How many of you have ever had the pleasure of driving your own vehicle? Ever forget to check your blind spot? In any case, most of the time I’m sure nothing bad will happen if you do forget to check it. Times change though! In this instance the Captain and Navigator really should have taken the time to check their blind spot. What should have been a routine landing to a brand new unexplored planet became a bit of a permanent layover due to the ship being struck on the descent. With the lifeboats scattered over the surface of the planet and injuries abounding, it is your job as… I guess the only one without injuries who has any real gumption to reunite the crew and make your colony thrive.
Developer: Pathea Games
Publisher: Pathea Games
Genre: Open World Sandbox Adventure RPG
Release date: 8th of Novemeber, 2016
Type: Single-player, Online Co-op and Multi-player
In Planet Explorers, you do just that, Explore the planet. It’s always nice when a can is labeled properly that way you know exactly what you are getting when you open it up. To aid you in wandering around your new home you can harvest materials that you are then able to craft into various things that you will likely find useful. Armed with my safety axe (I think that means incredibly dull) it’s time to cut down a tree and make myself a wooden axe…because wood is stronger than my future tech safety axe! Plus it paves the way to “Why are you hitting yourself?” jokes as I use the wooden axe to cut down more trees. After doing a few fetch quests for an injured crewmember it is time to set off and look for other survivors. Luckily the minimap has a marker that tells you where you have to go which is always handy. Once there I am given a whole new set of fetch quests and even a few killing and crafting quests. After making some terrible tasting sausage and turning in the rest of my quests, the good Doctor of the area gives me the keys to his sweet ride. A moped with a medical insignia on it! It is slow, bumpy and has trouble on hills, but now I am really riding in style! I can even shoot the gun I made as I drive around pretending to be a gangster or street tough. This is my turf rabbit! After going on a bit of a murderous rampage I now had plenty of meat. As you probably realize, in a colony cut off from civilization, money has no value, but food sure does! Meat is the main currency in the game. Luckily, and not surprisingly, the creatures inhabiting the land are absolutely made of the stuff making it rather easy to become a rich meat baron/baroness.
Let’s take a step back for a moment and talk about the preliminary information for the game. When you first launch the game you are given a few choices. The game has four real modes. The Single Player Story mode, the Build/Creative mode, Adventure mode and Multiplayer/Co-operative Multiplayer. Story mode takes you through a series of mostly fully voiced quests as you explore the planet. It helps you develop the tools you need by rewarding you with scripts (blueprints) and other items as you progress. Adventure Mode seems to be Story mode without the story but still has random missions. Build mode lets you do anything you want, any time you want, without the pesky need to gather the materials or defend yourself. Also when not in Story Mode, you can use seeds to procedurally generate various worlds in order to have a bit of a new experience each time you play.
The character builder in this game is rather powerful. You can choose the gender of your character and then fine tune nearly every facial and body element you want. There are plenty of premade heads, etc. for you to choose from, but you can also move the sliders around to change things to be exactly how you want. If you are feeling lazy, there is also a randomize button which can really produce some wacky and colourful characters.
Once in the actual game, there is plenty to do. You could passively explore everywhere on foot, sleeping and eating when needed and try to follow the live and let live philosophy. If you eventually grow tired of walking everywhere, you could also make yourself a vehicle. There are three types to choose from. A land vehicle that will tear across the landscape, a boat that lets you cross the vast waterways, or more efficient, an aircraft that lets you cross land and air with impunity. No matter how much you try to do no harm, odds are you will quickly encounter beings who don’t share your philosophy. The crafting system also lets you make yourself nifty weapons and armor. As you explore and upgrade your tools you will discover even better materials to make the items you need out of. Refreshingly, each outfit or tool you make changes your appearance when used.
If you happen to find a place that looks nice, and you could really see yourself settling down and putting in roots in the area, you are more than welcome to do just that. You can design yourself a base or even a colony. Put in crops in order to produce food, manufacture new things, repair old things, give yourself a place you can be safe at night or any time due to the swarms of sentries and gun emplacements you have decked your home out with.
Let’s talk about harvesting materials. If you are just killing things for materials, glowing orbs will shoot out of the corpses. These orbs contain the rewards for slaying the innocent herbivores and other creatures of the world. You could get those reward orbs without killing anything if you really wanted to though because predators will prey on other animals, killing them and leaving a shower of glowing orbs littering the landscape. If you give yourself an axe, you can chop the various styles of trees around until they uproot themselves and fall over, giving you wood and whatever other elements that made up the tree. Example, rubber from a rubber tree and plant fibers. If you give yourself a shovel, you can dig yourself a hole. You can collect dirt and various elements as you do. You can’t go down all that far unfortunately; eventually the land under you will get a red blocker box halting your trip the planet’s core before you even get started. A Pickaxe will let you mine the rocks in order to get ore and other elements. Your Scanner tool can help you find where the various minerals it is currently calibrated to detect are. Scanner upgrades will allow you to expand your Scanner’s ability to detect minerals.
I had some issues with the Scanner tool, and I am not certain if that is because I wasn’t using it properly or if it is just the way the tool is. It would detect minerals without issue, and then when I tried to move to the area where the minerals were supposed to be located, the minerals would seem to move. Even if you are standing in the heart of where it says the minerals are, if you rotate your scanner’s map, you would move out of the mineral area completely. Moving to the new area where they were showing, would have them move yet again. Even if you found an area that stayed consistent, digging often would not yield the results you were looking for. I recall one of the quests I was on wanted a specific element. The only place in the area that appeared to have it was the river nearby. I went there, found a spot that stayed consistent and dug a hole under the water. I quickly hit the impassible red boxes. The scanner was showing me the minerals were much deeper than where I was. I’m guessing this is just me misunderstanding the tool. I’m sure if I play even more it will become invaluable, at least right now it lets me know if I am in the right general area at least.
Speaking of issues, this game does have a few of them besides my inability to use the scanner properly. The tutorial is actually rather off putting. You are being taught how to do things by an android, which is fine, but the interaction is a bit glitchy. He randomly repeats dialogue he already said, even if it has little to do with what is currently displayed in the text box. The tutorial for how to build things went a little over my head too at that point. You are supposed to build a floor and a wall, and have the ability to hold and drag to make it go faster, but for some reason, even pushing the rotate axis and other buttons, it never seemed to want to expand the direction I wanted it to. Mostly it wanted to do wide areas on the ground or tall narrow things in the air. I honestly still can’t build properly, but I can do block for block drops which works out fine. Ignoring those elements though, the game has a really good tutorial to help get you started in the game. Overall, there are a few graphical glitches here and there where a creature might float a bit, you might not be able to tell if your attacks are connecting or where an NPC will randomly flicker and phase as it moves but these are kind of common issues with these sorts of games. One thing about NPCs that irks me though is the escort quests. They seemed to randomly wander about as you try to move them towards the destination. If you get too far ahead they just stop and wait for you to come back. The audio levels for the various voices are a bit problematic at times as well. Sometimes people talk too quietly other times they seem too loud (especially if you just turned up your speakers to compensate for a quiet one.) Some of them also sound like the recording microphone they used was a tin can tied to a string. Depending on your point of view, one could argue this adds realism to the game. I know a person who shouts everything he says even if he is in a good mood, and another who talks so softly you can barely understand them so the characters being like that in the game could be a form of realism. As for tin-can-man, we can just assume his suit’s microphone or translator was damaged in the crash!
One thing this game does right though, and is something often overlooked in these sorts of games is that it gives you the ability to figure out what the heck the quest is looking for. The NPC generally says something like “Go find [random named animal/plant]”… and usually in these games you are like… “Okay time to go kill/harvest every animal/plant until the quest completes because I have no clue what you are asking me for!” If you need assistance figuring out what something is, you can click the little eye icon that will show you more details about the quest including a tiny picture of what it is you are looking for. It still won’t tell you where to find it, but at least you will know it when you see it.
Now that we have the basic idea behind the game play, let’s talk about the more in depth elements of the game. This is one of those games that you are only really limited by your creativity. The game has a bunch of prefabricated designs for you to use if you wanted, but you also have the ability to create your own items as well using the building tool. You tell it what it is you are trying to make and it will give you a list of all elements that you may need to construct it. Once you design it, you then need to harvest the raw materials in order to make all the components needed to fabricate your creation. It’s a lot of work, but that is one of the main draws to these sorts of games. Once you have created your masterpiece, you can save the script/blueprint for it in order to be able to remake it whenever you wanted. Alternately, you can share your creations on Steam Workshop if you are so inclined. I will note that I do really like the crafting system in this game. You don’t just see a list of materials you need to make something, you see the prefabricated components that go into making it. You can then click on one of those components and see what you need in order to craft that. Perhaps it contains raw elements and another prefabricated component. You eventually chain down until you are utilizing just your raw components. The flipside of the system is quite nice as well. If you have some random components in your inventory you can look them up to see what they can be made into assuming you have the script/blueprint for it. I think other games could really learn something from the crafting system in this game. Of all the games I played that had a crafting system, I think this one has the one that is the most understandable and useful so far.
The combat in this game works well enough. On occasion it is hard to tell if you are really connecting your attacks properly or if it is just looking like you are. I was beating on a bear with my steel sword and it seemed to be impervious to it. Taking a few steps to the side and rotating the camera made it so my hits started connecting properly and it quickly was dispatched. I’m not certain if it is just something funky about the camera in the game that makes the scanner and hit detection a bit off or if it is simply part of my learning curve that is making me make mistakes. Each improvement to a weapon or tool seems to actually have a noticeable difference too. You can get more minerals or wood per node the better your equipment is. It also takes you less swings too which speeds up your harvesting.
The vehicles for the most part also work quite well. They can get hung up on the terrain, and aircraft seem to phase through most trees, but all in all they work well. The camera and controls for both vehicles and the character can take a little getting used to, but once you have it sorted, you shouldn’t have any difficulty with it. There is even a nifty glider you can craft and then wear. It allows you to jump out of an aircraft or from a high elevation and glide your way down to the ground. There is also a parachute but it is rather boring in comparison to a personal, awesome looking, glider!
Graphically, the game looks good for the OpenCL calculated voxel system it uses to generate the terrain. That system also makes it so that you can deform the terrain any way you want for the most part. If you start digging, the dirt will fly up and you will slowly make yourself a hole in the ground. Same thing if you are mining rocks, you will slowly tunnel your way into the face of the mountain. The rocks around the tunnel will reshape themselves to look like part of them was removed by your pickaxe as you smashed your way though. There are no sloppy random fragments of rocks floating in the sky, nor any obvious signs that that cave wasn’t just always there. The character models have enough detail that they look good, although all your painstaking customization of your character likely will get quickly covered up by their various defensive suits. The suits come in a wide variety of styles, each suit having different stats than the last. There are also suit bonuses if you equip a complete suit (ex. head, body, legs, boots). Another nice graphical feature is the fact that as your crafting progresses, the suits/weapons you make look more detailed. It’s like your character is getting better at crafting and are applying their new skill to enhance their gear.
The game’s interface is a bit overwhelming and mildly clunky. For example, that scanner I mentioned. To get to that scanner using the mouse, you have to click the menu on the lower right, look through the long list, find Phone, and launch the scanner app. Then in the app you select what you are looking for and then press scan. That is okay, I can live with that. There is a hotkey for it somewhere that will take me there quicker, but I found myself mostly using the menu. The issue I take with the interface is the fact that if you are using the scanner app, you are pretty much forced to leave the scanner app open in order to navigate yourself to the minerals you are hunting. I say pretty much forced, but basically you have two choices, either leaving the app open which makes it very awkward while trying to navigate your way around due to the giant screen taking up most of your monitor or you can repeatedly open and close the app until you find where you are trying to go. It would be nice if you scanned the area once, it would at least then display where the resources are on your minimap or better yet, flag the land in the area. Maybe give little toggle options next to the minimap so you can filter out resources you are no longer interested in flagging.
So ultimately, should you get this game? If you like voxel based, world exploring, crafting games, then you will likely enjoy Planet Explorers. The interface is a little clunky at times, but it doesn’t detract from the gameplay enough to really matter. The crafting system is plenty powerful and you should be able to create almost anything you can think of, be it your own weapons or some kind of super heavy armed flying fortress. The fact the game shows you what each crafted item is a component of really makes the crafting system more powerful and interesting. Additionally, since the game shows you images as well as the names of all the items you need to find makes the questing system far more enjoyable. Most of these games just tell you to kill/collect some randomly named beast/plant. The developer at the time may have thought the names sounded cool but the player had no clue what it was talking about which just lead to a lot of frustration. Another nice feature is that Planet Explorers has an actual story element that helps you work your way through to a logical conclusion. Most of these types of games lack a story element or the story is completely forgotten about 5 minutes after starting since the story was only a tool to drive the tutorial. It is quite refreshing that you are capable of following the main quest line and coming to an actual real ending for the game, rather than the quest line eventually drying up and being forgotten. There are also plenty of side quests around to keep you busy meaning that even if you only play it once, this game should take you quite some time to beat. The game for the most part, lets you play how you want as well. You could try to play a pacifist who doesn’t harm any other living creature, perhaps just planting farms to help the colony survive and even negotiating with each of the intelligent aliens that they may encounter. Alternatively, you can be a brutal hunter, slaying all the creatures regardless of how intelligent they seem because the world’s economy runs on meat and you want to rule the world. Overall, Planet Explorers is a worthwhile game to play. Planet Explorers has enough unique elements to that separates it from all the other voxel based, world exploring, and crafting games out there and keeps it interesting from beginning to end.