Voxel-based survival crafting games are still immensely popular, even eight years on from the release of Minecraft; the spiritual leader of the genre. Four years later came a pretty cool space-themed sandbox game known as Space Engineers. If these two titles had epic romance, you’d end up with ‘Empyrion – Galactic Survival’.
Let’s not get hung up on where the inspiration for Empyrion came from, because it’s an awesome game with a heap of unique ideas. Empyrion starts with an escape pod crash landing on an alien planet. When you exit said pod, your only real goal is to survive. Once you’ve mastered the basics, you’ll want to set your sites on distant planets – all of which have different atmospheres and gravity levels; not to mention (potentially) hostile NPCs.
Survival in Empyrion constitutes finding food, maintaining oxygen levels in your suit, and not getting eaten by space aliens – the latter of which becomes more of a threat as each day goes by. Whether you choose to build a hut, or a high-tech armoured fortress, you’ll be getting attacked by drones daily. This means that the player needs to get familiar with base defence systems such as turrets and hand-held weaponry – including .50 call pistols and laser rifles.
One of the great features of Empyrion, is its base building. Unlike Space Engineers, you needn’t build a host of tubes and wires to make a base functional – if a turret, storage crate, constructor, etc. is connected to the base, it’ll work. It takes out the painful logistical nightmare of base building, and makes it rewarding to design and build structures in the game.
Living out your days on this new alien land isn’t the only objective in Empyrion. The questing system is simple, allowing the player to set objectives which receive reward upon completion. This can help players to get a grip on the game, but the fleshed-out tutorial already has the basics covered.
It’s also worth mentioning the faction system. In Empyrion, you can create and join factions in-game; which works particularly well for multiplayer. Once you create a base or a space vessel, you can set it to be accessible by your faction only – that is if you don’t want to make it private. This is cool because it means that only you or your faction can use and edit the entity. It also means that rival gangs can’t get into your base or capital starship.
Empyrion boasts 3 types of space craft, which you can make entirely from scratch using a building block system. The hover vessel is a land-crawling beast that can be a damage-dealing tank or a utility vehicle. The small vessel can be used as a fast-moving recon vehicle, or a star-fighter. Capital vessels are hulking great movable bases – carrying all the essentials and a whole host of brutal firepower. How you choose to build a ship is entirely up to you, but the planets you intend to visit; and the purpose of said trip, will influence how you kit each craft out.
Graphically speaking, Empyrion is a bit of an odd one. At times, the rays of sun coming up over the peaks of Akua look stunning; yet up-close some of the textures appear to be a little dull. The texture tool allows the player to turn concrete into marble, tiles or even metal grills – but even these textures look lacklustre. The game could do with a little more cohesion when it comes to graphical style, but this doesn’t detract from the overall and all-important fun factor.
Further to this graphical gripe, some of the games wildlife comes across as unimaginative. If you choose to start the game on Akua, you’ll be greeted by two types of dinosaur. Whilst there are other forms of wildlife, the devs choosing to use dinosaurs feels a tad cheesy. I mean, they created an alien world – they could have come up with anything when it comes to planetary fauna, yet here we have dinosaurs. This said, there are enough other species to detract from the dinosaurs – although don’t get me started on the ‘slimes’…
My main bone of contention with this game is the terraforming. To put it simply, it sucks. When you first land and begin to mine, you’ll have the tier 1 drill. This is the most basic drill in the game, with the tier 2 drill allowing you to ‘terraform’. We’ll use the term loosely, because it’s quite hard to get a grip on how it all works. You can flatten, fill and remove terrain. To be quite honest at times I couldn’t work out which one was which, as they all tend to leave the ground looking like a pitted mess. Mining is also a nightmare, as you will aim at one block, only to find the ground beneath your feet falls away.
Enough of the negatives though, because this game has buckets of the fun-factor, which I reckon is the most important thing of all – a game’s gotta have something to keep us coming back right? I’ve played over 24 hours of Empyrion and feel like I’m only scratching the surface of the content on offer. It’s a nicely fleshed-out game with tonnes to see and do.
I’m running Empyrion on a mid-range system running an i5 with a GTX 760 – it’s a few years old but runs new games surprisingly well. The game only occasionally stutters when entering and exiting the atmosphere of a planet, but otherwise Empyrion is smooth as a baby’s behind.
Overall, Empyrion does more than itch those space survival urges. It’s pretty difficult to begin with – even if you land on Akua; the ‘safest’ planet. The game offers a real challenge where you constantly must plan around potential hostile NPCs and environmental conditions. Yeah sometimes the graphics can look a little stock, but the open-endedness of Empyrion more than makes up for this. Jump into this rewarding space survival sandbox and forge your own adventure in the stars!
REVIEW CODE: A complimentary PC code was provided to Bonus Stage for this review. Please send all review code enquiries to firstname.lastname@example.org.
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