Astroneer: Minecraft In Space or Unique Survival Experience?

Tired of boring sandbox survival clones that are nothing but a quick cash grab? Check out Astroneer - a new Early Access game with true potential.

Astroneer is an open world survival game fresh out of development and into early access. It focuses on humanities’ expansion to the stars in search of ways to get rich quick. We play as the first to brave these unexplored planets and territories - the Astroneers. My time with the game was short. I only got an hours worth of access due to the Game Preview on the Xbox Store - though I got a lot out of it.

When on Astroneer's website, I noticed there was a good amount of praise for the game. I also noticed a few comparisons to Minecraft. As a huge Minecraft fan myself, this intrigued me as I am always looking for ways to get my survival fix. After playing, I saw that the comparisons to Minecraft had some validity to them - though the claims are kind of a stretch. Astroneer is doing what it can to stand on its own merit rather than cash in on a popular genre.

Like Minecraft, Astroneer throws you into a world with hardly a tutorial to get your bearings. Unlike Minecraft, there is still some direction in the form of pop-ups and a handy control menu - enough to start getting somewhere within the first hour. For some players, this is a positive. There are those of you out there who love going to Wikis and studying up on crafting and such. For others, this could turn them off before even starting the game. Astroneer falls in the middle.

The devices tell you what resources you need.

The game starts you off with just a ship, an excavation tool, a backpack, and an empty planet filled to the brim with resources. The ship is for saving and as a shelter during storms. The excavation tool is for harvesting any resources as well as terrain deformation. The backpack is to store those resources. The empty planet is for you to explore and find those resources. Resources are pretty essential if you couldn’t tell.

Once I figured out the game’s controls I was well on my way to exploring the world and doing what I can to ensure survival. The key to doing so is in the Astroneer’s crafting system. Remember those resources? Each one of them crafts an important item in your astronaut's arsenal. Tether lines allow you to expand… well… your tether line. Beacons allow you to mark certain spots of importance to come back to later. A generator provides power to devices. Some pretty simple items with uses that make sense, but ones with enough depth that they will definitely expand beyond these uses later on. Ship expansion lets players know exactly what materials are needed for each part, allowing them to build up a foundation quickly.

Exploration is where Astroneer tests players understanding of the game. Your backpack only has eleven slots (including the crafting slot), forcing you to pick and choose which resources to bring back and which to leave behind for later. This has to be a quick decision too. You have an oxygen tank that runs out quickly and needs to be refilled either by finding oxygen out on the planet or by connecting to a tether. If it does end up running out, you die. So be sure to keep it from doing so.

You can see the oxygen tank behind my characters head, above the backpack.

To make your space life even more challenging, your excavation tool has a recharging battery that runs out if you use it too much. Much like in real life, adventuring out in space is difficult. Astroneer creates anxiety by forcing players to balance out their oxygen levels, their excavation battery, their backpack slots, and their knowledge of the planet they are on. This combination of features leads to a different experience each time players venture outside their safe area.

I do wish that the standard energy levels for both oxygen and the excavation tools were a bit higher. I find that what they are at right now forces me to venture back home a bit too much, dying in the process. There are items that extend their length, but that doesn’t excuse how quick the standard levels drain. The game is in early access, so System Era is no doubt going to be tinkering with these values as time goes on.

Deciding what to take from my dead body

I really like Astroneer and where it seems to be heading. System Era has a solid foundation here and the game already has a decent sized community. There isn’t a ton of content right now, and I find it hard to justify the $20 asking price at this time unless you are into early access and helping forge the game you bought. I recommend keeping it on your watch list for a bit until more features have been added.

Astroneer is in Early Access on Steam, Xbox One, and Windows 10.

Max Moeller
Max Moeller
Max Moeller has been a gamer for as long as he could hold a controller. He is pretty new to the industry, but is planning to make his mark through writing and blogging about the medium. When not playing or creating content around games he is probably trying to find the next great place to eat near him.
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