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Return From Core Early Access Review

Return From Core is a sandbox RPG developed by Tanxun Studio and published by 2P Games. It launched on Steam early access on December 16, 2023, and combines exploration, building, farming, automation and monster girls in our quest to return from the core of the Earth. Where Below the Stone has me digging down deeper into the Earth, Return From Core has us starting 20,000m below the surface at core level 1 and working our way up.

Tragedy befell the Earth’s surface, forcing civilisation to withdraw deep underground near the planet’s core. You start scavenging the world below, mining for resources, defending yourself from monsters, and learning to survive as the last remnants of humanity. In exploring these dark caverns, you discover a powerful ancient technology and harness its energy to restore mankind and return to the surface.

We start Return From Core by creating our character and there are a small number of simple cosmetic adjustments we can make to personalise the character. After creating a character you choose the game mode between ‘first time playing a sandbox game’ and ‘i’m a sandbox veteran’, the first one guides players with more detailed instructions while the sandbox veteran mode just has essential guide tips.

Next is an introduction cinematic, however the text scrolls by far too fast and is cut off, so clearly there is still some work to do on text translations. This also occured with text speech bubbles from characters which is distracting but you get the general idea of how to play the game. Starting with just a torch and our fists, we are guided by a monster girl called Lilith who explains a cave in from a monster called “Big Fella” caused us to black out and she found our pickaxe. Using LMB you can mine through walls collecting resources such as limestone, clay, moss, ceramic pieces and more.

Some wall segments have coloured stones in them indicating different resources to collect, as well as sparkles in black areas which give you a marker to head towards and reveal other resources. These could also be monsters in hiding so be wary as you approach. From skittering worms and rats to armoured rats and hulking rock golems, the Inner Earth boasts a range of unique creatures. Some pose a threat, while others offer unexpected alliances and learning to spot friend from foe is key to survival. I generally swing first and ask questions later, and you can throw your pick at monsters with RMB which boomerangs back to you.

Some flora provide natural lighting like blue mushrooms, but as we push further through the rock it gets darker and you can place torches down to light your path. Some things like bat wings and red mushrooms can be eaten to restore hunger and provide some benefits like health regeneration, boosting light range, a boost to strike speed, and many more buffs. Later once you get to a campfire and learn some recipes, you can combine these ingredients to make meals that provide much greater buffs.

Occasionally you will come across gaps in the floor and if it’s a single space gap, you can press spacebar to dash across the gap providing the other side is clear of obstacles or enemies. If the gap is bigger than one square, you can build bridge pieces by crafting them in your backpack. This requires fuel and components of which we had torches and clay. A bit further through the cave and I came across a doorway that was blocked and I couldn’t penetrate it with the pickaxe. A switch was located that required 5 copper plates to activate a mine cart, and this was connected to a conveyer belt and a fire furnace.

The fire furnace is one of many automated machines are able to utilise in Return From Core, and this produces resources such as copper and iron plates continuously while it is fed enough fuel and resources. Once five copper plates were moved along the conveyer belt, I was able to flick the switch and a mine cart smashed through a blocked doorway, allowing me to move on to the entrance of core level 1. However just as we were about to exit, the ground started shaking and the Big Fella had been awoken, so we made a quick escape – but I dropped my pickaxe!

Once at core level 1, the Gloomy Chasm, Lilith leaves us to make our way alone and with no pickaxe, we need to bash things with our hands until we have enough materials to craft a basic pickaxe. From here the game continues on with resource collecting, fighting monsters and meeting new people, namely more monster girls. Each monster girl species boasts its own rich lore and offer companionship, assistance, and even the chance for budding romance. We also learn to use advanced devices such as one that will scan the area between 10-50m from your location and will show you ore veins, making it easier to locate bulk ores to process at camp.

Romance options aside, the primary task for us is survival so we eventually find a basic camp that we can start to build up. This includes finding and unlocking crafting stations, creating farm plots to plant and grow crops, and this requires laying pipes and connecting them to a water source. A lot of automation comes into play here and its fun seeing your base camp grow and thrive. With the additional noise though comes the threat of more monsters, so making sure you build some basic defenses like fire traps and fences that will keep your camp safe.

Overall, Return From Core offers a lot of content for an early access release and aside from some translation issues which are getting fixed, it’s been a fun journey so far. There is a great mix of exploration, survival and crafting and is easy to play. It was exciting discovering new locations in each core level as well as new blueprints and recipes to craft back at the base. This is definitely a game to watch develop over the early access period.

This early access review utilised a key provided by Stride PR and Return From Core is out now on Steam early access.


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