ASTRONEER is an indie adventure game, developed by System Era Softworks, following the journey of character who is taking advantage of the gold rush of space travel and material trade. Moving between planets, harvesting its resources and trading all sound very familiar, with several games coming out centred on these mechanics, some good, others very harshly critiqued.
The game starts off with allowing you to select a character to play as, mostly just changing their size, shape and colour. These avatars will help to distinguish yourself against other players or to show your style in single player. You start off on a rather easy planet, with little to no direction or guide on what to do, merely given the planet as a canvas, where you must absorb all life. As you collect minerals and start building your base you will research new technologies, including the ability to travel to new planets.
It is hard to put a length on the game as it currently stands, there isn’t a true ending, rather self-made goals or completionist tasks. There are 6 main planets with plenty of smaller planets around, each with different terrains, colour pallets and flora. Sadly you can complete the research tree on the second planet you visit, possibly completing it on the first planet if the random generation goes your way.
There are 2 parts to the game, the main one being scouring of the planets and the other one is travelling space. Moving between planets is very straightforward, select a planet and your ship will fly there, using the fuel you can harvest on the planets or trade for. While planet side you have to worry about your suits power and oxygen, where bases, vehicles and materials come into play.
You move your character around with WASD, sprinting with Shift, jumping with space, opening your inventory with Q and bringing up your terrain tool wit E. The terrain tool allows you to lower the ground with left click, holding down ctrl will allow you to flatten the ground, Alt to raise/add to it. Your terrain tool is also used to gather minerals on the planet and harvest mineral nodes.
Gathering materials will allow you to build your base, using resin to construct new platforms from your drop pod, then changing those platforms into a plethora of other workstations. Printers to craft new items like storage, solar panels and batteries, Vehicle bays to create vehicles and spaceships, smelters and more. To fuel all of these machines you will need to find energy sources, using solar panels during the day, Wind turbines during windy days or burning plants and coal.
To unlock new machines and crafting recipes you must bring research balls and boxes to your base and put them in the research machine. Each type of research will unlock a new recipe and after that first time you will be given materials instead. There is around 13 different recipes to unlock, with caves having around 6 of the differing research minerals, trees having around 3 with plants supplying another 3-4. Different planets have different research, but if you scour enough you can complete all research rather quickly.
As it stands right now the gameplay is rather straightforward, if a bit too simple at times. You can complete the tech tree rather quickly and exploring planets loses precedence after 2 or 3 planets that become you own personal banks of materials for easy travel. Trading for the resources you need feels very hands-off, simply hooking up materials and sending them off into space to await the traded materials to dock.
Overall thoughts and feelings
ASTRONEER has a very pleasing soundtrack right now, with sci-fi tunes mixed with some more wacky effects thrown in. Composed by Dutch artist Rutger Zuydervelt (Machinefabriek), the game comes with 25 tracks in its alpha stage, thankfully flowing from one track to the next. I didn’t find much wrong with the music on offer, with no real emptiness of sound, either through sound effects or music loops.
In the current stage of early access, you might want to hold off on ASTRONEER as you can “complete” a lot of tasks within 5 or so hours. The research feels like the main goal right now, only composing of 13 steps to complete. The short story written up on the games description makes it sound a lot more invested in the trading and gold rush side of things yet seems to lack that within the game itself.
Developed by 6 people, ASTRONEER has garnered quite a big fan base, building upon the shattered dreams of mislead gamers in the past years from other “failed” games. Thankfully the dev team know that communication with its audience and consumers is key, putting up a Road Map of new features, fixes and more to the game. With mechanics like farming and survival aspects, improvements to trading and more, ASTRONEER looks like it is set to become that much greater in the future.