The Planet Crafter Preview: A Deeply Rewarding Experience

A wonderfully responsive and rewarding survival experience, The Planet Crafter might still be in early access, but there’s already a lot to love about this game. If you’ve been waiting for a new, slow-paced crafting adventure, then definitely give this one a look.

The Planet Crafter Preview: A Deeply Rewarding ExperienceThe Planet Crafter is a survival crafting game developed by Miju games. It was released into early access in March. The game’s premise is that the player has been sent to a desolate planet with the task of making it habitable for human life. To do so, they’ll need to collect resources to build terraforming machines and keep themselves alive.

The game shares a lot of mechanics with other popular survival titles that feature crafting, particularly Subnautica. If it’s a genre you’re interested in, then The Planet Crafter is a lovely little title to explore. With an interesting world and an extensive upgrade system to unlock, there’s a lot to find and enjoy. However, it is worth remembering that the game is still in early access and if you go in expecting a fully-developed title, you’ll likely be disappointed.

The Planet Crafter is available now on Steam for $19.99.

Planet Crafter - Official Steam Trailer | 2021

Story – Still In The Making

As it stands right now, Planet Crafter doesn’t have much of a story. You begin the game on a barren planet with instructions to start terraforming it, and that’s about it. In time, you’ll receive a few messages that reveal a bit about your character, but it’s only surface-level information. None of it has any actual impact on gameplay. Beyond your overall mission and a few early hints, none of the story elements offer any particular guidance. That being said, this isn’t a directionless experience; you have a clear-set goal from the very beginning and it’s always reasonably obvious what to do next.

There is certainly room here for a proper narrative to be added later; throughout the world, you’ll find a number of message logs on crashed spaceships that hint at something strange going on with this particular planet. These are all very limited, but together they add a lot of intrigue. With a bit of development time, this could very naturally build into a more cohesive plotline.

When you first start, the planet will be entirely barren

When you first start, the planet will be entirely barren

For the moment, however, this isn’t a title to visit if you’re looking for a narrative-lead adventure. Instead, the developers are clearly hoping that the gameplay will carry it and, fortunately, it really does.

Gameplay – Survive and Conquer 

The core gameplay loop of The Planet Crafter consists of two main systems: managing your three status bars and collecting resources to build upgrades.

The former involves monitoring your health, your hydration, and your oxygen levels. Of these, your oxygen decreases by far the quickest, but is easily refilled by returning to either your landing pod or a structure you’ve built. Hydration is increased by drinking water, which can be produced from ice found throughout the world. Your health bar doubles as a hunger metre; falling or being struck by meteors will decrease your health suddenly, but the metre will also gradually tick down over time until you eat something. Eating anything you’ve scavenged or grown will instantly bring your health up by a set number of points.

It is these three limitations that define your ability to complete the second gameplay loop: collecting resources. As with other, similar survival games, you’re able to build a range of machines and structures. The majority are terraforming tools, but some are wearable items to improve your stats. Over time, you’ll be able to unlock more and more advanced technology that will enable you to explore further and terraform faster.

You’ll be able to build wearable upgrades to expand your inventory and boost your stats

You’ll be able to build wearable upgrades to expand your inventory and boost your stats

The upgrade system is surprisingly extensive. Working to progress to the next big technological jump creates a compelling incentive to keep going; while a lot of your progress can boil down to waiting, the constant reward of new upgrades really keeps the momentum up. Making this all the more engaging is that every moment you’re in the game, your terraforming level is increasing and bringing you closer to the next upgrade. Even when you’re not doing anything, you’re still making progress. For me, this constant positive feedback loop was so strong, I genuinely struggled to pull myself away long enough to write this review. 

Not Complete Yet

My positive experience aside, if you don’t enjoy resource gathering and building, then it’s likely you’ll find The Planet Crafter extremely boring after a while. Besides exploring, there isn’t a lot else to do. At present, the game doesn’t feature any combat. From a narrative perspective, this makes sense; when you first land on the planet it is a barren, inhospitable wasteland. Stumbling across hostile creatures would completely erode this framework. However, by the time you reach the late game, you’re likely to have already mastered all the existing gameplay mechanics. Once you get to that point, the experience can start to drag a little as you wait for your terraforming level to increase.

Giving the player a narrative hook to explore when this happens could help to add some variety, and with it, the developers could introduce new threats to counter. While the early game has plenty to keep you occupied, different forms of content could really help to pad out the currently limited end-game.

That said, however, if you do enjoy similar titles like Subnautica or Don’t Starve, then you’re going to find a lot to enjoy about this game. Despite its outwardly simple mechanics, there’s a large world to explore and you’ll continue discovering new things long after you start. Upgrades come just often enough to keep you going, even with some later lulls in progress.

In time, you’ll be able to build more advanced machines to progress

In time, you’ll be able to build more advanced machines to progress

There are a few technical issues that still need working out, unfortunately. In particular, the game sometimes won’t let you pick up resources unless you look at them from a specific angle. Worse, on rare occasions, a similar bug allowed me to ‘pick up’ an item and remove it from the gameworld, but didn’t place it into my inventory, effectively deleting it from the game. For common resources it’s only a minor issue, but for the rarer ores, it can be very frustrating.

Overall it still needs a bit of work, particularly developing the mid- to end-game, but there’s definitely a solid base in here.

Audio and Graphics – Visualising Progress

In terms of technical quality, the graphics aren’t anything particularly fancy. The game looks good, certainly, but not necessarily outstanding. However, the way in which those graphics are put to use leads to one of the most rewarding gameplay loops I’ve seen in years.

The main focus of this game is terraforming. When you first start a new game, you’ll arrive on an entirely barren planet beneath a red, dust-filled sky. Everything looks alien, from the harsh red sand to the planet-filled skybox. Over time, however, as you start to progress in your mission, you’ll actually start to see changes in the world around you. The earliest and most dramatic of these changes – the target of your first mission – is turning the sky blue.

Weather events like sandstorms can completely change the way the world looks

Weather events like sandstorms can completely change the way the world looks

More than just a target number to hit, working towards this goal will be visually reflected in the world. Increasing your terraforming level will slowly turn the skybox yellow, then purple, and then, slowly, a rich blue. Being able to see this change happening as a direct result of your actions is tremendously rewarding. It also incentivises you to keep playing so you can discover what other changes you can enact.

The game’s audio also does a lot to set the scene. Howling winds and loud explosions during meteor showers remind you at every turn that this world is a dangerous place to be. All of your machines sound suitably science fiction, even if the shrill whirring of your scanner can start to feel a little repetitive during excursions. In moments of quiet, The Planet Crafter’s subtle, gentle soundtrack helps to keep the experience from feeling too empty.

Fittingly, the best word I can use to describe this game’s sound design is ‘atmospheric’. Minor touches all come together to help you feel connected to the world. There might not be an epic, orchestral soundtrack to back up your adventures, but the simple melodies you hear instead feel much more connected to your lonely, quiet exploration.

This game was previewed on PC, with a review key provided by Miju Games.

Summary
The Planet Crafter is at once both a hard game to recommend and one of the most engaging gaming experiences I've ever played. It is slow-paced and lacks content, particularly after the first 10 hours or so. If you are looking for a high-octane adventure, this certainly isn't it. However, if you're willing to wait and be patient, then this game delivers a hugely satisfying experience that is absolutely worth the time investment required. Anyone who's interested in the survival crafting genre should definitely give it a try.
Good
  • The world adapts to your actions in a way that is tremendously rewarding
  • A broad upgrade tree to work towards
  • An interesting and varied world to explore
  • Good, atmospheric sound design
Bad
  • Some minor bugs and quality of life issues to iron out
  • The late game can feel a little empty
  • There are some lulls in progress, particularly once you reach the Lakes stage
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