Disclaimer 1: Review key provided by the developer.
Disclaimer 2: This is a review of the game as it exists in its current Early Access form. Given the developer’s vast updates so far, it is expected that further changes and improvements will be made.
Planet Nomads is an engrossing sandbox survival game from Czech developer Craneballs. Set in a colourful but dangerous sci-fi frontier wilderness, it’s a combination of No Man’s Sky and Minecraft that thrives on exploration, resource gathering and crafting; making for a compelling – if somewhat unpolished – sandbox experience.
Having crash-landed on a completely alien (and procedurally generated) planet, you’ll need your wits about you to live the life of a planetary nomad. Beginning with nothing but the escape pod you landed in, you’re immediately thrust into the world and left to your own devices. Said world is beautifully natural, unsullied by man (until I came traipsing along at least). A wooded grove lay straight ahead, whilst behind me a gentle incline led to a sprawling lake, framed by a pure blue sky. Unfortunately shrubs and trees don’t look quite as impressive; but by no means do they detract from the aesthetic beauty of the planet.
The world progresses in real-time, through impressive day/night and weather cycles that change further with the climate throughout the hemispheres of the planet – which can eventually be fully circumnavigated with the aid of your awesome jet pack and constructed vehicles. From frozen tundra to blistering desert heat, each biome presents unique challenges and distinct environmental personality complete with unique creatures, plants and resources.
This environment entices both first- and third-person exploration; however it will take some work before you’re able to travel far afield. Most time will instead be spent gathering resources in order to build and fortify a base. Survival is at the core of everything you do in Planet Nomads. Like a real person, you’ll need to eat, drink and sleep to maintain your overall health, monitoring your stamina, nutrition and hydration – which can very easily deplete and leave you desperately stumbling with fatigue through the threatening night to make it back to base. On top of this are environmental resistance and temperature shielding, which determine resilience in the more extreme biomes you’ll encounter.
Such resistances can be upgraded along with your suit; however I found that often even with upgraded equipment, the harsher climates were extremely hostile to my survival. This made some areas a chore to traverse, and made the upgrades feel a little less worth my precious resources.
Thankfully, resource harvesting and base construction are both beneficial and enjoyable. Nearly any and everything you see from the moment you stumble out of your escape pod can be mined and broken down into resources with your multi-tool laser cutter. From small shrubs and rocks to towering trees and the very ground beneath your feet, mining for precious ores and gathering biomass or food keeps a steady stream of resources flowing. Discovering colourful new crystals or exotic otherworldly plants to harvest for new resources maintains a sense of reward moving forward as well.
Base building is extremely customisable, aided by a physics system that rewards intelligent and playful creativity. Constructing frames and then building them up adds to the sense of progress, allowing you to add modules and see satisfying growth. From a single generator to a sprawling multi-level walled compound complete with stasis chamber, lighting, food growing and water purification, crafting tables, medical kit and an armoury, it feels both comprehensive and well-suited to a frontier outpost’s needs. Planning and prioritising what you most need to build next is half the fun!
However with this depth comes a steep learning curve. Whilst a handy tutorial has recently been added to make the beginner’s experience much more user-friendly, it can still take a while to learn how everything works; expect a fair bit of trial and error simply trying to place the units where you actually want them to go for example.
Death is a constant threat. My first encounter with alien life – a hulking rhinoceros-like beast clad with stone spines and scales – ended in my body being flung like a rag doll to a painful death. It was a heeded warning: awareness of surroundings is vital to survival. However as you progress and begin to build vehicles (which are also extremely customisable and can range from tiny buggies to hulking mobile bases), you’ll be able to trundle off across the planet and see all it has to offer whilst avoiding death-by-alien if you so wish.
Alongside Survival Mode, there is also a Creative Mode which gives you the freedom to get building without the limitations of fighting tooth and nail for survival. This can be extremely engaging; however it still feels somewhat limited at this point.
Whilst it has improved dramatically, the game still has issues that need ironing out going forward into the Early Access phase. I encountered some lag at times, and annoyances such as vehicles getting easily stuck in certain areas could cause unnecessary frustration. Whilst I haven’t experienced any game-breaking bugs and can only comment on my own experience with the game, others have reported issues; something that buyers should take into consideration.
Planet Nomads’ skeleton is sturdy and ready to be fleshed out. Hopefully future additions will continue to build upon this foundation, populating the world further and fulfilling the grand vision that the game looks towards – including the possibility of space travel. With reassuring commitment from the developers to enhance the experience, I look forward to seeing what’s next for Planet Nomads.
Planet Nomads is available via Steam Early Access on 25th May 2017.