn’t go amiss though or even adding some quirky ideas like being able to contact your space centre from your original planet. I would hate for this to become a story game by design but I feel like I need some interaction whilst playing through the game. If I see a shooting star I will make a wish for a future patch which makes this suggestion come true!
The other thing that does feel lacking in the game is depth. Not in terms of world sizes but more so in terms of items. The list of items is currently not very long, at least in comparison to other sandbox games with emphasis on crafting, and this makes the items feel a bit shallow. Not all the items you can research will fill you with much excitement either. Researching how to create a beacon or other items with no clear use can be demoralising when you spend a long time searching your planet to find it.
Adding in some cool craftables would help take the sandbox elements of the game to a new level. How cool would it be to be able to build your own space station where you can take off your spacesuit? Or maybe it would be cool to craft more than 2 different space shuttles or be able to customise your vehicles with different components such as larger wheels? The possibilities hr ear endless and I’m sure everyone has a suggestion on how they would make the game better. I’m sure the developers are working hard on their next update but hopefully there will be some more content to help give some variety to the current game mode.
All in all, Astroneer is a good game with a strong core concept of exploration and survival. If you were disappointed with No Mans Sky then it may be nice to feed into a game that is currently still being developed. But take it as just take, a work in progress game. There are things that could be improved and added but the potential behind this game is huge. At the time of writing this, the score may not be very high but that is because I expect the score to rise significantly when the game nears completion. If you are a fan of sandbox games then this is one to keep your eye on!