This isn’t a full review, just some things that have stood out for me so far, both good and bad.
Installation and startup were smooth, and I only ran into one bug in the beginning, which hasn’t happened again since: when I tried to upload discoveries before saving for the first time, the game screen faded to black. I kept trying different key combos to escape the game or bring up the task manager, to no avail, until eventually my PC just rebooted.
While adjusting graphics settings that required a game restart I discovered that, because I hadn’t saved my game before making the changes (and didn’t yet know how to), every restart put me on a different random planet. I used this feature to restart a few more times until I got a favorable starting planet (temperate, lots of resources, minimal sentries, high flora).
In-game instructions are…sparse. it doesn’t even tell you how to save your game, and there’s no save button. I had to Google it (saves happen each time you exit your ship, or interact with a waypoint’s antenna). An explanation of these kinds of basic gameplay mechanics would be welcome.
The game is visually beautiful. Stunning, in fact. The creatures are fantastic, and obviously alien, yet familiar enough to think that, if evolution had taken some different turns, some of them might have appeared on Earth.
I really like the interaction with the sentient races, although I’ve only encountered the Gek so far. The system for learning alien languages is very cool, although you’d think they could fit more than one word in a knowledge stone.
I began my journey on the quaintly-named Eshimanami-Mando Ruton (it just rolls off the tongue, doesn’t it?), in the Ationendamm system of the Silverdob region. It’s practically paradise: perfect temperature, lots of resources and plant life, giant boulders of copper floating serenely in the air (wait, what?), and the sentinel drones aren’t too trigger-happy. I spent most of the first two days on it, meeting the Gek and learning some of their language, gathering resources, and trying to find a better ship and some exosuit upgrades. So far I’ve found two ships (only one with an extra inventory slot), and a single-slot upgrade for my suit.
This brings me to my first major problem with this game: inventory management. I’ve played Minecraft and Space Engineers for years, so I’m practically an expert at it, but even with the inventory increase given at launch, juggling all of your stuff is excruciating. When I found my new ship, it had 16 slots, vs. the 15 on my starter, but many of those slots were filled with upgrades, which I couldn’t dismantle to free up the slot until they were repaired. My current ship and my suit were both nearly full, so I ended up having to trash a bunch of things I’d have preferred to keep or sell, just to do the Inventory Shuffle. I couldn’t leave the new ship to sell stuff off and come back, because I’d never find it again (see problem #2). I actually enjoy inventory management, if it’s not so painful that it detracts from the rest of the game.
Wishlist Item #1: Let us drop things on the ground and pick them back up, or use fixed-position containers to swap things around.
The second problem is the waypoint system. The game fills your HUD with the waypoints of places you’ve discovered using found beacons (the pedestals with the orange beam of light shining up into the sky), which is good. It also puts pulsing lines around the icons of those places you haven’t visited yet, which is even better.
- There’s no way I can find to hide any of them from my view, which is getting increasingly cluttered with waypoint icons.
- The pulsing lines around the icons of unvisited locations only occasionally appeared when I was in my ship, so I kept having to land, get out, reorient myself, and take off again, wasting plutonium with each launch.
- When you visit a crashed ship its waypoint icon goes away, unlike the other marked locations, even if you haven’t claimed it yet. Gods help you if you walk away and then forget where it’s parked. Twice I almost lost the new ship because I needed to move the old ship close enough to do the Inventory Shuffle. Panic ensued.
- You can’t make custom waypoints, and there’s no coordinate system visible to the player, so unless the game marks a location for you, good luck ever finding it again.
Wishlist Item #2: A waypoint management system, with the ability to create, group, hide, and delete custom waypoints, and by extension, a coordinate system that can be displayed in your suit and ship HUD.
A few other quibbles:
- In the PC version, there’s no way to free-look around the cockpit while in the ship, and some of the displays have part of their view obscured, at least when you’re on the planet. When your pulse engine is active in space the view pulls back somewhat to give a sense of acceleration, so the displays are fully visible. The console version allows free-look using one of the analog sticks, and I’ve read that using a game controller with the PC version works also. I don’t have one so I can’t test this.
- When on foot, my view sometimes feels like it’s permanently zoomed in slightly. It seems to come and go, and I can’t figure out how to replicate it on demand, or what makes it go away. Changing my FOV setting to 90 seemed to help a bit.
- A belly camera on your ship would be nice to help you land more precisely.
- Why in the world can’t you bring your ship to a complete stop? Maybe I’d accept some rationale for it while on a planet, such as the ship flies like an airplane and has to move forward to generate lift, but in space? You can move forward or backward, but not stop? Nope. Sorry. Not buying it. Give us a brake pedal.
A lot of reviews have said that the gameplay is shallow and becomes repetitive. I can’t disagree, because I can already see the grind starting (gather resources, analyze things, go to new planet, rinse, repeat), but the potential here is huge, Sean Murray has already said they’ll keep updating as long as people are playing, and I’m eager to see how they do the upcoming base-building feature. So rather than being a complete game at launch, I’m thinking of it as a starting framework, with a lot of great things hopefully to come.
I could go on with all kinds of pros and cons, but time spent writing is time not spent playing, and I have an Atlas station to find.