I was a really early adopter of Astroneer when it first launched into early access. Its low-polygon art style, space-themed exploration, and sandbox nature intrigued me to the point where, immediately after seeing the trailer for the first time on the Xbox Store, I decided to purchase and download it. I played it on and off with a friend for a few weeks, and I initially loved the experience of mining caves and building up a base. But by the time we had enough resources to launch a shuttle and travel to the next planet, I was already bored.
Now that it’s finally gotten its full release, it’s obvious that Astroneer has seen some improvements. But for all the features that System Era Softworks injected into the game, the main problem I had two years ago—namely, that I got bored really quickly—still plagues it as a finished title.
The main idea behind Astroneer is that you are a space-age miner who lands on a mysterious, uninhabited planet, and it’s your job to build up a facility, fully explore and mine the planet, and then build a shuttle to travel to the next planet and start all over again.
That’s about it. There are no enemies, there are very few hazards, and the only way you can really die is if a rock clocks you in the head during a windstorm or you fall to your death after getting a little too close to the edge of an underground cave. Most notably, there are no real goals besides gathering more materials, earning more research points, and building more structures so that you can… gather more materials, and so on.
My favorite thing about Astroneer is its—for lack of a better word—chill approach to exploration and survival mechanics. Sometimes, I just want a more relaxed experience, and System Era Softworks has offered that in bulk. The sound effects have an ASMR quality. The visuals (when the frame rate doesn’t drop to single digits) are distinct and colorful, and the music in the full release especially is hypnotic and dreamlike. Unfortunately, this is also what keeps me from fully being able to commit myself to the game. Without any real goal to complete or conflict to overcome, there’s just not enough to motivate me to keep playing.
There’s another game about mining in space that I absolutely adore. Deep Rock Galactic is a cooperative first-person shooter similar to Left 4 Dead or Payday, except that your goal is to mine for resources, and your horde-like enemies are giant alien bugs as opposed to zombies or cops. You’re still mining for resources and you’re still in space, but there’s action and conflict, and you can level up your characters and weapons.
I know. It’s more conventionally entertaining because it has guns, and I’m sure there’s some sort of intellectual pleasure to planning your expansion in a game like Astroneer. Maybe I’m just a Cro-Magnon who needs to shoot stuff in games to stay interested, but Astroneer hasn’t gotten any less dull in the two years since its early access days.