I’ve found myself getting more and more frustrated with how stale the first-person survival simulator has become over the last few years, despite it being among my favourite genres of game. If it’s not a boring post-apocalyptic wilderness in DayZ, it’s a boring post-apocalyptic wasteland in Rust, or a boring post-apocalyptic wasteland in 7 Days to Die, or a boring post-apocalyptic wasteland in Nether. Gee, we sure are spoilt for choice.

The mechanics haven’t really changed much over the years either: they’re either Minecraft-style punching trees or a big ol’ deathmatch over a tin of baked beans like DayZ. Or, if you’re really lucky, a slight mixing of the two. As much as I love the genre, god damn is it homogenised.

So when I heard about the pre-alpha game Empyrion: Galactic Survival on Steam, and its use of No Man’s Sky-style space exploration, it really felt like a potential breath of fresh air.

2015-09-05_00002Empyrion threw me onto an alien planet with nothing but a crashed escape pod and some resources to get started with: some ores, powders, seeds, that sort of thing. Over time, I had to build a base on the planet while also contending with some rather hungry wildlife and robots wanting to murder me to death.

The long-term goal is where the game takes a dramatic turn away from normal survival games in that once you can build a shuttle to take you into space, there is a whole galaxy to explore full of enemy spaceships and alien planets to get to. Once in space, the game plays similarly to the space dogfighting in games like X or Star Citizen: the space between planets was just as populated and interesting to explore as any of the planets offered would be, with other ships and stations I could land in and have a schmooze around.

2015-08-13_00001This is where Empyrion really succeeds in showing survival games shouldn’t just be about getting a tin of beans, or building a wooden shack. Too often in other games it feels like I’m just going through the motions of punch trees, build axe, cut trees, build hit, fight zombie, make bandage, blahblahblah.

Empyrion gave me a great sense of not really knowing what’s going on around me, but that just made me want to find out. Very few other games have let me act out my Robinson Crusoe or The Martian fantasies as much as Empyrion does, and for that it really is to be applauded.

2015-08-13_00004Exploration is totally seamless too, with no loading screens separating you venturing across your starting planet, to escaping into orbit, and then to landing down on the next rock over. Being teased at night by looking up and seeing somewhere I could actually go to gave me the drive to carry on playing.

It’s just such a shame, since I really did need that drive at the start. The biggest problem Empyrion has right now is it gives you far too many resources at the very start. The containers gave me everything I needed to build a sizeable base, which was growing all the food I’d need, and a ground vehicle to explore the starting planet’s surface.

Being given all this stuff up-front meant there was no need for me to explore the interesting alien planet presented to me. Developer Eleon Game Studios had given me a huge entire galaxy of cool shit to find, and instead opted for me to be sat in the most convoluted and frustrating crafting system I have ever seen. Any exploration I would do felt like I was forcing myself into doing it just to say I’d done it, rather than in search of supplies or resources. It was a huge crack in my initial Robinson Crusoe fantasies.

2015-09-05_00004The biggest problem with the crafting is that most of the bigger pieces of equipment (cockpits, thrusters, generators etc.) require you to initially build stop-gap resources such as computers, cables, and pipes. But to make these, you’d have to make ingots from ores, or metal plating, or other more basic resources. This tiered method to the crafting just stretched it out three times longer than it really needed to be. At times it felt like Cookie Clicker – a lot of waiting for not a lot to happen.

Not only is crafting such a time sink, Empyrion is a “wiki game” through-and-through. How to build a base, or a functional ground vehicle, or even how to fuel and power my escape pod so I could craft things weren’t at all intuitive, and so I quickly found myself looking at guides on what the hell I was supposed to be doing. It takes away from the survival aspect of “Galactic Survival” a little when I need a video tutorial from the developer explaining to me how to build my base.

After about an hour and a half of crafting (and nothing but, for remember the game had given me enough food and oxygen to last for days in-game.) I was ready to roll out. On the horizon, I spotted a gleaming tower. It was the only thing of note I could see, and so figured heading that way was the best idea.

2015-09-05_00010I almost got there, but before I had the chance to look inside, I was attacked by flying drones. The combat in Empyrion is serviceable – it isn’t bad for a survival game, but could feel a bit weightless compared to your standard FPS. I was able to destroy one of them in about 13 shots of my pistol, but decided it would be better to make my escape and come back when I was better armed.

Except then my vehicle was blown up, and I was killed in one shot. An hour and a half of effort and frustrated crafting had amounted to a grand total of about five minutes of exploration, and I haven’t even reached the tower. The prospect of having to go through that nonsense again was just too much for me, and so I stopped playing.

2015-08-12_00005To sum it all up, Empyrion has a lot of promise that right now it just doesn’t deliver on. Surviving on an alien world where I knew very little, with the promise of there being a whole galaxy to venture out into was fantastic.

It feels like it wants to be a more difficult survival game than anything that’s come before it, which is something I could absolutely get behind. After years of punch-trees-kill-pig-eat-flesh silliness, anything that wants to be a bit more complex gains my total support. It just needs to do that in other ways than wasting my time with slow and frustrating crafting and unintuitive, wiki-guided gameplay. Let’s hope the game improves over the course of development, because as with any pre-alpha, all of this is subject to change at any time.

About The Author

Former Managing Editor

Joe Parlock is an opinionated pop culture writer from the British midlands with 3 years of experience and a passion for being a general grump about games. Starting out before he could walk with a Sega Megadrive and a copy of Sonic the Hedgehog 2, his favourite genres of games includes platformers, stealth, fighting, roguelites and the budding survival sim genre. Joe also writes not only about games, but also other areas of pop culture such as film and TV.

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