In November 2019, David Kalina (the project lead for Subnautica: Below Zero) revealed that, after getting stuck with the narrative, the story was going to change. The alterations were first introduced in the game’s experimental build shortly before the Frostbite update. The new story update is being received with mixed reviews, but is it better than the old one?
Old Beginning vs New Beginning
In the old version of Subnautica: Below Zero, we begin our story at Research Base Zero. With a meteor shower fast approaching, Robin leaves the base to search for her research partner, Jevov. We go to the Architect site where his last known location was recorded, but he is nowhere to be seen. She returns to the base to find Jevov fleeing in the only escape pod, and an avalanche destroys Research Base Zero. We are forced underwater, but Robin keeps in contact with her sister, Sam, onboard the Vesper.
The new build is significantly different. We begin in space, using the meteor shower to disguise our pod as we hurtle towards the planet. We’re struck by one of the meteors and crash land. Early PDA entries reveal that Sam is missing, recorded as dead, and Robin has descended to the planet to find her. There is a notice of Sam’s death, claiming that she died ‘as the result of injuries sustained in an accident arising from her own negligence’. There are also calls between the sisters in which Sam tells Robin about her mission and it’s progress. Tension begins to build between them when Robin’s dislike of Alterra is brought up. In her final call, Sam expresses her worry that something isn’t right.
This new introduction seems to set up more of a linear story in comparison to the old one, where for the most part, we were left to explore and find things on our own with only a vague direction.
What Does This Mean for the Rest of the Story?
At the moment, everything else seems to be in place, and the developers have revealed that the big plot points like Al-An and Marguerit Maida are going to stay. We don’t quite know what their roles will be or how they will impact the story yet, but we’re hoping that more will become clear soon. Personally, I would love to see Marguerit play a significant part in the story. Since Subnautica doesn’t really contain anything in the way of NPCs (apart from perhaps the Sea Emperor Leviathan), the heavy inclusion of both Marguerit Maida and Al-An would give Below Zero the narrative push it needs.
With no contact on the Vesper, at least not at the moment, we don’t know how that is going to impact later elements like Sam sending Robin supplies and blueprints. These may be like the other fragments we find and scan. We also don’t know how the Rocket Island and the radio tower will come into it (although the selfie Sam took does look like it could have been taken there). There is every possibility that the radio tower will still need repairing so that we can contact the anonymous man we speak to in the beginning, or maybe even communicate with Sam if she’s still alive.
Is the New Story Going to Be Better Than the Old One?
The new story will not be to everyone’s liking. At the moment, we have very little narrative to go on as it’s still a work in progress, so until a little bit more of the story is released, I think it would be unfair to say definitively either way. As it stands, there absolutely is potential there. With Sam now missing and only a few calls and a selfie to go on, it feels like the developers have set the stage properly this time with a clear direction of where the story might take us. On that note alone, I think it’s safe to say that so long as the developers keep to this path they’ve created, the new story will be better than the old one.
I quite enjoyed the old story and liked that we were already on the planet. It was interesting to see how Alterra was being impacted as the story progressed, the revelation about Jevov sabotaging the company, and the strain on the relationship between the two sisters as Robin tried to keep Al-An a secret. No matter how interesting it was, I can see how the writers got stuck. We were experiencing a concept, a general idea, not a structured story. While that might work for some games, Subnautica was always more than that because of the story elements that tied each biome and each discovery together. Naturally, the developers would want Subnautica: Below Zero to follow in the same vein.
I was sceptical about this new direction. I, along with many others, had grown quite attached to the old concept, and I will admit that I felt unsure playing through the new version of the game for the first time. But the more I played, the more I began to see an interesting story unfold, and I am looking forward to seeing where the developers will go with it.