Astroneer is a cathartic space adventure with endless potential

An antidote to the No Man's Sky blues.

by on January 3, 2017
 

Although Astroneer is in a pre-alpha state, there is so much to love about it already. Mechanically it feels similar to the let-down that was No Man’s Sky, except it makes you want to explore, to build, to create and most importantly, to play. It’s a much denser game than I thought it would be, and after many hours of searching the procedurally generated planet I found myself on, I was almost ready to take off and see what the rest of the galaxy looked like; it was never a chore, but it was most certainly a challenge.

There is no tutorial at all: instead you must find out what all the working parts do for yourself. You have to build up a base, with each platform being used for different means, such as research, smelting, and vehicles. To build up these sections of your base, you must scour the planet for resources; resin helps to expand the base, compound helps to build up the sectors, and using copper helps to get them functioning. Not only that, but you need to find power to keep everything working.

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You own what looks like a vacuum cleaner, and by pointing at certain areas or materials, it will harvest them, subsequently sucking them up and ending up in your backpack. You only have a select number of spaces, so deciding what to keep hold of by prioritising can be a tricky decision to make. Your space hoover can also remove terrain, allowing you to burrow deep into the ground (or mountains), and you can also level the terrain to expand your base upon. It doesn’t have an unlimited amount of power, and like your base, the space-vacuum-gun-thing needs power to work.

It took me a while to work out how all the moving parts operated, and it’s not an easy process to start with. You can’t simply walk around at your own pace and find what you need. Being on an unknown planet in a spacesuit means that if you stray too far away from your base, your oxygen levels diminish and if you stay away too long, you’ll suffocate and die. The planet I was on went on for miles, and I was nowhere near seeing all of it; I spent plenty of time dying and becoming frustrated. Luckily, there’s a way to expand your oxygen supply (by creating tethers you connect to each other, building a supply line), and this was only one of the ways Astroneer impressed me with the varieties of crafting you can do.

All of the materials can be found easily enough once you know where to look. Resin and compound is freely available on the surface, and power can be found in yellow stumps of rock. Copper, however, took a bit of time to locate–you can find this (and other materials like lithium and aluminium) at crash sites of other spacecraft and satellites you may come across. There are also caves you can travel into, and some of them go deep. There’s a lot of ore in them, mainly copper and aluminium, but it might be different depending on what your planet is made up of.

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Although I’ve yet to leave my planet, I’ve loved exploring and crafting. I spent hours tethering to this huge cavern about two or three miles away from my base. I had no idea I was going to find an abandoned jet engine just outside the cavern; it contained the copper I needed to build my smelter, and finally gave me the option of turning my malachite ore into copper. So far, I’ve not encountered any aliens, but I have been in a few storms that proved life-threatening. I’ve also been deep into a cave and found some toxic flora that poisoned me and left me for dead; it’s worth mentioning you can go back to the site you died and pick up any useful materials you may have had on you at the time of death (a bit like the souls/blood echoes mechanic of the FromSoft titles).

It’s strangely soothing to play, and the relaxing music makes for a very cathartic experience. I did have some weird freezing at times and quite a lot of janky movement, especially when there was plenty going on, but it’s in a pre-alpha phase and System Era Softworks make sure their actively listening to the concerns of their community. As the game continues to grow, and the technical hindrances are ironed out, Astroneer is definitely going to be one game you’re going to want to play. I’ve been very impressed with what I’ve seen so far, and I can’t wait to see where they go next.

Astroneer is developed and published by System Era Softworks and is available in early access on both PC and Xbox One.

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