Right from the start, let me say that No Man’s Sky is often intentionally vague in order to engender a sense of wonder and discovery. In that respect, the following Quick & Dirty guide might constitute spoilers because I will be explaining some of the game systems as they exist in version 1.38. If you feel like that might take away from your enjoyment of the game, by all means, stop reading.
For everyone else, let’s roll.
1. Land on planet
2. Collect resources
Seriously though, in the beginning, do not worry too much about anything in particular. A large part of this game comes down to Inventory Management, and you are never given enough space to collect all the things. If something seems like a super-rare thing, trust me, it’s not. You will find a planet with tons of it later on.
What you will want to keep an eye on though, at all stages of the game, are the following:
- Plutonium: It costs 50 to lift your Starship off the ground.
- Zinc: Basic way to recharge your environmental protections, once crafted.
- Thamium9: Primarily for recharging Life Support, but used in Farms later on.
You will always want to keep a stack of those elements handy at all times, at every stage of the game. Once you get a decent Unit (e.g. cash) stream, all of them can be acquired quickly and in bulk by visiting a Trading Post on a planet in any economically successful system. We’re talking buying 1500+ at a time for like 40k Units. Much faster than farming, especially with Thamium9.
Walking, and even Sprinting, seems really slow and never gets much better.
The better way to get around is to Melee+Jetpack. Basically, start walking in a particular direction and press the Melee button (Q on PC) and your Jetpack (Space on PC) at the same time. If done correctly, you will surge forward a few steps, and meanwhile that faster momentum will carry over onto your Jetpack. For best results, start Sprinting (Shift on PC) before the Melee hit and you’ll be able to traverse wide swaths of the world, as long as your Jetpack lasts.
How Do I Upgrade X?
Personal Inventory: Drop Pods can be found on every planet, and are specifically searchable by building a Signal Booster. Enter the Pod and purchase the additional slot. Each Drop Pod is only usable once.
Keep in mind that there are three different player inventories. The General Inventory can contain both items and tech upgrades. The Technology Inventory can contain only tech upgrades. The Mass Inventory can only contain items, but at Starship-level stack sizes, e.g. 500 elements, or 5 items per slot. While the General Inventory is cheaper to expand at first, if you place too many tech upgrades in there, you are simply limiting your ability to store goods later on. Luckily, you can scrap tech upgrades and rebuild them when you unlock additional Technology Inventory slots.
Starships: You do not upgrade Starships – you buy new ones or fix ones you find.
To buy a Starship, you need to go up to one that has landed somewhere, like at a Space Station or Trading Post, talk to the owner, and then choose Buy Starship. At that point, you can see how many inventory slots it has, what techs might already be installed, and so on. If it looks good, and you have the cash to cover the difference in price between your current ride and the new one, it’s yours. The sale is not final until you take off though, so you have some leeway in attempting to move over inventory that might not have fit, or that you forgot to move in the first place.
Note: you do not get a cash refund for buying a lower-priced ship, so don’t bother.
The alternative method is to find a crashed Starship on a planet and then claim it. This method can allow you to significantly leap-frog any sort of Starship progression, insofar as you can find and claim a 48-slot Starship way before you would ever have enough Units to purchase one outright. The catch is that crashed Starships have broken inventory slots that can only be repaired via increasingly higher numbers of Units; the first slot might cost 33k to fix, but ten slots later the cost will exceed 1.5 million. The result ends up about the same, e.g. it costs X amount to fix everything, but this nevertheless allows you to “upgrade” your ship as money allows rather than needing a bulk purchase.
Finding crashed ships in the first place can be tricky though, as the “traditional” method involves discovering Communication Towers, solving a logic puzzle, and hoping it leads to a crashed ship. Alternatively… just fly around a planet and spam the 1 key, which is basically “target nearest ship.” While you will sometimes tag NPC ships flying around, especially near Trading Posts, this method otherwise allows you to comb a rather huge portion of the planet’s surface while flying around. If something pops up on your radar, fly down and take a peek.
Multi-Tool: Similar to Starships, you only ever find new ones.
While you can get new Multi-Tools from Monolith or creature interactions, the more common method is simply finding them out in the world in display cases. Curiously, these display cases still require you to “purchase” the new Multi-Tool, even when it doesn’t make a whole lot of sense.
How Do I Unlock Y?
AtlasPass v1: Follow the story and it will unlock for you.
AtlasPass v2/v3: Same as above, but you’ll need some achievements.
Farms: It’s the last in a series of quest-chains related to base-building.
Exocraft: It’s one of the first in a series of quest-chains related to base-building.
Blueprints: there are basically three methods. First, randomly as interaction rewards, from talking to people or Monoliths or crashed ships. Second, as rewards for certain Missions. Lastly, bought from Tech traders by using Nanoclusters – each Star Base has a slightly different list that focuses on Starships, Multi-Tools, or Exosuits.
Technically, there is a fourth method, which is via questing. Unlocking specific farming crops requires completing quests from the Farming Specialist in your base, for example. There are also some specific blueprints tied to the Atlas questline and achievements therein, just like with the AtlasPass v1.
What’s the Best Way to Get Units?
Sell things. That’s… basically it.
In the very early game, pretty much your first cash-crop, so to speak, is going to be mining and selling Emeril. You can sell pretty much anything, but Emeril goes for 200-300 Units apiece, is easy to find on many planets (mineral around sinkholes), and isn’t used for pretty much anything else. You can do the same thing with Gold later on, but Gold is used in a few recipes and is usually found on more hostile planets.
Also in the early game, go ahead and sell any weird items you might pick up. Neutrino Controllers, Gek Charms, whatever. While they have functions later in the game – from recipes to increasing Faction reputation – you will find plenty in your travels, and it’s not worth the precious inventory space when you’re slumming around with less than 20 slots.
Later on, you have more options and a few more considerations. Keep in mind though, that whenever you sell something on the market, you will get a worse price the next time you leave the screen. So when selling, do so in bulk.
Missions: these are the Radiant-style random quests you can pick up from the Mission NPC on every Star Base. Each time you successfully complete a Mission, you get faction reputation and the stated reward. If the reward is a Blueprint you already own, you’ll get ~88k Units instead. The other items you receive are a bit esoteric and usually vendor trash, but sometimes can be worth a surprising amount of Units.
No matter what method you end up doing, I recommend filling your Log with Missions at each Star Base you encounter. Many of them can overlap, such that you can fulfill several at once from the same activity (e.g. killing Sentinels, etc), and you can turn in successful Missions at any Mission NPC. Plus, as you move up the reputation ranks, the standard Mission starts awarding 250k Units by itself and the items can be worth several million.
Farming: This is pretty much the ultimate source of Units in the game. The idea is build a base, plant some crops, harvest said crops, and then turn the material into more expensive things that you then sell. Example:
- 100 Frost Crystal + 200 Solarium = Heat Capacitor.
- 100 Cactus Flesh + 200 Star Bulb = Poly Fiber
- Heat Capacitor + Poly Fiber = Circuit Board
- Sell Circuit Board for 1 million+ Units apiece.
If you’re looking for a more in-depth guide, see this Reddit thread. Circuit Boards aren’t the priciest item you can create, or the easiest for that matter, but that’s the basic idea.
Trading: If you have a lot of starting capital, a LOT of free inventory space, an Economy Scanner, and plenty of Warp Cells, you can make some money buying vendor trash from one system at a discount and selling to another at a profit.
Next time you’re at a Trade terminal, look at what items are for sale. At the top of the list are likely some random items with a little green Unit symbol and the text that they are -X% cheaper than the market average. These items have tool tips which then tell you which systems need them more, e.g. will sell for over the market average price. So, buy as many as your Starship will hold, fly over to the target system, and sell them all. Then at this new system, buy the next set of goods, and sell at the next system. Wash, rinse, repeat.
Scanning: this is more of a side-hustle than anything else, but Units are Units. Basically, each time you touch down on a new planet, go ahead and scan as many plants and animals as possible.
With zero upgrades, you only get about 200ish Units for each discovery. With two Scanning upgrades though, suddenly each new plant will give you 20k and animals will sometimes break 100k apiece. I have as yet to find the third upgrade for either Scanner, but I’m looking forward to the boost in income from doing something I was going to do anyway.
Gathering Kelp: While you can grow or purchase pretty much anything you might need for crafting purposes, the exception are Kelp Pods. For these, you need gather them manually, and they only exist on planets with water.
The best way I have found to gather them is using a Nomad, aka hoverbike:
As pictured, drive over the water on the Nomad and use it’s mining laser to collect the Kelp. This method is significantly faster than trying to use the Roamer to drive along the bottom, and much better than the default method of actually swimming around.
Syncaine made an astute observation in my prior No Man’s Sky (NMS) impression post:
I’ve never read, this included, anything that suggests the game is actually fun. People point out what is missing or broken, and what is there, but never a series of ‘things’ that are interesting or fun.
As I mentioned in the post itself, I do find the game fun, and have been playing it now for over 60 hours – far longer than most AAA games these days. But… why? What are the fun bits?
In NMS’s specific case, I think most of the fun is derived from the accumulation of things. If you have ever played another survival game like Don’t Starve, 7 Days to Die, or even Minecraft to an extent, and enjoyed collecting 200 pieces of X so you can craft that next upgrade, well, NMS is here for you. Hell, it’s also sorta like herbing in your typical MMO. Run around, press the E button near a node, continue on. Except with spaceships and mining lasers and landing on different planets.
That’s… kinda it, really. Well, assuming you aren’t interested in the background plot.
Let me contrast NMS with two games. First, Starbound. Staround also features procedurally-generated planets, collecting all the things, and a plot that mostly glues the experience together. Starbound is the better game by far though, because combat spices things up and synergizes with the collection of things. In NMS, all you really fight are the Sentinels, which are everywhere all the time, and only ever escalate things if you don’t kill them fast enough. Compare that with Starbound having to dig deeper into a planet for the best minerals, with enemies getting tougher the deeper your go. The gameplay loop in Starbound and the engaging fights are more interesting and fun.
The second contrast would be with Sunless Sea. Procedurally-generated exploration game with a focus on profit from selling trade goods. Sounds pretty similar, right? Sunless Sea also has a mild Lovecraftian vibe and some great narrative. It also completely sucks as a game and feels terrible to play. The nominal gameplay is quite different – FPS versus overhead ship battles – but that is kinda the point. NMS feels engaging in a way Sunless Sea does not, even if they are both games that revolve around exploring and collecting and obtaining cash.
In the comments, Helistar mentioned that they would just “stick with ETS2 for the time being.” I had to Google the acronym, which is apparently Euro Truck Simulator 2. My first reaction was to scoff. What does driving trucks and selling cargo for cash have to do with flying around space… and selling cargo… oh. Well then. There you go.
If none of the above clears anything up for you, then No Man’s Sky is not for you. It technically really isn’t even for me. There is something there though, some half-formed game system I can’t quite describe, which is compelling. Or, perhaps as Zubon would describe, “compelling but not entertaining.” But I’m weird in the fact that compelling is automatically entertaining for me.
Before its release in August 2016, the hype train for No Man’s Sky was insane. Something like 17 trillion different planets in a vibrant galaxy full of procedurally-generated lifeforms. Do anything, go anywhere! Reality hit people hard, including me, even though I did not buy the game at release.
I did buy the game a week or so ago though, and I can say that after a year of actually substantive updates, No Man’s Sky is almost ready for its debut. Mostly.
The first hour or so of gameplay is not that great, and can be worse depending on the randomly generated planet you start on. The vast majority of planets have hostile weather that necessitates the constant recharging of suit protections, driving you to seek shelter in your ship or a cave or farming Zinc from plants. Your ship needs Plutonium to lift off the ground each time, and your Life Support systems can only be charged with Thamium9. And you have to juggle all of these competing element requirements with a micro-inventory that gets worse before it gets better.
That’s really the summary for the game: No Man’s Sky gets worse before it gets better. Mostly.
After getting a few upgrades here and there, especially getting a better ship, the game opens up tremendously. You still need all the survival elements, but you have the space and cash to stockpile a few stacks. Then there is the forward momentum that comes from the primary quests, assuming you did not choose to free-roam. Things progress quite nicely, especially after unlocking your base and assorted goodies like Exocraft, e.g. vehicles.
Here’s the thing though: the core gameplay loop is incredibly tiny. On each non-lifeless planet, there will always be the following: Life Pods, Habitable Buildings, Trade Posts, Crashed Ships, Monoliths. All of them will look the same, although there are a few different types. All of them will be randomly scattered around, but the scattering itself will be very uniform across the entire surface of the world. By all measures you can actually fully upgrade your Exosuit before leaving the original planet you spawned on (assuming you somehow got the cash).
Planets are literally the size of real planets, but everything you could really ever need on any individual one of them will exist within 10km of wherever you land. Each star system has a Space Station, and each Space Station is set up exactly the same way. You can accept “missions” from an NPC there, and these missions are essentially Radiant Quests ala Skyrim. Kill X number of Y, collect Z resource, kill some space pirates, deliver this item, etc. As you increase your reputation, more lucrative quests unlock, which feature harder to find Z resources, or tougher pirates.
Some of the gameplay elements remain half-baked. Early on, you will find many rocks that contain Deuterium, which you are unable to mine. After unlocking Exocraft, e.g. vehicles, you can finally mine them. I was pretty excited… up until the moment I realized Deuterium is only used for Exocraft upgrades. Once you install the ones you want, the element has no purpose anywhere else in the game. The same applies to another element that comes from “raiding” (read: blowing up) protected silos. Why would you ever mine Deuterium or raid the other element again? It not being used for anything other than the thing it was needed for seems comically short-sighted.
It’s not obvious at first, but No Man’s Sky is more of a game about economics than anything else. Each plant or creature you scan gives you Units. Some elements exist only to be mined and sold as vendor trash. Completing missions gives you Units, and unlock better missions that grant more Units. Some of the base-building requires specific elements, but for the most part its Iron which is everywhere. Pretty much the biggest reason to have a base at all is so your can start a Farm, which lets you “grow” special elements. That you then turn into unusable-but-very-sellable items. So you can eventually buy a Freighter for 186 million Units… to have more inventory space. For Units.
I’m at over 50 hours at this point, and I have no idea why I still find this fun, but I do.
The key, I think, is to temper your expectations. This is not Minecraft in space. This is not 3D Starbound/Terraria. I’m not even sure if it’s all that good for Explorers, given that procedurally-generated terrain/plants/creatures generally all look the same after a while. That said, I do find the Primary quests to be interesting, and I very much enjoy the ability to just fly around and do whatever. Want to stop what you’re doing and warp to a different star system? You can. Want to just make a bee-line to the center of the galaxy? Go do that. Want to make the perfect farm so you can mass-produce Circuit Boards and sell them for 1 million Units apiece? Yeah, I’m on it.
No Man’s Sky has gotten a lot of updates since release, and it seems as though more might still be on the way. I ended up buying my copy for $20, and at that price I feel like I got my money’s worth already. In a few months, it might even be cheaper with more content and better gameplay loops. We’ll have to see.
I may have mentioned it before, but I really enjoy Survival games. For the most part.
I am currently playing The Flame in the Flood, which is a Survival roguelike, and not at all a catchy Vance Joy song. The experience was immensely frustrating for my first run, as I felt like I never had enough of any supplies, and was about to uninstall and set the category as Finished in Steam. The second run, which I have been playing for the last five hours or so, has reached that point beyond which eventual victory is all but assured. Nevertheless, I hit up every single location I can, hoarding ever-greater numbers of probably unnecessary supplies for some kind of nightmare scenario. Which kinda makes sense in the vague, post-apocalypse setting.
Hitting that equilibrium moment in Survival games though is bittersweet. It’s like the middle of every Civilization game I have ever played – the game part is over, and now you must go through the motions towards inevitable victory. Ideally, you would want the challenge of the game to match up with the game’s end, and not midway. Some games like 7 Days to Die will try extending the challenge with escalating enemies, but there comes a moment when the escalation outstrips the whole Survival aspect and the underlying game becomes something different entirely, e.g. a shooter.
Then there is the opposite problem, in which the game’s challenge doesn’t ever really end, and part of the reason I added the “for the most part” caveat. I have not played it since its release from Early Access, but I never felt good in The Long Dark. There never seemed to be enough food, or fuel, or supplies. You were always on the precipice. And that’s the goal, right? The precipice is where all the fun is had. But while the surviving part is fun, I feel like there’s an invisible Anxiety Meter that fills up for me, and once it tops off the fun drops to zero.
Plus, sometimes Survival games are bullshit. I frequently found dead bodies in The Long Dark, searched them for candy bars, but could not, you know, take their clothing. I get it, things are simplified and balanced accordingly. Still, it gets a bit annoying when you come across dozens of boarded-up buildings in The Flame in the Flood, but “Old Lumber” is a relatively scarce resource you have to specifically loot from places. Or that Flint is a consumable resource for making a Campfire. Or that nothing could be salvaged from a sprung trap you just made.
Makes me wonder though. Would a more “realistic” Survival game be any fun? Seems like the more realistic it is, the less the game could actually be about Survival. At least, unless you set it out in the straight wilderness. Which kinda brings you back to The Long Dark.
Ark can teach you a lot about life. Namely, man’s futile struggle against a hostile, uncaring universe.
It all started when I returned to my base with a handful of Obsidian from a scouting expedition. Emboldened by my success, and reading about the usefulness of the Sabertooths (Saberteeth?) I spotted on the mountain, I took flight again to snag a pair.
I made it to the mountain in one piece, and scout around. I spot a pack of four Sabertooths, land on a nearby rock, and tranq two but the others had already wandered off. While taming, I am stuffing my face with Cooked Meat, because the temperature of the mountain is below zero. During this process, I realize that I’m out of Raw Meat, rapidly losing health due to the weather (no Fur clothing, because no Fur from these dinos), and while I have plenty of arrows, my crossbow itself is about to break. Shit. In a frantic bit of survivalship, I manage to kill some dinos for meat, tame the Sabertooths, and make my way to the warmer beach. Then I begin the journey back to my home base.
Along the way, I have to go through the Swamp biome. I stick to the edge, between the Swamp and the ocean, to avoid the more dangerous swamp creatures. What I did not avoid was the seemingly endless amount of piranhas. Despite doing only 15-20 damage per hit, one tiger dies. I hop off my bird to try and assist the remaining tiger. One minute later, the piranhas eat the remaining tiger and, somehow, my flying mount. I embrace the darkness.
Take a backup bird to fly back and get my dropped items. This time, I load up on a fresh crossbow and extra meat. Spot my corpse, pick up my items. In the distance, I notice a low-level Sacro (e.g. giant crocodile). Thinking this might be a worthwhile tame to assist with the piranhas, I land on a rock and start shooting tranqs. With the Sacro down, I hop off the rock to start feeding it meat.
That’s when its mate shows up and starts feeding on me. Turning around to try and escape on my bird, I notice that the bird has simply dematerialized. No death record, it’s just glitched out of the game. Cool. I die.
Fuck it, Imma build a boat.
I spent the next few days collecting resources and constructing a boat and adding crafting stations and such to it. The goal was originally to boat up to the mountain, tame the Sabertooths, then boat them back. That’s when I realized that the snowy biome sounds more interesting, and hey, those penguins give you tons of Organic Polymer when you beat them with clubs. No, seriously, that’s how it works. Since I need a bunch of Polymer to craft advanced weaponry, let’s head North instead.
After a long time, I make it to the Snow biome. Club some seals, mine some frozen Oil, good times. Off in the distance, I see a Carno and some of hell boars. Huh, interesting. I craft some stuff for a bit, and then start to prepare to take my bird out to collect more resources. Except now there is a Carno and some hell boars, having aggro’d and swam out to greet me, clipping through the bottom of my boat killing my birds and my favorite mount. Fuck this.
I ruthlessly murder every Carno and hell boar that I see. At one point, I got a little too zealous and fell off my rock perch, and the hell boars got their revenge.
Let’s just avoid that area and get a little further North. What’s the worse thing that can happen?
This. This is the worst thing that can happen.
It should be noted that I am actively save scumming in Ark, e.g. backing up files. Why they just don’t add a Quick Save functionality to Single-Player Mode, I don’t know. Perhaps it goes against the general principle of Ark, or might give people the wrong impression when/if they try and go to public servers and lose all their stuff for real.
In any case, I don’t even feel the least bit bad for what I’m doing. I cannot possibly imagine a scenario in which “cheating myself” out of that last loss will result in more game time than rewinding it. Maybe if this was more of a roguelike with a definite end, like Don’t Starve (Adventure mode), or even Binding of Isaac, I can see less replay value overall. With Ark though, losing an entire boat worth of stuff along with some of my best tames? I would be more liable to quit altogether than start over. Or perhaps never to have set sail in the first place, which is kinda the same thing.
I guess we’ll see. I managed to craft a modern pistol and assault rifle with my (rewinded) resources, while avoiding the anti-boat whale area. If the novelty of Ark wears off after gaining such weaponry, perhaps I did “cheat” myself out of time. Then again, I still have projects that I want to complete, caves I want to explore, and map to uncover. I’m thinking it’s better overall to trade future game time of uncertain value for non-frustrating gameplay right now.
Especially because of all the bullshit Ark throws at you out of nowhere.
Maybe there was some fanfare somewhere, but it came as a complete shock to me that Ark came out of Early Access this past week. As in, it’s fully released. It even has a Big Boy Pants price going on:
Deleted my prior saved game and started fresh on a “Single Player” server. The results were… rough.
The early-game in Ark is essentially broken as shit. I spawned in the “Easy 3” section of the default Island, which puts me on a beach. The first few minutes is the traditional Minecraft experience of punching trees to create tools. As you gain levels, you can spend Engram Points to purchase schematics according to your level, which kinda allows you to differentiate yourself between a builder or scavenger or whatever. Which is fine, but particularly sucks in single-player considering that I’m level 10 but still can’t build a Thatch house (since I went for weapons).
The real problem though is the absurd difficulty spikes. The beach where I spawned has a cliff face blocking access to the interior of the Island, and the water is filled with massive sharks. No matter which direction you travel down the beach, there are extremely aggressive raptors essentially trapping you in a corridor of death. You can respawn after being eaten, but whatever items you were carrying will have been dropped, and the dinosaur responsible will still be by your corpse.
Oh, and your items despawn after 15 minutes.
In other words, in the early game, consider your former items to be permanently lost. Which wouldn’t be too bad if not for the fact that getting back to some baseline of combat readiness requires you to punch trees, craft a Pick, mine some stone, create a Hatchet, gather some wood, then make some Spears. Oh, and hold E down when near about two dozen bushes so you can craft some clothes. All so you can maybe engage some raptors that you cannot outrun and will likely kill you. So you can do the whole thing over again. And by the way, you can actually spawn into the game right next to a raptor or T-Rex and start getting eaten before you even have full control of your character.
If you make it past this early game though, you can craft a house and a bed that will let you respawn at a stationary location. And perhaps build some storage containers filled with surplus equipment, so that you aren’t starting from zero every time.
This terrible beginning experience will not deter my Sisyphean struggle however. Part of the reason I stopped playing Ark 1.5 years ago was the terrible optimization that caused my PC to run it at 24 FPS max. With some settings tweaks, the game runs basically around 50 FPS at all times now. I’m hesitant to say everything is fixed on this front though, because I have a GTX 1060 now instead of a 970, so your frames might vary.
In any case, what I’m curious about is how the single player portion will play out. Supposedly there is an actual storyline involved, rather than this being a pure sandbox experience. [Fake Edit: Nope, no story] I routinely boot up 7D2D despite there not being any particular narrative, but the fundamental fact is… I like these sort of survival games. Ark scratches that “collect hundreds of Wood to build things” itch, in spite of being unbalanced as hell thus far. So, I will persevere. And should the boulder roll back down, I shall smile as I walk back down to push it up again.
At least, unless I spy a more interesting boulder somewhere else.
It is not very common for me to succumb to a desire to play a particular genre over everything else, but I got hit by a “crafting survival” bug pretty hard on Memorial Day. I’m deep in Mass Effect: Andromeda, I’ve got FFXIV on my plate, and yet I wanted to collect things by punching them repeatedly something fierce.
The somewhat surprising problem is that I’ve already played most of them.
My go-to game in the the Crafting-Survival genre is 7 Days to Die. I could – and did – play that game all damn day, and it’s hard to really indicate why. I have more or less mastered the flow of the game, so technically I should be “done” with it. The extra issue is that the Alpha 16 patch should be out (Blizzard) Soon™ and it contains some pretty big feature sets, including auto-turrets and electricity and more traps and such. I’m worried that spending more time playing in Alpha 15 will result in me getting bored with the base game and thus miss out on all the new stuff.
Once 7 Days is off the table, I’m back to a weird state. Minecraft? That’s the quintessential hook for the genre, but I’ve long been done with the game. Terraria has had some updates since I last played, but no thanks. Starbound is done. I’m passing on Ark until they actually spend time optimizing their goddamn code. The Forest might be satisfying, but I’m not sure I want Survival-Crafting-Horror at the moment.
What else? The Long Dark was intriguing, but a bit too much on the “never be safe” side of survival. I have high praise for Subnautica and will definitely play again… once it gets out of Early Access. The vast majority of these games languish in Early Access for their entire duration, actually, which is only usually a problem when you get hooked on them. Don’t Starve was a fantastic game that graduated Early Access and even has two expansions. That said, I have spent considerable time playing it already and don’t have much of a drive to go back.
Okay… what’s left? I have zero interest in PvP-centric survival, which crosses off a lot of the more famous examples, like Rust or H1Z1. PlayerUnknown’s Battlegrounds actually popped up under “Crafting” for some reason, but no thank you. Craft the World? Played. Empyrion: Galactic Survival was actually on sale a while ago, but I’m not paying $20 for it now. Same with Rimworld.
What I ended up purchasing was Dig or Die, sadly at full price (8 whole dollars). It is still in Early Access (of course), but the description basically paints it more as a Tower Defense Terraria: build a base with turrets and defenses to survive the night. Except with more fluid physics, e.g. water and lava. We’ll see how it goes.
There have been two games I played recently that have started with a cold open, e.g. one with no tutorial that just sort of throws you into the game. The first was The Long Dark, and the second is a space-sim called Hellion; both are in Early Access and both are survival-based games. So, in a sense, it’s difficult to determine whether either one intentionally set out to have cold opens, or if this simply reflects their current, unfinished states.
There is a lot to be said regarding the power of cold opens. In an age of 24/7 information coming from every angle, it is refreshing to be thrust into an unknown environment without any sort of hand-holding. It absolutely appeals to Explorer-types, and also those looking for more difficulty in their games. Plus, many times it makes thematic sense, say, if you just woke from cryo-sleep in an otherwise abandoned life pod.
Personally, I find cold opens to be exceptionally difficult to pull off well.
The fundamental issue I have is the dissonance between what the player expects and what the designers intend. What ends up happening is that players must essentially “metagame” how the designers actually intended the game to be played.
For example, in Hellion you awake from cryo-sleep inside a life pod without functioning Life Support. While there are a few tablets on the ground which give you a general idea of steps to take, that is basically all the guidance you are given. I searched the area and did not find enough items onboard to repair the Life Support. I found a jetpack without fuel, and supposedly a charging station for said jetpack, but could not determine a way to refuel.
So… what now? Did I miss an item in the search of the ship? Am I supposed to try and space walk without a jetpack? Is it a bug that there weren’t enough items to repair the Life Support? I have mentioned before that I am fine with tough puzzles, as long as I understand where the pieces are. What I absolutely despise is not knowing whether my failures are due to not performing correctly, or because I didn’t trip some programming flag from 10 minutes ago, or some other nonsense.
I had a similar issue in The Long Dark, of which I played about an hour before turning off. It takes 30 game minutes to break a stick into pieces by hand? Okay, fine. But having found a shelter and tools, I saw no particular way to locate food, or reconcile my exhaustion meter with my temperature meter with the time of day, e.g. how was I to sleep and keep warm in the middle of the day and still survive the night? I understand that perhaps the intention is for the player to be constantly on edge in the quest for survival, but again, I’m not even sure how food really even works in this game yet. I have not seen any flora or fauna beyond sticks and snow.
Flailing around in the darkness is not my idea of quality game time.
I’m not saying game designers should go full Ocarina of Time and have Navi pester you for hours. Minecraft has (had?) a cold open that was relatively straightforward once you got over the intellectual hump of punching trees. Don’t Starve is a much better example of how to do a cold open – there isn’t much of an explanation of anything, but I still felt a sense of agency in being able to interact with things.
And maybe that’s just it: I might not be doing the right things, but being able to do something is important.
I dunno. I think the best compromise would be to have cold opens with a fairly robust PDA/AI Assistant/Crafting Menu. Those that want to wander around blindly can, but those who want to know what they can do… well, can.
Short version: survival… underwater.
You know, it’s easy sometimes to get jaded with videogames. Go around the block a few times and it will feel like you have seen it all. Same mechanics, different textures. Then, something manages to catch you by surprise. Subnautica is precisely that something.
The premise of Subnautica is that you are a survivor of a spaceship crash on what appears to be a complete waterworld. Your lifeboat contains a Replicator, a Medical Replicator, a locker, and a damaged short-range communicator. Good luck.
I played version 42313 (Dec-16), and already the game looks goddamn amazing. More importantly, the game feels amazing. This is important because you will be swimming underwater 99.99% of the time. Initially, you are slow and clumsy, and have to stick to the safety of the shallows to find scrap metal to turn into Titanium. Over time, you can craft some swim gear, extra oxygen tanks, and eventually vehicles to travel with greater style.
The surprising part of this game, to me, was how… new everything felt, mechanics-wise. In Minecraft, Ark, Rust, 7 Days to Die, and countless other games, the beginning is always the same: look around, punch trees, collect rocks, build a fortress of doom. I spent the first 15 minutes of Subnautica in that same mindset, and filled my inventory with anything I could grab by left-clicking. Which ended up being a whole lot of relatively useless Acid Mushrooms that, while they can be made into batteries later, did nothing in the survival department right now.
That was when I realized that I needed to let go of what I knew before. Subnautica is its own game.
There is no better example of this than the Subnautica take on weapons. Basically, you have a survival knife. That you have to craft first. As far as I am aware, that is it. Stalkers and Sand Sharks and other carnivores have little issue taking a bite out of your scuba suit, so there is absolutely a sense of danger in the game, above and beyond the mundane (yet omnipresent) risk of drowning. Poking one with the knife will get them to retreat for a while, but this is a game where discretion is pretty much the only part of valor. Which, again, is completely refreshing.
I’m not entirely sure how much of the “game” game is implemented yet, but I am impressed by what I see thus far. I just hit what I imagine to be the mid-game: constructing underwater bases. This allows me to craft where the resources are, instead of having to swim back to my lifeboat each time. The crafting isn’t terribly complex, but yet still feels involved considering your limited inventory, which is limited further by extra oxygen tanks (which take up 4 cells). At the moment, I am trying to nail down additional debris fields so I can scan technology to build better vehicles/base structures.
Overall, Subnautica feels like… a breath of fresh air.
Yeah, I went there. And you should too.