Astroneer is a solo and co-op sandbox space exploration game developed by System Era Softworks. It was originally released on Steam early access in 2016 and then fully released in 2019 on Steam, Xbox, and PlayStation, and finally came to Nintendo Switch in January 2022. I have never played the game before despite friends raving about it, so with the most recent custom games update and the fact it’s on Xbox Game Pass got me keen to give it a try and I am glad I did. I have been loving Astroneer’s beautiful visuals, relaxing atmosphere, and inquisitive gameplay.
Astroneer is set during the 25th century Intergalactic Age of Discovery, where Astroneers explore the frontiers of outer space, risking their lives in harsh environments to unearth rare discoveries and unlock the mysteries of the universe. Starting a game, we take a dropship from an orbiting shuttle and land on the planet Sylva where a landing pad interface gives us our first tasks to complete. These were extremely helpful for me as a completely new player, plus they give you certain items that saves you expending precious resources early on.
You are in a space suit and need oxygen to survive. Standing near the base pod, a short tether provides keeps your oxygen tank topped up but move further away and the tether drops where you rely on the oxygen reserves in the tank on your backpack. Also on your backpack is the all-powerful resource gathering tool that can suck up organic and compound materials, as well as later terraform the land to your liking. If you’ve played games similar survival games, and the obvious comparison is No Man’s Sky, then you’ll be in familiar territory.
Being a total noob to the game, I knew I had a stockpile of tethers back at the base, but I would run out exploring the land looking for resin, compound, and anything else I stumbled upon for research bytes. However, I was limited by how far I could go due to my oxygen requirements. Damn needing to breathe! A helpful comment on my YouTube video said I can carry tethers with me on the backpack and drop them where I wanted them forming a line and extending my explorable area. I love YouTube for that and thank you helpful gamer!
My next hour or so was spent following the missions, creating small, medium, and large platforms and printers, and researching tool mods to be able to create bigger and better things. My base layout was looking messy as, and I was glad it was easy to pick up and move the things I had already placed without having to destroy and rebuild them. I was figuring out that everything about Astroneer is there to help you as the player, and not put annoying roadblocks in just to be difficult. It really was a calming experience playing this game and I was kicking myself for not getting into it sooner.
While the tethering system was great, it was also a bit cumbersome as I got into a steady gameplay loop of exploring a certain distance from my base, discovering, and researching new items to craft which required new resources, which required further exploration. Power is another precious commodity, especially as you start to uncover wreckages that have useable bits of equipment if you can get power to them, which in turn unlock more cool things. You can harness the wind and solar to generate more power, there’s just a heck of a lot of running back and forth to the main base. You can build more than one base, but the problem just shifts then to the new base and slowly expanding from there too.
This is not a terrible thing but like in most survival games, it can just take a fair amount of time and focus to build the next big thing that will help you expand and get to the next big obstacle to overcome. This is where playing with mates is so much better. If this was a purely solo experience, I would likely have lost interest after the first few hours, but bringing mates in then has two to four people able to do things so much faster and have some laughs while doing it. Once you start building rovers and monorail type structures to transport your precious resources, it’s really up to your imagination for how to take in the game’s vast amounts of cozy content.
Another thing that makes Astroneer a more relaxing experience is the lack of combat or aggressive creatures. There are seven planets to explore in the Astroneer universe, with only a limited number of species of creatures you may come across, but you don’t have to worry about getting attacked or building and managing weapons and armour or worry about working your way deep into a cave only to be killed by sentinels or powerful creatures. It’s really a joy to play, and much better with mates.
The free Custom Games Update available that released last month across all platforms provides new avenues of customised planet generation options. You can engineer a harsh, unforgiving universe with all-new Hardcore and Permadeath modes, or design an inviting planetary oasis with added accessibility options for rookie explorers to dip their toes into the Astroneer universe. You can even share your planetary configurations utilising shareable codes that allow you to spawn with items, per biome customisations, and heaps more options to suit your playstyle.
Overall, Astroneer is an excellent space exploration sandbox with great visuals and a relaxed atmosphere to play your way and with your mates. I highly recommend playing this co-op as it can be cumbersome, especially just starting out and getting resources together to research everything you need to expand. Once you get going though, you can explore every inch of your starting planet or set forth for the stars to explore the other 6 planets in your universe. The new custom games feature also takes your creativity even further.