I recently previewed the sci-fi sandbox Astroneer and had an absolute blast with the game. It's just past version 0.5 and has a lot of the game's core systems sorted out, and we're less than a year away before the game finally releases out of Steam Early Access and has solid objectives for players to accomplish.
The game as it stands right now is pretty solid, but I encountered quite a few annoyances that soured my experience in the 50+ hours of gameplay I've had with it so far. Astroneer is one of the best Early Access titles I've seen in terms of how well it's put together and the overall lack of bugs, but there are nonetheless a number of small changes or additions that I think could make the game a whole lot better. I won't be addressing any story or quest stuff as we haven't seen that yet—this is purely a wishlist fo mechanical changes or additions I'd like to see in order to make the gameplay a smoother experience all around.
Better Rover Control & FeaturesThere are two different sizes of rover in Astroneer. They're incredibly versatile pieces of equipment that can be used for exploring much faster than you can run and without the bother of placing an endless line of tethers behind you. They can be equipped with a crane & drill to mine up hardier materials that you can't quite pull up with your terrain tool, and you can also outfit them with modules that will provide additional storage, allowing you to potentially carry ten times (or more!) of gathered goodies than you could on your tiny little backpack. Heck, you can even chain a bunch of rovers together in a train and haul around an absolutely massive amount of goods.
As useful as rovers might be, they have their issues. The most obvious one to me is the driving controls. It works on a sort of camera orientation mode - pressing W will move you in the direction relative to the camera. (That is, if you're looking backward and press W, you'll move backward rather than forward.) I'd much prefer the option to have the controls oriented to the rover itself so that W always moves you forward, A always turns left, etc. I can't count the number of times I've been unable to stop because my camera dictated the control directions and I went tumbling into a chasm.
Rovers also have headlights on the front which are immensely useful for navigating at night. However, once you park those headlights turn off. Anyone who's worked a job on the road will likely have used their headlights to illuminate their workspace at some point in their career and that's an option I'd like to see here. The crane arm doesn't have a light at all, meaning that it's quite difficult to drill in the dark if it's night or you're underground.
Lastly, rovers provide a safe haven during storms. Unfortunately, these futuristic space vehicles seem to lack a necessary piece of technology known as the parking brake. I think it would be nice to be able to lock down the rover for when I'm drilling (I've rolled into my own holes more than once) or riding out a storm. It would also solve the issue of the occasional untethered rover being bounced away by a storm.
Going Longer Distances In SpaceAstroneer is a game that features multiple worlds. Once you've researched and built a spaceship, you can fly into a high planetary orbit and make the transition to one of the solar system's other planets. Taking off, transitioning to another planet, and landing all use a single unit of fuel (in a tank that can hold 10 or 20 charges at most).
Getting from one planet to another can be a bit of a hassle. Your ship has a maximum range represented by a white circle. You can't make it to any planets that are currently outside of that circle, and it's entirely possible to be stuck in a situation where you're just waiting for even a single planet to drift into range of your ship. It'd be understandable if you burned up all of your fuel in one go, but you don't - you use 5-10% at most.
Now I'm no rocket scientist, but I am a bit of a space nerd and I've sunk a few hours into Kerbal Space Program. The ideal situation is to fly somewhere efficiently, but there's also always the option to say "damn the costs" and fly inefficiently. I'd very much like the option to burn more fuel and fly further rather than having to wait for the planets to close distance. I can make hydrazine easily - I can't make more time.
Planetary Navigation & Scanning With SatellitesAs the game stands right now, you have a limited number of navigational options available to you:
- Use the sun, planets, & stars (which are always on the equator) to figure out where you are.
- Make use of placable beacons to leave a trail of breadcrumbs.
- A compass that you can access by hovering over your character (and only then, not while driving).
In real-world global travel, we make use of latitude and longitude coordinates that are helpfully provided through a planetary satellite network. Seeing as you're already in space and have the ability to orbit planets as it is, it would be sensible for there to be a way to deploy satellites that can give you accurate positioning on a planet. This would incentivize players to research & collect resources to establish such a network and make navigation easier. You could step things up a bit further by allowing the satellites to be viewed remotely and get a picture of where things are from above. That would be a cool feature, but I'd be happier with just some easier navigation as a potential goal in the game.
Buildable Bridges, Ramps, & SuperstructuresThe terrain tool in Astroneer is a powerful device that lets you dig out soil & materials from range. You could tunnel straight to the core of the planet if you felt like it. Equipping a canister on your backpack will allow you to store soil and further change the world by adding to the terrain or shaping it. Typically, this will involve building ramps or bridges & smoothing them out so you can traverse otherwise impassable gaps.
The system as it stands is great, but it's also inconsistent. Trying to go straight down, for example, would naturally involve building some sort of spiral staircase. Doing this smoothly and reliably is a challenge no matter how careful you are, and the terrain leveling feature isn't much help here.
Similarly, you can choose to protect your surface equipment from storms and certain hostile elements by building a wall or dome around your base. Again, this is a bit wonky and presents a number of issues. Notably, the inability to collect any kind of solar power whatsoever is a big downside to a bit of protection. Quite a few players will have the essential bits of their base inside a protective dome or cave and a few platforms outdoors to supply you with wind and solar power.
I'd like to see the ability to build placeable bridges, ramps, and walls that can be used in place of the terrain system. It wouldn't (and shouldn't) serve as a permanent replacement for shaping the terrain, something that is a good bit of fun most of the time and absolutely a necessary skill for moving around in Astroneer. When it comes to creating routes that you will use a lot (such as a bridge that you cross quite often or a mine shaft of sorts into a massive cave network), I've found that it takes an awful lot of time to get it just right. It'd be nice to have the option to build more permanent structures that are more reliable than the finicky terrain tool's creations.
Lighten Things Up A BitThe game is certainly fun and colorful, but once the sun sets or you head underground it's a different story. There's only a handful of lighting sources in the game right now. Your EVA suit has downward facing lights that illuminate the area directly in front of you. Rovers have headlights. Tethers provide a small amount of light from the cords, and you can build a placable worklight for extra illumination. It's something, but there needs to be more.
To start, the lamps on your suit are only good for walking around and mining at close range. If you're aiming your tool in a particular area, you'll sometimes find yourself peering into complete darkness. This can (and should) be remedied by a mounted light on the terrain tool that better follows your cursor so this problem occurs less often. If this is (for some reason) considered a game balance issue, a light attachment could be made as an optional piece of equipment. Similarly, the crane & drill on the rover doesn't light up where you're drilling; you'll often have to hop in and out of the vehicle to light up an area and see if you've managed to dig everything out.
The craftable worklights are also of questionable utility. They need to be placed into a slot that has access to power, meaning you'll have them attached to either your base (where you don't really need much lighting) or your rover (which has headlights. When I first researched them, I had hoped to be able to light up the walkways and ramps I had made to access the cave network under my base, only to be disappointed that I had no such option. A free-standing, deployable worklight would be a huge improvement. If the design dictates that it must have power, then it could be set up to draw power from a nearby tether line just as you do for your suit. The lights we do have in Astroneer are better than none at all, but they ought to be much brighter and more powerful than the currently are in the game.
Autonomous Interplanetary Cargo TransportEach of the six different planets in Astroneer has their own hazards and material distributions. If you need copper & aluminum, a quick trip to the Irradiated world will give you more than your fill. Arid planets have titanium and lithium in spades. You'll be able to haul loads of material back to your little outpost on these worlds.
Unfortunately, if you want to take this stuff back with you to another world, your options for transport are a bit limited. A fully-kitted out large spaceship can fit over 60 individual small items on it and you can carry around a dozen bits of stuff on your backpack. If you want to ferry back an absolutely enormous amount of artifacts for research and/or materials, you're gonna find yourself making multiple trips (compounded by the screwy orbital system that can make interplanetary travel a real drag).
The game already has a trade platform that sends a rocket out to space and exchanges one kind of material for another. I'd like to see this concept expanded to interplanetary movement of your own cargo. Make it a larger rocket with the capability to hold Artifacts and have it require a certain amount of hydrazine fuel so it's not super easy to move things around. The concept could even be expanded into multiple types (like the spaceships and rovers) - a single-use "impact" rocket that merely crashes into the destination or a larger, more expensive vehicle that can make trips back and forth. This would change the dynamic of the game a bit, allowing you to move goods between worlds without having to physically make the trip yourself.
Real Weather HazardsThere are very few hazards in the game right now. The hostile flora can kill you, but it can be effectively neutralized with your terrain tool. Arid planets have the ever-present tumblespikes, but building your base properly can make these a non-issue (at least back at home). Storms may bring down a shower of debris, but you're safe inside a vehicle or underground and your base takes no permanent damage.
I'd like the see the potential danger from the weather ramped up a bit. Solar flares could short out electronics and temporarily shut down or even permanently damage objects. Occasional huge meteor storms could slam craters into the earth, and if one is unfortunate enough to hit your base it might damage or outright destroy a building. Rain or snow could create the risk of flooding or burying your base under a snow drift. Make weather something to fear instead of the occasional annoyance that it currently is.
A Failsafe For Getting Stuck On PlanetsThe last thing I'd like to see in the game is perhaps the most contentious. Just as Kerbal Space Program players will inevitably experience their first catatrophic explosion, a green Astroneer player will probably find themselves stranded on another world with no way off. 99% of the time, this is down to their failure to properly prepare themselves for the journey either through not having enough fuel or not bringing enough resources to equip themselves for a return trip.
I'm all for hard games, but Astroneer doesn't strike me as something that's oriented towards the more hardcore gaming audience. I like that it's possible to get stuck, but I'm sure there's plenty of players who lament effectively losing an entire save file because they've managed to strand themselves on another world. (I've done it myself, and I've certainly seen my fair share of horror stories on the /r/Astroneer subreddit!)
A nice solution would be some kind of rescue vehicle that could be called down. This shouldn't be a cheap backdoor to transport - it's only ability should be to send you back to your main base on the Terran planet. Make it cost a nominal amount of resources and/or research points as a fee, and impose an in-game cooldown timer of at least an hour so players can't use it for free, easy transport back home.
Astroneer is tons of fun but it still has some areas where it could improve. The game's development roadmap lays out an exciting future, and I'm looking forward to hopping back into the game once it's out of Early Access. Even though I say that, I know I'm lying to myself - I'll surely hop back in for each monthly update to check out the new stuff because I just like it that much.
This is one of the smoothest Early Access titles I've played with minimal issues in terms of bugs & design. It can stand to be improved in some areas (some of which I've hopefully highlighted here), and I think the devs will do a good job of fleshing things out a bit more one way or another. If Astroneer sounds like your kind of fun, you can pick it up on the PC via Steam or for the Xbox One via the Microsoft Store.
Have you played Astroneer? What would you like to see added or changed in the game? Let us know in the comments below!