What is Astroneer?
Developed by System Era Softworks, Astroneer was originally an early access game on Steam in 2016 with its official launch in 2019. Through those years, it has developed quite a community that enjoys the game. Once I landed on my first planet, my first impression of the game was that it’s No Man’s Sky Lite.
It is a survival, planet exploration game with quite a lot to do, but once they’re done, there isn’t much else. Bare with me on this review, because as much as I understand the love the community has for this game, it’s certainly not for everyone.
Imaginerring the world
Astroneer starts you off in a random location of a procedurally generated planet. The goal of your time on that planet is to gather enough resources and technology to fly off towards the next planet. Rinse and repeat. To gather resources, you have a kind of vacuum that sucks in what you gather. You can use it not only to collect but terraform the planet. Dig and build mountains and bridges, or dive deep in created caves and pits as far down as the center. Believe me, there is a lot of that going on in this game.
You can even build new structures like towers, machinery, labs, and vehicles. Those vehicles were highly useful in a large open sandbox like Astroneer. The planets, again, are large and diverse. Snow-covered locations, deserts, and bright green forests full of plant life. Colors are bright and attractive, and the graphics are although elementary looking, give the art style and game its own identity and style. It’s kind of like a low-resolution, polygonal lego game, or again, No Man’s Sky. Think of it as a PS1 version of that game.
However, notice I said plant life. Not Flora and Fauna. No animals, no other humans (except in co-op mode), no enemies, and no challenge. All you do on these lifeless planets is collect, build, suck up resources and fly away to do it all over again. There is no combat in Astroneer.
Not all games need action
Just because there isn’t any combat does not mean it’s a terrible game. It’s for those who like calm, chill playthroughs without the stress or stimulation of fighting a bad guy and saving something/someone. This game wasn’t for me, but I accept that there is an appeal for the slow and steady exploration and discovery of something that can put you in awe and wonder…only this game doesn’t do that either.
I found myself frustrated seeing and doing the same things over again, even when I progressed to the next planet. I got bored very quickly with what the game offered because you can see it all once you’re done with the first planet, and maybe halfway through the second. I also found myself stressed and annoyed at planning out how to keep my oxygen tank going as I got further and further away from my supply. Yes, there are lines to place them wherever needed, but should that really be the only threat to dying aside from a long fall off a cliff?
Learn as you go
Speaking of dying, let’s talk about how staying alive works. Your character does not have a health bar per se. As mentioned before, there aren’t any real threats aside from a few, very few hostile plants. Your greatest focus is keeping your oxygen level from depleting or else you suffocate and die. Long falls to your doom will end you as well.
Sadly, the worst part about dying is losing any belongings you decide to keep with you as you explore. Granted, you can recover what was lost if you find your body once you re-spawn back to base, but if you die in a random canyon that’s unreachable or took a wrong turn and can’t find your way back, it brings frustration.
This isn’t as frustrating as the lack of tutorials and the learning curve. When I first started Astroneer, I was greeted with a slide show! Why, in 2022…actually, even in 2016 are developers still using slideshows and screenshots to give a tutorial? Especially on such an intricate and detailed resource survival game like this! It’s pure laziness! There was so much I had to figure out on my own that even when I arrived at the second planet, I still felt like I didn’t know what I was doing.
I applaud the minimalist UI design of the game. There is nothing that clutters your game screen. Any backpacks, recourse management, or technology you use are simply zoomed-in products that are already on screen. You drag and drop what you like and receive a satisfying click when it’s where you want it to be. There is a lot of dragging and dropping for resource management but it is very fluid. Unfortunately, I had no clue for a very long time how to connect the dots, use my resources properly, and create things. Not everyone is favorable to a slide telling you a button to press to get a result. I should not have to guess what I’m doing is right or wrong.
Micro-transactions. Because of course there are.
I think it’s obvious once you play or even watch a trailer for Astroneer that micro-transactions will be prevalent in this game. I don’t fault any developer for trying to keep funding going on a game so that it can continue to be supported and updated. I hope they update the game with a proper training or tutorial mode before they literally crash land me on a desert planet. I do think it should be noted that they are all cosmetic and somewhat overpriced though. Please don’t make your game look like a cash-grab, because nowadays it’s easy to look that way.
This is also a word of caution for any of your children who may want to try this game, which I wouldn’t recommend anyway unless you’d like to conduct a classroom session with textbooks on how to manage your character and world-building. They will want to buy all of the cool-looking stuff at a hefty price. Simply said, it’s not for young children despite the friendly, colorful, child-like art style. They have suits, visors, pallets for skins, hats, masks, emotes, and plenty more.
In the end, does it even matter?
Unless you’re playing with a friend, Astroneer has little replay value outside of two or three planets. You’ve done it all by then. I honestly did not try co-op, but anything is better with friends. I know I mostly bashed the game for its laziness in teaching its players and how lifeless the planets can be, but this is not a bad game if you are looking to just collect loot, create something then repeat.
It’s a relaxing game with not much to think about once you get going. I just think after all this time and it’s now been ported to the Nintendo Switch, there could have been better, more thought-out updates, improvements, and appeal to a wider audience. Give this a try if you like building, destroying, and collecting. Now, where’s my stressful action/adventure shooter game at so I can load it up?
This review was written based on a digital review copy of Astroneer for the Nintendo Switch provided by System Era Softworks.