Forever Skies (Early Access): A Promising First Look at an Incredible New World.
Like many other gamers, we have been itching to be introduced to some unique new world and story concepts. With Forever Skies’ recent release into Early Access, we might just be getting our wish. Forever Skies takes some tried-and-true survival mechanics from games like Subnautica and Raft and incorporates them into a unique new setting.
We’ve had our eye on this title for a while, so it’s time to finally get into the details to see what Forever Skies offers. While all the artwork we have seen has been promising, the real test will come down to how the game presents itself as a whole.
Is the world unique and interesting enough to set it apart from its predecessors? Are the mechanics functional and well-integrated? Is it even fun? These questions and more will all be answered in this review.
Please note that this title is still in Early Access. As such, what we cover here and the game as a whole will likely change drastically before its final release.
Story and concept
The story of Forever Skies begins as players return to an inhospitable and horribly polluted planet Earth, getting a brief view of the dust cloud filling the lower atmosphere before violently plummeting towards it. The player is a survivor of “The Ark,” a nondescript organization we can only assume represents the survivors of the human race who fled the Earth entirely.
The player’s goal is to pursue the leads of a previous team sent to Earth, as they stopped reporting back to the Ark some time ago. Though little is explained from the get-go, it quickly becomes clear the team players are following in the footsteps of may have found a way for mankind to re-colonize the Earth and perhaps survive the mysterious “virus” permeating the dust.
Though the story itself isn’t very fleshed-out at the moment, the worldbuilding and concept are refreshingly original. With the planet’s surface covered by a toxic, viral dust layer, humanity adapted to survive above that surface atop the massive, precarious remains of skyscrapers and super-structures, traveling between them with blimp-like airships.
Aside from the backstory and setting, however, there isn’t really a lot to say about the story at the moment. Objectives follow a similar path to other games of this type, centering around researching and creating new tools and airship upgrades that allow players to reach new altitudes, clear obstacles, or power up old tech.
There is clearly some groundwork being laid for a more involved story, likely following the descent of the supposedly insane researcher Noah into the dust layer with some side information about how humanity survived life in the skies. For now, though, most of the story is left to speculation, scanner entries, and bland notes. Currently, there is no way to reach an endgame or explore past a certain point.
We are hoping for intertwining storylines from several members of the former research team and perhaps other prominent figures, as well as some detailed environmental storytelling about the lives of those who lived on top of the towers.
It isn’t an exaggeration to say that Forever Skies is one of the most visually stunning survival games we’ve seen in quite some time. This isn’t to say everything is photorealistic. In fact, the world has a certain vaguely cartoony style reminiscent of Subnautica. What it does have, in spades, are gorgeous views of the horizon, mesmerizing and varied lighting effects, and fantastic uses of color.
From the dark, rusty tower corridors dimly lit by your headlamp to stunning vistas of floating debris and colored dust, the world of Forever Skies is anything but dull. If that wasn’t enough, the lights of your airship adapt to the time of day; even rain and lightning effects are awe-inspiring and dramatic. The developers wanted to create a sense of wonder and fear of the forces of nature, and it’s hard to deny that they succeeded.
As beautiful as the overall world is, some aspects still need some work. Tower assets, specifically, are heavily reused and often rather bland. Though the sense of desolation is certainly present, the explorable environments feel like they’re still missing a bit of character that could make them exciting to explore. While we feel that the plant life is gorgeous and thematic in its own right, it could also use more variation from the greenish-browns to fit the changing colors of the environment better.
The animations for characters and other entities will also need some work. Static object animations such as tarps waving in the wind and engine flames all look great, but anything with more dynamic interactions with the world feels a little boxy and mechanical. Player character animations, in particular, will need some polishing before the final release.
Sound and atmosphere
The sound usage for Forever Skies is currently hit-or-miss and is very different for atmospheric music and sound effects.
Let’s start with the music. The music chosen for this title is dynamic, reacting to both the location of the player as well as what they are doing. For example, music rarely plays when players are sitting still on their airship, but music will kick in whenever players leave their ship or are piloting it. Though it can certainly be startling when the music abruptly cuts off, we still feel it’s a good feature that can be fine-tuned.
The music itself is a fantastic selection of ambient tracks that really sell the eerily beautiful atmosphere of the world players will be surviving. The atmosphere in this game is about more than just your altitude, and we can’t count how many times we found ourselves staring off into the distance and letting ourselves be immersed in the feeling of being an alien to our own planet.
Creating a feeling of both hauntingly dangerous and stunningly gorgeous is a difficult task that only the best post-apocalyptic games have been able to pull off, but we think FS nailed it.
The sound effects are a different story. While most effects are serviceable, some certainly perform better than others. For example, the sudden teeth-chattering sound of close thunder is anxiety-inducing and masterfully used.
In fact, all of the weather effects add to the game’s atmosphere and make flying through storms a frightening endeavor. However, the constant sound of water sloshing emanating from your purifiers can become maddening very quickly.
Water sounds, in general, definitely need some adjustments. It isn’t that the sounds are unpleasant or unfitting, but some effects go on far longer than necessary and are far more constant than beneficial. We don’t really feel it’s necessary to be able to locate a stagnant pool of water by its constant dripping, especially when there are 3-5 of those pools dripping simultaneously.
Other proximity-based sounds, such as reactive plants and automatic doors, will also respond through walls and from a fair distance away. This can create a confusing cacophony that detracts from the experience and atmosphere and greatly reduces the impact of those sounds, as they are often heard without any visible purpose.
One sound in particular we feel should be improved is that of the extractor. While the sound is serviceable as-is, we feel it would be much more satisfying for the device or its target to produce some sparking, crunching, or other suitable noise when its target is destroyed. This isn’t strictly necessary, but for such a vital and heavily used mechanic, the player needs to find the action as rewarding and addicting as possible.
Gameplay systems are where Forever Skies needs the most work. For players looking for a tense or exciting survival game, Forever Skies probably won’t be your cup of tea just yet. Whether or not players find the core gameplay loop fun will depend on if they enjoy games like Raft or Voidtrain.
To clarify, much of the gameplay is centered on traveling from location to location in your mobile base while collecting materials and research along the way to improve and build up your base and your gear.
Instead of hooking resources to drag back to your ship, however, you’ll utilize a powerful laser extractor mounted to your airship like a swivel gun to pick apart buildings and vaporize floating debris clusters flying through the air.
This is one of the most entertaining aspects of the game, and we absolutely loved the feeling of blasting debris out of the sky like a door gunner on a military chopper. It’s even possible to extract metals from support beams holding up old crumbling towers to cause them to collapse partially.
Of course, you’ll also need to find ways to keep yourself fed, hydrated, and rested. These survival systems aren’t especially well integrated yet, as all your survival meters contribute to an overall “immunity” meter.
So far, immunity only seems to help players resist the various debilitating viruses present in uncooked food. If you’ve found the right counteragent, there is always a way to cure these diseases. However, there is rarely a reason to eat food raw, and these viruses are easily cured.
We hope this immunity stat will become more necessary in future updates and the interesting virus system is overhauled to be a more threatening and impactful part of survival.
Lastly, there are locations where players can lower down below the dust level to the planet’s surface, where they can find valuable resources if they survive the toxic atmosphere.
These dives are seemingly set up like an extraction-type game, giving players crates to store materials in case they die. Though the surface is startling and eerie, it definitely doesn’t feel dangerous. We aren’t quite sure whether it’s the lack of enemies or the ease with which players can survive this supposedly inhospitable place.
As for gameplay, that’s just about everything the game offers for now. If the devs intend to make these mechanics the core of the gameplay, we strongly recommend they tighten up the controls and increase either the game’s survival complexity or overall threat.
Currently, the jumping and sprinting controls are far too loose and unresponsive for even simple platforming segments to be fun. Object collision is also quite a bit off, and we found ourselves using the unstuck button far more often than we’d like. What’s more, inventory space is frustratingly limited and currently serves more to force players to make a second trip than to encourage careful management.
Unfortunately, Forever Skies lacks any real replayability at the moment. The entire length of available gameplay is only about 20 hours at most and doesn’t offer much for players who decide to start a second run.
Exploration and base-building would be the real draw for replaying this game. Still, for now, locations only have a few variants, and most are identical enough that exploring players will always know where the secrets are and how to bypass any puzzle elements.
Base-building is also quite limited, with only a select number of building elements available to the player and no real reason to construct a large airship. Of course, we expect this to change as the game develops.
Final thoughts on Forever Skies
Forever Skies is still new and quite rough around the edges. However, there aren’t many actual bugs, and the issues it does have are pretty much what we’ve come to expect from new early-access titles, so they’re forgivable for now. Despite the growing pains, the folks at Far From Home have created a vibrant, stunning, and fascinating world that we have completely fallen in love with.
Fortunately, the message left by the devs at the end of the current playable content told us that the team seems to be planning to add just about everything we thought the game needed. We absolutely cannot wait to see how this title develops, and we hope the developers will continue to give it the love it deserves to make it the stellar game they’ve shown us it can be.