I sincerely enjoy exploring and building in games, so Astroneer has been on my radar for a while. Developed by System Era Softworks, excitement built over several years of Early Access. After spending nearly 200 hours playing the earlier versions, I waited patiently to see what the developers had come up with for launch day. Needless to say, my Astroneer review will be from the perspective of an experienced player.
New to the game is a lovely cinematic sequence where you see your ship move into orbit above the Terran planet. Launching down to the planet is as smooth and seamless as ever, although there is a small amount of pop-in as the game takes time to render the terrain in full detail. I hopped out and immediately got to gathering resources and building a base as I have a half dozen times in the past.
It was here in this early portion of my Astroneer review that I began to notice the changes. The most obvious is a distinct lack of artifacts in the game world as compared to the Early Access version. Artifacts generate bytes, a currency that used for unlocking new equipment. Previously, there were dozens of the things all over every planet, but they've been drastically reduced in number. Instead, I found myself relying more and more on local plants and rock formations that grow small research items over time.
I perused the research catalog and saw several new items. A smaller utilitarian rover and a gigantic solar panel are two of the more notable additions. Since I'm very set in my ways, they didn't seem necessary. I covered my power needs with solar panels and/or wind turbines depending on the planet and a bank of batteries to keep things charged up. As for my transport, I used either a buggy for short journeys or the medium and large rovers for trips that required me to ferry around cargo. Still, it's nice that there are now more options for players.
Another interesting change is the way that oxygen propagates. Platforms no longer act as free oxygen generators. Instead, you need to build an oxygen generating device and attach it to the connected network of platforms. You can no longer connect tethers to a vehicle without one of these devices. Power generation options have expanded as well with the addition of a buildable radioisotope thermoelectric generator, or RTG. I can imagine that late game players would create several of these to have consistent power output without worrying about the sun or wind.
It didn't take long to build my first shuttle and set off to the Moon. After I got into orbit, I noticed a massive structure on the Terran planet and a similar one on the Moon itself. This is a brand-new addition that I hadn't seen before. I was curious to check it out, but I concerned myself with progressing through the tech tree first so I'd have more equipment available. I should mention that the range limit of traveling to other planets has been removed, one of the things that I had wanted to see put into the game for some time now.
Once I got established, I decided to investigate one of these shrines. You must plug in a power source and sustain the energy levels for a short while for the shrine to activate. The early planets only need two or three small generators. The Tundra planet on the outer rim of the system needed twenty of them. If I were not so hellbent on exploring for this Astroneer review, I may have invested more time into developing better tech and avoided this problem.
Activating the shrine revealed an orb which popped up a sort of three-dimensional map. I guessed (correctly) that it pointed towards other shrines on the surface of the planet. I spent a good few hours driving around on Terran activating all of the surface shrines. A single circle in the center was still unlit and I had assumed that it would turn on once all of the shrines were activated, but it did not. I then spent another couple of hours digging down to the center of the planet.
Gravity in the center of the planet is still a mind-bending experience. There is no molten core here. Instead, a massive alien structure rests at the heart of the world. I made it to the center and discovered a different sort of mechanism. I don't want to spoil the mystery, but I discovered yet another layer of things to do. It seems like there's a grand mystery to uncover, but I wasn't able to make it to the end as I had encountered some technical issues with the game.
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Left: Several shrines dot the surface of every planet... Right: ...with the exception of a massive shrine in the center of the planet. Gravity gets weird there.
The earliest version I played for this Astroneer review had a problem with a very heavy load on my processor. I informed the developers and they fixed this issue, but a new problem with the game maxing out my RAM popped up. Our reviews editor didn't have the same problems, so I may have just had bad luck in this case. System Era Softworks has made a good effort to quickly address this problem.
One of the biggest criticisms in my Astroneer preview was the fact that there wasn't anything to do other than gather resources and progress through technology. One of the new features debuting in 1.0 is a number of strange alien shrines on every planet. This is a mystery I have yet to uncover even after 30 hours of play, so I'm more than happy to say that the devs have made an effort to give players something more to do than just build.
Graphically, Astroneer has improved in a few respects. The update to the terrain system makes for much more interesting caverns. I'm particularly fond of the ability to customize my character on the fly with new unlockable suits and colors dependent on completing objectives in the game. As for the sound, Astroneer's sounds are serviceable and the music is wonderful as always. It's a barely noticeable busyness that sits in the background, saving you from the silence but not distracting you too much from the gameplay at hand. It's pretty much perfect music for this kind of gameplay.
So, is this game worth your time? My experiences in my Astroneer review and with other similar games says yes, but it's a cautious yes. The grand mystery of the shrines is certainly intriguing, but I haven't yet discovered what's beyond that and it doesn't seem like a terribly complex mystery to uncover. After all, I'm mediocre at puzzle games and even I figured it out. I feel like there might need to be a layer in-between the nothingness of Early Access and the massive mystery in the final version. I spent roughly 30 hours playing the game, although a bug caused it to keep running in the background after closing it down so I can't be certain about the exact time.
If you're a fan of games where you can run around digging up the earth and building stuff, Astroneer should give you a good few hours of entertaining play. That said, the measure of a game like this is always in its post-launch content and it will be up to System Era Softworks to deliver on their roadmap and beyond.
Astroneer nicely builds on the Early Access release. The world is much more polished and it finally gives players something to do beyond simply digging up the earth and crafting new techs.
- Worlds Are Prettier And More Diverse
- Caverns Are More Interesting
- Interplanetary Travel Is Easier
- No Real Mid-Game Objectives
- Research Is More Challenging