Fight or Kite: First impressions of Dysterra, a cybernetic post-apoc survival sandbox


In the future, our home Earth is beset by a host of economic and environmental disasters. It got so bad that people with resources and funding actually shuttled their butts off the planet to live on space stations or something. I know, it’s very hard to imagine, but let’s try. One way or another, humankind was also able to discover a super energy source known as Terrasite, but all the important people are up in space, and they don’t want to go back down to that wreck of a world left behind.

You, of course, are a peasant/criminal/schmuck that’s going to gather this precious resource and send it back home. The problem is that you’ve basically got to fend for yourself and survive on your own. Or until you make friends. Or until the planet explodes? It’s tough, but it’s basically how Australia was colonized.

That’s the premise of Dysterra. In all honesty, it’s only a thin film of lore overlaying the survival sandbox gameplay.

I’ve played MMOs a-plenty. I’ve even played a ton of different BRs and arena combat games, but somehow I haven’t spent a lot of time in straight survival sandboxes. I’m not sure exactly why. I think the nature of the games tends to rely a bit on roaming, crafting, and homestead-building, which doesn’t usually catch me whole hog. So, while I rather enjoyed my time in Dysterra, I can’t make many direct comparisons to games like Conan Exiles or even Valheim. Still, I’m big on my guts, and my guts tell me this plays similar to Valheim but from an FPS POV instead of an isometric one.

Despite still being in beta, the core gameplay loop appears to be fully functional. There is a serviceable series of quests to aid new players in learning the ropes. As someone who just hasn’t played many (maybe any) survival games like this, I found it was a nice boon to guide me and get me on the right track.

Speaking of, Dysterra offers several modes of play, which I always appreciate. You can play as a single player, on official PvE or PvP servers, or even custom player servers. It’s a nice option to be able to log in and learn how the game works in a safe single player or PvE mode before playing in any cutthroat PvP ones. Both the single player and custom servers let players adjust multipliers for how much material can be gained through gathering among other options.

When you first load in, the game dumps you in a safe little area where you can get a feel for some of the controls. Nothing ground-breaking, really, but it helped me to get comfortable in the game. You run around, learn how to kill things, gather things, and eventually craft and build things. It’s a fun time.

Each server has a lifespan, after which the planet explodes or whatever. So essentially your goal is to survive by building a base and gathering enough mats to eventually purchase a ticket back off the planet. In the interim you can use the Terrasite to power all kinds of goods, but there are also some drop off points where you can buy gear and tools as well.

Of course, no survival game would be complete without some housing, and Dysterra is no exception to that rule either. Players have some very easy to use building tools here. I really appreciated how well foundations, walls, and other housing tools snap together. Likewise, the fact that you can build basically anywhere you see empty earth is pretty cool. Homes have a natural decay time built into them too, so if someone plops down somewhere and then never returns, after a little while the place will fall apart. Basically, every house needs to have a power core that is regularly refilled with Terrasite. If you don’t keep the power topped off, it’ll start to decay. Of course, if you’re not one to wait for it to decay, I think you can knock it down yourself as well.

I didn’t see any pure cosmetics for the houses, but there were plenty of features. From crafting tables to storage bins to even turrets and passwords to lock your door, Dysterra gives you plenty of ways to work with your house. There were also ways to build holographic walls and floors, which I didn’t play enough to understand them. Perhaps they are for building in traps or false floors for hiding your loot. I’m not sure, but I like it. Players can also assign other players as admins and teammates for adding onto the house and power core, which facilitates players grouping together.

Now, while building your own base of operations is pretty slick, controlling territory is even better. There are areas controlled by NPCs that players can essentially control. For instance, there’s one area with a reactor or something that I believe the controlling group can enable and cause freezing conditions on players. Unfortunately, I didn’t get to play enough yet to fully understand these systems, but it seemed fairly robust. It’s certainly a cool concept to say that you and your gang can own this territory and directly impact players that want to play in those areas.

As for player progression, there are some different avenues, the primary one being simply leveling up. As you do all manner of tasks, you’ll gain some XP and gradually level. Each one earns you a point to spend on a handful of skills to improve. Most of the options feel fairly mundane and boring, like increased gathering speed or faster reload times. However, there is a gliding skill that uses a ton of energy but is pretty sweet. I’d really like to see this system expanded a bit with more interesting choices. More skills that would increase player combat prowess would be a nice addition.

With combat, I saw some potential but some expansion would really round out the system. In addition, to the simple skill boosts from leveling, players can also craft (maybe buy as well) modules to add onto their skill bars. This is the primary way of basically creating a class for yourself. You can have only two equipped at any time, but they really add some advancements that I could see being a lot of fun. The basic one you learn to craft early is a simple heal skill, but I also saw a stealth skill, a stealth-revealing skill, and even a temporary shield. If we also had abilities that enabled healing others or some improvement to melee, we’d really be able to see players form miniature combat teams that complement one another.

So that’s the gist of Dysterra. There’s still a ton of specifics and details I wasn’t able to get into here. The game looks really nice, I didn’t encounter any bugs that I can think of (if you don’t count my floating friend above), and I had fun each time I logged in. If you’re a fan of survival sandboxes and are looking at trying something new, then I’d say keep on eye on this one as Kakao continues developing it through beta!

Every other week, Massively OP’s Sam Kash delivers Fight or Kite, our trip through the state of PvP across the MMORPG industry. Whether he’s sitting in a queue or rolling with the zerg, Sam’s all about the adrenaline rush of a good battle. Because when you boil it down, the whole reason we PvP (other than to pwn noobs) is to have fun fighting a new and unpredictable enemy!
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