When Minecraft was originally released back in 2011, it truly changed the video game industry. Before Minecraft the sandbox survival genre didn’t really exist or most people had never heard of it. Minecraft proceeded to become one of the biggest video games of all time. While Minecraft is not quite as popular as it once was, it still remains quite popular and has inspired many other sandbox survival games. One of these games is the game I am looking at today, Astroneer. Astroneer was originally released in early access back in late 2016. After over two years in early access, Astroneer is leaving early access today when version 1.0 is released. I was excited to try out Astroneer. I wasn’t as big of Minecraft fan as some people but I enjoyed the game. The idea of a Minecraft style game in space really intrigued me. Astroneer is a fun and compelling sandbox exploration game with innovative terrain manipulation mechanics that is sometimes lacking in things to do.
We at Geeky Hobbies would like to thank System Era Softworks for the review copy of Astroneer used for this review. Other than receiving a free copy of the game to review, we at Geeky Hobbies received no other compensation for this review. Receiving the review copy for free had no impact on the content of this review or the final score.
As I alluded to at the beginning of the review, I think the best way to describe Astroneer is to call it Minecraft in space. That is an oversimplified analysis but it does give me a good starting point to talk about the game. Like with Minecraft, Astroneer is the type of game where you make your own fun. The game doesn’t really have a set objective like most games where you complete one objective and then head to the next. In Astroneer you are given a vacuum like device. This device sucks up the terrain and any resources in the area. The gameplay mostly revolves around using this device to explore and do whatever you want.
The basic gameplay loop of Astroneer begins with you heading out from your base on foot or later in the game in one of the vehicles you have crafted. While exploring you will encounter different resources which you will pick up with your device. After you have acquired all of the resources you can carry, you return to your base to drop off/use the resources that you have acquired. These resources can be used to build new tools or equipment which will allow you to expand your base. In your travels you will also encounter various items which you can research. These items will give you research points that can be used to acquire new technology. After dropping off/using the resources you acquired, you head off on another adventure to find more resources.
Outside of the obvious change in locale, I would say that the biggest difference between Astroneer and Minecraft is how the worlds are crafted. Minecraft is famous for its’ blocky style where everything is made of blocks. This allows you to remove one block at a time and it kind of feels like you are playing in a LEGO/block world where everything fits smoothly together. Astroneer feels more like you are playing with clay/dough. Instead of using blocks like Minecraft, the whole world is moldable. Instead of digging up one piece of terrain at a time, you suck up the terrain with your device. As the game doesn’t rely on the blocky structure of Minecraft, you can basically alter the world however you would like.
I think this different approach is both beneficial and detrimental to Astroneer. On the positive side as I mentioned, you have full control over the world. You are no longer restricted by the blocky world. Outside of having a device that can suck up any type of matter with no effort, the digging mechanics actually feel realistic. The terrain can be molded in realistic ways where you can make rolling hills, deep caverns or anything in between. In addition to digging, the device allows you to take the dirt you picked up and place it back into the world however you prefer. As you are no longer restricted to building blocky structures, you can create anything you want in the landscape. If you have the skills and patience with the device, you can build whatever you want in the game.
This flexibility does lead to some problems for Astroneer though. Being able to mold things however you would like is cool, but it is quite a bit harder to work with than using the block structure of Minecraft. At first it kind of feels like you are randomly digging. It is hard to have great control over how you remove and place the dirt. While gathering resources from the surface, you likely are going to create a bunch of holes which you will have to dig out of should you fall into them. The more you play the game the better you will get at using the tool, but it does create some problems in the early game.
Outside of affecting the gameplay, this choice on how the terrain is handled affects the game’s art style as well. I would describe Astroneer’s art style as kind of a mix between a cartoony and a realistic style. The worlds are really colorful and exaggerated. The art style is still somewhat grounded in reality though. I am far from an art critic so I can’t add a whole lot more to the discussion of the game’s art style. Simply put, Astroneer’s art style is great and helps create an interesting world that you want to explore.
Astroneer is far from hard to play but it is a game that takes a while to adjust to. If you start up the game without playing through the tutorial, you likely are going to be completely lost. If you have played other games in this genre, you will have an idea of what you are supposed to do. The game doesn’t hold your hand though so you are basically on your own learning how to play the game. I do give the game credit as I think the tutorial does a good job explaining most of the game’s basics. Even after playing the tutorial though there is still going to be some trial and error as you figure out the mechanics that are never discussed in the tutorial. You might feel a little overwhelmed at first but once you figure out what you are supposed to do, Astroneer is pretty easy to play.
At its core Astroneer is not the most original concept. Ever since Minecraft’s success, there have been quite a few games that have tried to make their own sandbox survival experience. Astroneer doesn’t revolutionize the genre but does a good job implementing it. If you like Minecraft exploration style games, you are going to have fun with Astroneer. It is fun exploring the world, finding resources and expanding your base. If you are the type of person that likes a definitive objective, Astroneer may not be the game for you. If you like games that let you explore and do whatever you want though, you should really enjoy Astroneer.
As Astroneer can be played alone or with other players, I checked out both to see how much the experiences differ. Outside of playing with other players, there is no difference between the single player and multiplayer. Nonetheless the multiplayer experience is considerably more enjoyable in my opinion. The single player is still fun as you can still enjoy exploring and creating your own base. Like a lot of these type of sandbox games though, it is just more fun having a friend(s) join in. Players can work together in order to gather resources and build a base, or they can just fool around. With there not being any lifeforms outside of plants in the game, it can be kind of lonely playing the game by yourself at times. If you have friends to play Astroneer with, I would highly recommend it.
Astroneer is a very good game but it does have some issues. At this point I would say that the biggest problem with Astroneer is that the game doesn’t really have an overall objective. Basically the whole game revolves around exploring, mining and building. Now this is not necessarily a bad thing for most people. A lot of people will get enough out of the game from exploring, mining, and building. Creative players that just like messing around with a game should have a lot of fun with Astroneer.
I really think Astroneer could have used a more concrete objective though. The game doesn’t seem to really have much of an end game. You can decide to stay on the same planet and keep building up your base. Your other option is to acquire enough resources and technology in order to build a rocket and leave for another planet. When you arrive on the new planet you just explore some more and build a new base. For people who really enjoy this part of the game, this shouldn’t be a problem. People who are looking for a clear end goal though are going to be kind of disappointed. While it doesn’t ruin the game, I wish the game had more of an ultimate objective to eventually reach. Astroneer has had regular updates so maybe this will be added to the game in a future update.
On the topic of having a clear objective, I think the game could also have benefited from adding more threats to the player. Unlike most exploration survival games, Astroneer doesn’t have any sort of combat. There aren’t any creatures that will attack you that you have to fight off. The only way to really be damaged in the game is to be hit by flying objects or the few hostile plants you will encounter. The only significant threat in the game is the lack of oxygen. As you are in space, it makes sense that you have to deal with a lack of oxygen. This requires you to keep track of your oxygen and return to your base or another area that provides oxygen when you are close to running out. You will quickly learn the value of teethers which can be used to create a system that attaches you to a source of oxygen. I thought the oxygen mechanic was quite clever and a really nice addition to the game.
Unless you are playing foolishly, there really is no threat of dying in the game. As you don’t have to worry about creatures killing you, you can take things as slow as you want. There really isn’t any urgency in the game as you aren’t punished for taking as much time as you want. For people that want a relaxing experience, this will probably be appreciated as you don’t have to worry about dying. Like the fact that there really is no end game, it does take a little something away from the game as there is no urgency.
While I had a lot of fun playing Astroneer, at the end of the day I don’t think it is quite as good as Minecraft. There are areas where I think Astroneer is better, but I think Minecraft is better because there is more to do in the game. Minecraft actually has an end game and battle mechanics. I also think the base building mechanic is better in Minecraft. I thought the base building in Astroneer was fun and it has some interesting ideas. I just don’t think it has as much flexibility as Minecraft though. Minecraft allows you to create more intricate bases. There is also more of a need for a base in Minecraft as you have needs that have to be met which require you to create ways to replenish the resources you need. For example it is beneficial creating some sort of farm in Minecraft. Astroneer’s only real requirement is oxygen so there is no need to build something like a farm.
This last issue I had with Astroneer should only apply to some players. To put things into context I would say that my computer’s specs are between the minimum and recommended, but are closer to the recommended settings. For the most part the game plays pretty smoothly as I got a pretty consistent framerate. There were times when the framerate would drop considerably though. When the game would drop to these levels the game felt like I was playing it in slow motion. These issues would last maybe a minute and then it would return to a solid framerate. There are also a few other glitches/bugs that I encountered from time to time. People with more powerful computers should avoid most of these issues. These issues are not gamebreaking but I wanted players with PCs on the lower end of the spectrum to know that they will probably experience some occasional issues. I hope as Astroneer is further developed that some of these issues can be worked out.
Like with a lot of sandbox survival games, different players are going to get significantly different experiences out of the game. If the idea of exploring and gathering resources doesn’t really appeal to you, you might not get a lot of time out of Astroneer. You will probably build a base with all of the technology and then be done with the game. People that like to explore though and create their own fun can enjoy Astroneer for a long time. As Astroneer doesn’t have as robust of base building mechanics as Minecraft, I don’t think you will get as much time out of the game as you did Minecraft. If you were the type of player that got 100+ hours out of Minecraft though, I think you will get a lot of fun out of Astroneer. If you are a fan of these type of games, I don’t think you have to worry about length when it comes to Astroneer.
When most people first see Astroneer the first thing that they will think of is Minecraft in space. That first impression is accurate to a degree but doesn’t fully describe Astroneer. The main gameplay loop is similar to a lot of sandbox survival games. You go out into the world to find resources which you then use to expand your base. While not highly original, these gameplay mechanics work really well in Astroneer as it is enjoyable and easy to create your own fun in the game. In addition Astroneer adds some interesting new mechanics when it comes to interacting with the environment as the entire environment is moldable. Instead of digging up blocks, you can dig and shape the world however you prefer. This takes some time to adjust to but gives players more control over what they want to do. Most of the problems I had with Astroneer dealt with there not being as much to do in the game as I would have liked. The game doesn’t really have an end game, there is no real combat, and the base building is not as vast as Minecraft’s. The game also has some occasional framerate issues if you aren’t playing on a powerful computer. Nonetheless Astroneer is a great game that I had a lot of fun playing.
If you have never really cared for sandbox survival games or like games with clear objectives, Astroneer is not going to be for you. People who like Minecraft style games though and want a unique experience in space, should enjoy their time with Astroneer. If the games sounds interesting to you, I would recommend that you look into picking up Astroneer.