I’ll admit right away that I’m quite an odd man. I’ve been known to have some weird perspectives and even weirder gaming obsessions. After all, I’m known as the guy with an unhealthy obsession with flowers on Animal Crossing time and time again. And if that wasn’t enough of a red warning flag, my compulsion for storage on Astroneer should have been another. I like things “just so”, to be neat and tidy and as they should be. Overbearing control and organisation aren’t normally sub-genres that get people’s juices flowing, but they do for me. And now I’ve discovered Satisfactory by Coffee Stain Studios, and my word, does is scratch this unique itch I have. So much so, in fact, that I can’t stop thinking about it.
The pleasure that comes from Satisfactory is in its progression. You land on a planet – the blank canvas to paint your perfect automated picture – with simply the rocket you land in and a suit to keep you alive. Not one to rest on sentiment, your first task is to scrap your landing ship to give you the components you need to build a scanner to locate the local iron ore. After having looted enough you can build a base of operations, and the start of your mechanical operations. Once this mighty structure is built, I imagine this is where you should expect to see the game’s title screen appear, like in so many games these days. The adventure for all intents and purposes, starts now.
Once the metaphorical dramatic music has faded and the associated zoomed-out panning camera has returned to first-person perspective, things can continue. Satisfactory provides prompts to what to do next to slowly build your empire. These mini-tasks when completed unlock more things to build and enhance your current ways of working. One of the earlier unlocks for example is a Robo Miner which can be placed on those iron ore deposits to save your tired hands from chipping away at them yourself. You can busy yourself with other tasks and simply come back later to fill up on that precious ore.
Pretty much all tasks of refining materials can be done by hand at the Crafting Bench meaning you can take that iron ore and use it to craft ingots. These can then be reworked to craft a variety of other materials, such as iron rods, plates and even screws to provide you with an ever-growing inventory to tackle the requirements for the next of Satisfactory’s milestone tasks. And so you create, and you unlock, to create more and unlock more and expand your repertoire. This, in its most reductive state, is Satisfactory’s core progression loop, but the reality of what else you can unlock and the impact it has is so much more than that.
Because where Satisfactory really shines is how those new unlockable upgrades make you feel. I can now replace my Robo Miner with a fully functioning Mine that works much faster, and I can build a Smelter to craft those ingots so I can be busy with other things. And then, the game-changer, conveyor belts, are unlocked, and I realise I can link the two, so that ore goes from the ground, straight into my Smelter, and then I can even conveyor it to a Storage Container for when I need it later. Materials are automatically made for me, so they’re on hand for the larger milestone requirements of later unlocks.
It’s incredibly easy to do as well, with intuitive controls to be able to place belts just where you need them and to go where you want them too. You can even raise their height should you need space at ground level for other things. Once I got the knack there was no stopping me, I was placing them like an engineer unleashed. And that’s when you suddenly realise what this whole game is about. It’s about three simple words:
“But, what if?”
“But what if I split my conveyor belt so that some of my ingots went to making iron rods, and the rest went to making iron plates?”
“But what if as well as automating iron production we also did it with the copper deposits that are over the other side of that ridge?”
“But what if we built a bridge over that ridge?”
Satisfactory then becomes a title about realising what’s possible. You’re given a bevvy of tools as you progress which give various options for how to automate and improve your production. The limits are literally your imagination. I’ve not even considered using the conveyor lift yet for example, but I’m sure it’ll solve a problem when I’m faced with an awkward cliff edge at some point. It reminds me of Automachef in many ways, but on a much, much grander scale.
And what’s clever is how your mind is shifting, evolving to the possibilities too until they become second nature. Getting everything linked up with conveyor belts was so, well, satisfactory the first time I did it. But everything was placed all over the place and inefficiently laid out. When building a new production centre around some other iron deposits, everything was designed in my head from the outset, with a clear plan of where resources were needed to automate the materials that would come in handy. The result was a better laid out group of buildings working together efficiently.
It’s true that Satisfactory is a game for the geeks, the efficiency nerds, the people like me who like things “just so”. I’m constantly thinking how you could automate things to help make the progress to the next milestone be achieved that little bit faster. And I’m doing that when I’m not even playing, I’m even doing it now whilst I write this, wondering whether a new configuration of mines and smelters might produce a better output.
It won’t be for everyone, but I can’t help but smile at Satisfactory almost constantly. I smile at everything working, systems I created from thoughts, made into reality. Little pieces of digital materials chugging along on conveyors as they should is the fruits of my labours, and I can’t wait to see what I unlock next and where the next step on my Satisfactory journey takes me. I can only imagine with eager intrepidation what my next “but what if?” moment will be.