Survival sandboxes have certainly come a long way in the last couple of years. Not only has the number of new genres exploded (as evidenced by our three different guides!), but the number of titles within each genre has grown as well. Players really have quite a selection of games to choose from. And all those games are competing for your attention and time. So how do you decide which game is right for you? If only someone would make a handy dandy comparison guide…
Well now, it looks like you are in luck! If you are interested in the sci-fi genre, and you love the idea of rebuilding your life after crash landing on some exotic, unknown alien planet, this guide is for you. Today I’ll be comparing and contrasting aspects of six games I have played that meet this exact criteria: Osiris: New Dawn, ROKH, Outpost Zero, Fragmented, Planet Nomads, and Subnautica. (Note: Planet Nomads and Subnautica are single-player only.) This won’t delve into every detail of each game, but it will offer my reflections as I cover some major points, hit the pros and cons, and even offer an at-a-glance chart to help answer a number of frequently asked questions.
Some of the basic considerations for which game(s) might suit you better can be laid out in a chart, so here you go. However, there’s certainly more to be said both for and against each game; that will be covered individually below.
|Osiris: New Dawn||ROKH||Fragmented||Outpost Zero||Planet Nomads
|Status||early access||early access||launched||early access||early access||launched|
|Launch date||Spring 2019||suspended||Aug 2017||early 2019||2018-19||Jan 2018|
|Server types||PvP||PvP, PvE||PvP, PvE||N/A||N/A|
|Building||modular & freeform||freeform||freeform||freeform||freeform||modular|
by Fenix Fire Entertainment
Osiris: New Dawn has a lot going for it. It has just recently hired more staff and has established a development roadmap going out to spring of 2019 when it plans to launch. (Stay tuned to a future Survivalist for an in-depth look on all that!). The studio plans three separate modes: campaign, survival, and sandbox. Sandbox mode is what players experience now. On top of food and water you have to maintain your environmental suit, its pressure, and your temperature. Duct tape is a thing! OK, it is really a patching material, but it looks and feels like duct taping your suit up. And how much more survival-ly can you feel with that?
Another plus is that it also has crab mounts you can build. Yes, giant crab cars! All of the vehicles are pretty fun to race around the world in. The skill map is laid out in a triangular map branching out from the center and fairly straightforward. Progress does not feel too punishing to get going, but you can definitely feel the pressure of staying alive. If you want a harder or easier experience, you can make a server with altered settings.
If you are looking for a very colorful alien landscape, however, this may not be the game for you. It is based on earthen tones. With how quickly you need to set up shelter for survival, I am disappointed that the original small inflated dome was removed.
by Nvizzio Creations
ROKH seemed set on bringing the science back into science fiction. It was based on our very own solar system’s Mars and intended to offer more scientific realism. I had some hopes for the game that would let folks live out some childhood dreams of living on the Red Planet. You can still do that, but that seems to be a small pro in the face of many cons.
A big con for this title is that development has been stalled indefinitely. Those who have tried to play before noted that development was practically non-existent for a long, long time. The early access statement – “we want to put the game into the players’ hands as soon as possible and build the future of it with them” – didn’t really pan out. The gameplay has certainly struggled as well; crafting, even with the revamp, had quite a large learning curve, and the building system was too punishing using tiny pieces that needed large amounts of resources to construct anything. You gather mats either for survival or to build. I could never stay engaged long enough to be able to get all the materials to create even something basic.
If you want to brave all this, there are only two unlocked official servers you can join and they are both EU, so any time I try to join now, the connection times out. You can, however, select local play instead and create your own server to invite Steam friends to play with you.
by Symmetric Games
While technically in early access right now, Outpost Zero states it is “a fully featured version of the game.” The difference is that the company wants to add additional mechanics and pieces of content — they just aren’t necessary for the experience right now.
The highlight of starting this game is the very immersive tutorial with the Automated Self-training System. It is quite literally an A.S.S. in every sense. (I admit, I am disappointed that the nameplate under it was changed from A.S.S. into its full moniker, and I am not even one who will say the word!) You learn as you go, with a huge helping of sarcasm and snark heaped on you. It makes the tutorial section fun and an integrated part of the game instead of something to push through to get to gameplay.
Speaking of gameplay, the beginning is not so punishing that you give up and leave. You can build a basic shelter quick enough. Outpost Zero entices you to keep going. (Hint: If you do not complete the tutorial right away and focus on building your base up, you won’t get attacked by the pirates who show up only after a certain step is reached.) Also on the plus side, you are a robot — a robot who gets to build and command other robots, drones, and droids.
Whether it is a pro or con may depend on your personal view, but I found the hazards of the weather system to be a plus. More than just worry that things were more dangerous in the darkness, you had to beware of acid rain, lightning storms, and more. Just watch your energy level: I found out the hard way that draining it is a quick death.
On the con side, it is difficult to find friends on an official server, notably the US ones. There are no numbers to indicate which you or they are on, so hopefully the “friends” tab works — but likely only for official Steam friends. Just finding the one I started on took a bit until I used the “history” tab. Also, if you are looking for large robust communities playing, I have yet to see that on any off the online servers.
by Above and Beyond Technologies
While The Repopulation spinoff Fragmented did indeed launch, it fell into maintenance mode at the beginning of this year. So if you are looking for a game that continues to build and grow, this is likely not it. For it’s price, however, Fragmented is hard to beat as a survival game you can play together with friends. It even came on sale for $1.79 earlier this year, and might again. It boasts LAN and Internet versions of play. It also offers online, locally hosted, and offline in each. It is a colorful world filled with some exotic flora and fauna.
Planet Nomads was in development for a couple of years before opening up to a broader audience with early access. It has both survival and creative mode. Building is physics ruled and vehicles and such use real wheel mechanics. Want a hover craft? You can build one. You can even build a mobile base if you’d like.
For me, a big con was that you cannot even play this game multiplayer, which would make it even more fun. I’d love to build things together with my friends and explore — perhaps even conquer — the world.
by Unknown Worlds Entertainment
There’s quite a bit I can put in the pro column for Subnautica. It definitely has a storyline that you can follow… or you can ignore it and just live and explore on your own. It is quite unique as your play consists of underwater adventures and survival. And the game is quite beautiful. You can choose to play in survival mode or turn that aspect completely off for creative. There’s also a hardcore mode (one life only, no oxygen alerts) and a freedom mode that just removes hunger and thirst
As it’s a single-player game, the biggest con for me is that I am forced to play it alone. I’d love for Subnautica to have a small co-op multiplayer you could do locally; the adventure would just be that much more awesome for me if I could share it.