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Beta Impressions: Forever Skies

Forever Skies is a survival sandbox – airbox? – currently in a beta playtest state. The central premise is that the Earth has been wrecked by several flavors of disasters such that the only safe means of exploration is in a customizable blimp above the roiling green fog below.

The beta is severely limited. As soon as you unlock the blimp, a 20-minute timer counts down and things just end no matter where you are. Nevertheless, I still got a feel for the basic gameplay loop.

Forever Skies is essentially a simpler, airborn Raft. One of the principle tools you have is a blimp-based extractor gun that allows you to deconstruct specific objects at a distance. The main two resources have been Metals and Synthetics, which you can extract in unlimited quantities from floating tumbleweed-esque things. These let you build insect fishing lines (which penetrate the green fog below), moisture extractors, water purifiers, and create fuel for your engines. Although I appreciate the fact that the tumbleweeds ensure one doesn’t get stranded in a failure state while exploring, it does sort of undercut any perceived need to explore anywhere – you essentially solve all food, water, and fuel concerns within 5 minutes of getting the blimp.

In any case, one of the limiting factors in the creation of additional higher tech goodies are Solid State Batteries, which are found in sort of light beacon structures on the tops of skyscrapers. I managed to have time to float towards one such structure, explore around, grab the battery, and then build the tool that allows me to add rooms (etc) onto the blimp. I then unlocked the ability to create a turbine, which would have allowed me to fly higher up, presumably granting increased access to other such “islands” above the clouds.

Having written this out, my impression is less and less that Forever Skies is a sandbox at all. Even if each beacon island (or probably their location) is procedurally generated, you are not really “exploring” anything on the way to one. And once you arrive, your goal is to A) grab the battery and B) check for blueprints. Hopefully there are more uncommon ingredients introduced later on, as the tumbleweeds essentially made anything else you could pick up redundant.

It is difficult to gauge where exactly along the Early Access progress Forever Skies happens to be. If this demo is early-early, then good. If what I saw was basically Beta… yikes. The trailer seems to indicate that this is not the case, what with the sample environment not looking exclusively green, there being a few additional tools, and a better-looking blimp.

Still, I have some concerns about the sort of fundamental “island to island” gameplay. In short: meh? The overall concept of the game is different than other survival ones – no trees to punch, for example – but the islands may as well be instanced puzzles inbetween loading screens. This isn’t Subnautica where there are interesting things going on around you, even if you are in transit to another spot on the map. Effectively nothing else exists outside of the blimp and islands, which is why it reminds me so much of Raft. The trailer indicated that maybe your blimp will take damage from storms or creatures or whatever, but again, that alone is not going to elevate (har har) the experience by much, if at all.

Also? The demo has you get a virus early on from eating a melon, which results in you taking damage any time you look towards the sun. Okay, fine, that’s unique. You end up curing the virus by eating a pepper in another area. Like, I know that the premise of the game centers around viral shenanigans, but I’m not exactly sure what this sort of “mechanic” is supposed to bring to the game. Maybe an enforcement of not being able to exclusively grow melons (which you can’t do in the demo anyway)? Are we going to routinely get infected with random shit and need to go to the next island for the cure? In some games, you do need to encourage players to expand their horizons instead of turtling in one particular area. This one ain’t it – there isn’t anything else to do but head to the next island.

In any case, that’s the Forever Skies demo. I’ll submit my feedback in the more proper channels as well.