My Assessment of the Survival Overhaul
I know that experienced players have been posting these walls of text ad infinitum after the survival playtests started, but I wanted to add my own thoughts to the white noise. Hopefully Keen sees this and incorporates it into all the other points of data which will inform how they proceed with development.
My background: I’ve played SE for about 400 hours, which is paltry compared to some others around here, but it’s easily my most-played game in Steam. I got it in mid-2015, so I’ve been around since before planets. Almost all of that playtime has been spent in solo survival, either in a vanilla world or a community scenario like “Escape from Mars” or a Doctor Octagonopolis world. Survival is why I play the game; when I’m designing in creative, it’s with the intention of projecting my design into a survival world and using it there.
Having finally put in some serious playtime on the new update (I really only got to tinker during the playtests), I’ve been able to test some of the new survival features in an “on-the-ground” setting, which for me is a Star System start on earth-like. Here are my thoughts.
First the good. Making stone a refinable resource has been absolutely huge and has really made the grind of a bare-bones start much more palatable. Seriously, I hadn’t even considered how huge this would be. Nickel is now not a rare commodity and power cells/motors have effectively been moved to tier 1 status in small quantities. Stone is still inefficient for generating large quantities of iron, but you can bring it back from your mining operations and drop it in queue after your pure ore, because why not?
I haven’t played in space yet, but nerfing asteroid resource veins is, on paper at least, a really good change. It will take time for me to decide whether that makes it worthwhile to set up mining operations on planet once you are established in space, but if not, I think ore veins on planets should be slightly easier to mine on a large scale, e.g. thicker or closer to the surface.
There is still a significant bottleneck mid-game on planets when cobalt, silver, and ice become necessities. In particular, if cobalt is nowhere to be found, the player is restricted from building assemblers (which removes the ability to queue up component lists on a per-block basis) and atmo thrusters, which extends the pointless grind until they can find cobalt or metal grids. I’m not sure how to fix this, but if ore veins are procedurally generated, perhaps cobalt should be slightly more common. I was lucky enough to find some within 5km of my base, but I’ve seen others who haven’t been so fortunate.
Perhaps I’m just getting lucky or my planet mining techniques are getting better, but iron does seem slightly easier to come by now, with stone as well as with ores. I think it should be easier still. Iron should be something you can practically pick up off the ground (I guess you can but it’s inefficient). That’s my personal preference but it annoys me to have to drop literally everything so I can drive 4km to the nearest iron vein.
Other than the stone/survival kit changes, this is probably the most significant change of the update. And first of all, let me say that it’s actually really cool to have to think about power for once in survival. In the past, one small container of uranium was basically enough to power your base forever, but I’ve been forced to get more creative with my power management. Initially I didn’t like the fact that uranium had been removed from planets, but I’m gradually coming to see the wisdom behind that change, and honestly I think it’s a fun way to add progression to survival.
The wind turbines are great. They have a nice cost/power generation ratio, look amazing, and create nice alternatives to reactor power in atmospheres. No complaints here.
The changes to solar panel costs are long overdue and much appreciated. Unfortunately, it is virtually impossible to use them effectively unless you install a script to make them sunlight-facing. I do use such a script, of course, but if something is in the “top 5 tips to give to noobs” like a solar script is for me, I feel it should be at least addressed by the devs.
Batteries: the nerf to their starting energy is really painful (but probably needed to happen), and it takes forever to charge them. Furthermore, there is still an issue with the auto recharge setting where they will just continuously steal from each other, losing 20% in the process and eventually wasting all of your stored power. There needs to be a setting where you can tell the batteries not to recharge from other batteries. Small batteries are really cool-looking and compact, but I feel that they are nearly useless for any purpose. I’m not sure exactly how to balance this, but I feel that at the very least they could start with more energy.
Hydro engine: I’m sorry, but this block is almost completely useless, for reasons that are becoming increasingly well-documented by the community. First, and this is often overlooked in the critiques imo, it’s just not fun to play with. The fact that you have to build the engine, a hydro tank, and a h2/o2 generator, AND jump-start the grid with electricity makes it an absolute headache to even get up and running. Even as a backup power source for a base, it takes an unfeasible amount of ice to store enough fuel to make the effort worthwhile. I’ll be experimenting more with this in the future, but for now my hydro engine is turned off while I just use wind power for a fraction of the effort. I hate to think of relying on it in zero atmo conditions, but if this block stays as-is, that means I will consider reactor tech a must-have for these situations. I’m not sure how to balance this, but even if it’s unrealistic, I feel that making it more efficient would go a long way towards making it worth feeding it your precious ice.
The New Blocks
I’ve touched on most of the new survival blocks already, but here’s a few quick hits on the rest.
Survival Kit: This is a cool idea for scenarios especially, and I absolutely LOVE the visual design on it for large grids. My biggest issue with it isn’t with the block itself; it’s that it makes Med Bays an extraneous, expensive luxury block that gives you virtually no reward for teching up and progressing. I think this could be solved creatively in a number of ways that don’t involve nerfing the Survival Kit, but Med Bays really need to exist for a reason other than faster recharge and skin swapping.
Ladders: These are going to be a godsend for my creative builds especially, so a loud thank you to Keen for stabilising the physics enough to make this happen is in order. The visual design is also on point imo. I just want to echo the community’s critique that it would be nice to have a version that includes a passageway/enclosure (and I 100% understand KSWH’s aversion to compound blocks), and I really think we need to have the ability to place blocks from a ladder. If you need jetpack fuel to build your ladder in survival, they become considerably less useful. I also think they’re a tad expensive, but that’s just my opinion.
Scenarios: Learning to Survive is nice and does what I think it needs to do, combined with the campaign. It’s a little confusing and unclear at times, but some minor tweaks and QA should iron that out. Never Surrender is…. Underwhelming. I understand what Keen is trying to do, but the result gives the impression that it’s sort of lazy and half-hearted. While I like the fact that there’s a challenge scenario in the game now, I can’t see myself getting set up in survival just so I can plink drones (that were already in the game) for a bare-bones base. One of the best times I ever had in SE was when I had turned on 3-4 community NPC mods and spawned in with my friend in a big IMDC Destroyer. We pretty much immediately took a big hit from a suicide drone and for the next 3-4 hours we were scrambling to repair, fight off the new encounters, and get a decoy system/snub fighters up. The feeling of defending a crippled ship against steadily rising odds was so fun, and it’s a feeling that Never Surrender pales in comparison to. I’m not sure I’d change anything about that scenario, but this is just my two cents for Keen if they decide to add more content like this in the future.
Temperature: First of all, I personally am extremely grateful that Keen is not implementing a food/hunger/thirst system. That has been done a million times before, and it always ends up being tedious and distracting. Adding another layer to the suit energy mechanic was the right move. That said, it’s pretty superfluous right now, even in space, and could probably use some tweaking. I think radiation/grid temperature would be a cool way to expand off of this, but that may be best left to the community.
Progression: This is the one new feature that I can say, without qualifiers, is terribly implemented. Having to build blocks you don’t necessarily need in order to access blocks you want is silly, artificial, and needlessly grindy. Some grind is good. Some is just tedious and boring. This is definitely the latter. I think I could probably deal with this if there was something at the upper end of the progression tree other than reactors, ion thrusters, and jump drives. I know Keen doesn’t seem to be in the mood to add any more new blocks, but if a sandbox game is truly what their end goal is, adding some more opportunities to be creative would be huge. The modding community has loads of inspiration: weapons, teleporters, huge engines. All of these would greatly enhance the sandbox feeling of the game, as well as add an endgame tier to survival. I really feel that Keen should consider this.
Conclusion: This update moves SE survival in the right direction for something that feels like a full game (yes, even most sandbox games have some kind of direction). I think most of the new features are great, even if they could use some adjustment and rebalancing. I do wish that the update had been a little more substantial, and that KSWH had put more effort into the scenarios, encounters, and breathing some more interactivity into planets. I don’t think any of those things are particularly difficult tasks, since the community has accomplished a lot of them with mods. Nevertheless, I continue to have faith that Keen will listen to the community and try to turn SE into the best version of itself. Thanks Keen for your hard work and passion over the years!