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New worlds await exploration in System Era Softworks’ flagship title, Astroneer.
Astroneer manages to balance a child-like imagining of outer space with a set of competent survival crafter tools and challenging puzzle elements. Travel alone, or among friends, to take the role of a 25th-century Astroneer traversing a solar system of fantastic and imaginative planets. With unique gameplay elements and visual style, Astroneer lets players explore worlds, gather or create resources, build homes and vehicles inside a persistent sandbox universe.
System Era Softwork’s Astroneer carries an air of whimsical adventure, featuring a simple yet profound crafting system.
Story and concept
It’s the 25th-century, and spaceships seem less reliable than ever. After being struck quite gently by a passing meteoroid, your shuttle hurtles towards a glowing world. Your Astroneer is set upon a path to recover your inter-planetary mobility.
After being given a necessary habitat and a few essential building freebies, your Astroneer must set about building a base of operations. From this base, you will need to find ways to generate electricity, pump air, and make vehicles traverse the planet’s surface.
Once you have completed these tasks, you move on to rebuilding a slightly more reliable spaceship. A ship that will eventually take you to worlds unexplored, to begin anew facing harsher environments and increasingly difficult challenges.
The graphics of Astroneer are wholly unique. Simple planetary surface geometry and a pastel color palette belie a sufficiently complex environment for players to explore. Each world’s surface is only the beginning, as even the smallest moon has a complex set of caves to explore just below the surface.
Foreign and often bizarre fauna dots each world’s surface, giving the otherwise flat color surfaces of the planet texture. The low poly nature of the fauna and planet surface permits a little more liberty in the detail of the player-constructed vehicles and bases, which have still managed to maintain a design philosophy of simplicity.
The clouds in the sky react with light, changing both the color of the sky and the surface of the world. But once the clouds clear, you can see the starlit sky and a host of planets that orbit the star along with your own.
In short, the graphics are not expected to blow you away with realism. The result of the developer’s choices is a far cry from photo-realism, for which many other titles strive. While this makes it sound like an ideal game for low-end systems, reports suggest that lower-end PC’s struggle with Astroneer, perhaps due to the massive area of the game, which is loaded and visible at any one time.
Sound and atmosphere
The worlds themselves feel like colored clay that you can mold to your whim. Player constructed buildings are shiny and toy-like. When combined, these two elements give the game a distinct sense of child-like play and imagination.
The sound design matches these themes, with bright and colorful beeps and clicks for character interaction to cartoonish, while threatening, sounds for the world’s various dangers.
The gentle persisting soundtrack, too, contributes to a sense of peace and calm. Rarely, if ever, is sound or visual elements used to drive tension or fear. Instead, the combined visuals and soundscape work in harmony to present a sense of childish wonder.
While there are threats to the player, the game manages to maintain a persisting calm in the form of resource scarcity and antagonistic fauna. Smart design allows you to visually identify all threats at a glance after just one encounter.
Very rarely do they present an immediate concern, almost no single source of damage will kill your character outright. You can destroy bursting plants before approaching. Others who shoot gas or projectiles are slow to react and easily avoided.
The greatest enemy and the most explicit threat to survival is the oft unprepared players. To survive the game world, one must have a constant supply of oxygen. Exploration means traveling and finding ways of having air pumped to where you’re going. Buildings and tools are useless without electricity, and as such, you must also find ways of bringing power with you.
Taking power from place to place can come in the form of generators or batteries. Generators depend primarily on what is available to you, which changes from world to world. If there is plenty of sunlight, you may want to lean towards solar energy. When there’s plenty of wind, bust out the turbines. When neither is present, set about igniting all that organic matter you see lying around.
Once you have learned how to take air and power on your journey, you are then free to explore the world and bring back the essential resources required to expand your base. And collect, you shall.
There are upwards of 40 essential materials needed for a variety of purposes. Whether they are building elements, fuel, or research material, the dedicated Astroneer will have to have visited almost every world to have collected them all.
By merely using your terrain tool, you will find nine core elements naturally occurring across all worlds, but it gets much more complicated beyond that. Six more gatherable resources spread across the game worlds in a variety of volumes.
Planet Sylva, for example, will have plenty of Sphalerite but not a lot of Malachite. If you want malachite in abundance, you have to travel to Calidor, which in turn, has small amounts of Wolframite. Resources must be refined through smelting or alloyed by combining separate elements in chemistry stations.
Each planet’s particular atmosphere can be gathered and stored, too, through the use of condensers. Once you have built a large enough base to have traveled multiple worlds, you face off with the game’s greatest menace, resource storage, and management.
Each complete package of an element exists within the game world as a moveable stack or pile and takes up one slot of inventory space, whether they’re on your backpack or stored in the base. Managing the gargantuan pile of things you bring back or build is the real test of an Astroneer.
The sandbox world is on a scope all of its own. With seven unique planets to explore and dozens of resources to gather, we can’t see anyone aiming to complete this game more than once, at least on their own.
At any point in time, you can join in on a friend’s world and vice-versa. You may start and stop at different points of progression, helping someone build or dig for resources, but it’s unlikely anyone will feel motivated to play the game through objectives.
Unwillingness may be in part due to the sandbox nature of the game. There is no central objective perse other than a set of puzzles that can be solved. Purple gates that require you to generate massive amounts of power to activate are scattered across the solar system, feeling strangely non-essential for the game’s only goal-oriented aspect.
Astroneer is a fun take on a survival game, with lighthearted adventure and exploration at its core. Rarely if ever punished, a player can return to where they died to pick up the resources they lost. Between this sense of ease, the distinct visual style, and the soothing soundtrack, the game takes on an understanding of tranquillity in space, even upon the more “dangerous worlds.”
From digging through the worlds of play-dough to the satisfying lego-like click when placing objects onto your modular base designs, the game instills a feeling of playing with toys rather than a gritty adventure into a dangerous space.
Overall the game is calming while presenting a player with sufficient challenges to remain engaged with the game world. Minecraftian in vibe with a style of all of its own, Astroneer stands out as a fantastic, if a little aimless journey that everyone should experience, at least once.