FortressCraft Evolved calls itself a "unique blend of Voxel Landscapes, Tower Defense, Crafting, Logistics, Exploration, Combat and Essembly lines.” Besides that being a mouthful, it is also currently in Early Access, but it seems the latest update (1.19) is the penultimate patch before full release. The game is a successor to the original FortressCraft for Xbox Live and is ported to Unity.
The store page has some amazing screenshots, and the idea of assembly line machinery is something that most certainly sounds like it will outdo other similar Voxel-based sandbox games on a mechanical level. But what became immediately obvious when starting the game are the subtle signs of it being an Unity game. The launcher has a very bare bones Graphics quality drop-down list and comes with an Input tab for keybinds.
When starting the actual game, the font strikes me as familiar as well, and the Main Menu doesn't look very impressive either. To be fair, I’ll excuse these things for now as the game is still in Early Access. But this close to release, I do worry if such things may become an afterthought or completely forgotten.
Upon creation of a Survival world, you are treated to a cutscene. You seem to be flying in a Spaceship towards a Space Station, when suddenly a Meteorite strikes, sending you spiraling off. Waking up on land, you are then forced to go through the quite basic tutorial showing you some of its new mechanics, particularly the ones involving machinery. It’s quite annoying that the Tutorial, which seems to be mandatory for every new planet, locks you in your base using a force field until all tasks are done. None of this is apparently skippable, so quick drop-in plays to experiment on a new planet is out of the question.
For someone new to FortressCraft, it was all quite confusing from the beginning. Power seems to be the name of game here, as your protective suit runs on it, while some of the autonomous machines working for you require it as well. Running out will stop your suit maintaining your body temperature, which can lead to hypothermia at night. Luckily you are provided a set of starting machinery: a coal miner to (apparently infinitely) procure coal for you and an energy generating machine that runs on coal and other resources. There is also a crafting table provided, with quite a few recipes set up that serves to build parts for your assembly line.
The point to the assembly line is quite simple. You tie one machine to another, allowing them to interact. This is usually done starting from a machine that mines or otherwise creates something, which is then tied with a conveyor belt to a machine that is capable of refining or otherwise modifying the substance. Usually at the end of this assembly line is either a storage unit or perhaps a machine that has need of this substance to function, such as coal. This gives way to massive autonomous setups that support your expedition on the planet.
The settings in-game offer a little more control over the Graphics, but conversely there’s no options to rebind keys. At this point, it’s possible, albeit poorly, to survive using hints from a small companion robot who follows you around and the tool tip bar on the bottom left. Luckily there’s a Help button in the Options menu, which lists the basics and provides more information. And you’ll need those basics, because you are equipped with a myriad of tools and other equipment that seemingly can only be accessed through pressing a specific hotkey button on your keyboard. Their classification seems simple enough: one to dig/build, another to scan blocks for research, a plasma gun, and so on and so forth.
FortressCraft Evolved feels like it wants to up the ante on its competitors. There’s a lot of complicated technology, with it not all being as well explained or showcased as I would like. It reminds me of Evochron Mercenary. You have all the tools that you need at your disposal, but your understanding of them, especially as a new player, is so limited that it’s downright intimidating. This might ward off potential new players, but could prove quite rewarding if one is able to stick through.
One problem players may face is getting lost. And seeing as your base is almost irreplaceable, at least in the beginning, it would be dreadful to not find it again. Thankfully, pressing "K" will enable the Holobase, through which you can press "U" to show the 3D map. This map will show you where any of your machinery is, so finding your bearings becomes almost trivially easy.
An intriguing aspect was the idea of Tower Defense, as well as the various creatures shown in some of the screenshots. Sadly, after some running around, all I had found were some small flying mechanical constructs and some sort of tiny white blob. If the idea was that you need to build a safe hovel to shield yourself, then the lack of enemies sure doesn't enforce that notion. Maybe something needs to be triggered? The lack of information on this is worrying.
It’s hard to not constantly bring up comparisons to Minecraft, but the music bug sure makes a return. Just like the aforementioned game, the music is missing at most times and randomly decides to pop in and play. The problem with this is that Minecraft has non-intrusive music and tends to keep itself in the background. The music in FortressCraft Evolved is very much upbeat and obvious, meaning it only stands out even more awkwardly in between the silence it placed itself in. Not to mention that there is only a single Volume slider. So barring muting the whole game, there’s not a whole lot to be done about it.
Creative mode has been surprising me a lot more, though. Much like you’d expect in Minecraft, in this mode you are free to do and build as you please, having unlimited access to resources of your choice and no Power to worry about. Screenshots on the store page have shown quite a few marvels of creation, and the toolset available are both improvements on those available in Survival, as well as a few ones unique to the mode, such as a Weather staff that lets you control the weather and summons meteorites for more destructive purposes.
What I like a lot though is elements loading in. You see, as expected from a game like this, the world is randomly generated as you go. But in Creative, you can actually see those generated parts drop in from the sky, or rise from the ground when you are speeding through in the skies. It’s a small aesthetic detail, but enjoyable to see.
FortressCraft Evolved could certainly do with some polish. Bugs are plentiful, such as some nearing blocks becoming transparent during high-speed digging. But the worst offender I have to say is being unable to switch Worlds. To change Worlds, you need to exit the game and re-enter. This proves to be quite inconvenient as one could want to test a build in Creative then finalize it in Survival.
All in all, I've found myself intrigued but not very inclined to consider FortressCraft Evolved as my new go-to creation sandbox. I do see the merit in the things it does different, and it might be a worthwhile discovery for genre Veterans seeking something new and different, but the UI and launcher need touching up, as well as the options. Minecraft has set a standard for games like these, so things like separate volume sliders shouldn't be less than a reasonable expectation for the final release.
This game was obtained from the developer and reviewed on the PC.
How do you feel about a Voxel-sandbox game like this with such a level of complexity? Are you content with your Redstone in Minecraft or could the assembly lines in FortressCraft Evolved persuade you?