Empyrion offers hope to space survival refugees

20160316180331_1There has been a sad, space survival-shaped hole in the hearts of many a gamer since No Man’s Sky became yet another cautionary tale, showcasing the dangers of pre-ordering games that sound too good to be true.

Seeking a worthy replacement, brave space cadets began sifting through the piles of space games on Steam for that special something. Since that time, myself and others have found a little bit of hope in Empyrion: Galactic Survival.

There are more than a few space themed survival/crafting games littering Steam, although not many can be considered passable. Most are a combination of poorly designed, repurposed and outright abandoned just trying to make a quick buck off the current survival game craze.

However, even though it’s still in early access (as most of these games are), Empyrion manages to rise above its peers.

Giving the player an entire, pre-designed solar system to run wild in, Empyrion first asks you to choose between two starting worlds. One is Akua, a lush and relatively calm jungle planet, and the other being Omicron, a more harsh desert world for those looking to be challenged immediately. From there the player is sent spiraling down to the planet of their choosing in a damaged escape pod, steering as best they can to a favorable landing site.

Upon making landfall, you scavenge whatever remains inside the pod and set up what is essentially a “pocket factory” in order to fabricate the other basic materials that will be needed to ensure you don’t end up as just another desiccated husk of a space explorer.

Players will set up water purifiers and oxygen extractors, forage for edibles and hunt alien fauna for meat, they will search for resource deposits and mine them for future processing, and hopefully live long enough to begin construction of a more permanent home.

Even in its unfinished state, bases in Empyrion are more complex than what you would encounter in most other survival games. They start with a core block, like a brain cube, that allows the structure to act as a single, functioning mechanism. If the core is removed or destroyed, a dead base is all you’re left with.

Aside from the core, bases also require generators for power and fuel tanks filled with fuel in which to run them. This powers the remainder of the doodads you’ll pin to your home, like advanced factories, lighting, oxygen dispensers, food processors, defense cannons, and so on.

As long as they’re standing anywhere on their base, players can also bring up a management window to tweak anything from lighting color to turret behavior, and even take manual control of their defenses.

Now at this point you might be thinking that Empyrion sounds like the same old survival games you’ve seen before, albeit with a few extra bells and whistles, but where it really shines is in the vehicle building and the subsequent exploration and fighting that you’ll be doing with them.

Players have three classes of vehicles at their disposal, composed of hover vessels, small vessels, and capital vessels. Hover vessels are land vehicles designed to quickly skirt across planets and get you where you need to go without much fuss. Small vessels are things like transport ships or dogfighters, flying over whatever dangers lie below and enabling the player to enter planetary orbit.

Capital vessels are the imposing mobile fortresses of Empyrion that both hovers and small vessels can dock with, and have the capability of warping to other planets.

All of these vessels function in the same way that bases do, requiring a specific core block to begin the building process. From there, the design is entirely up to the player. They can build anything from a little land scooter to a massive space station, making it as perfect or as shoddy as they like. Build fleets, conquer worlds.

Of course, Empyrion wouldn’t be much fun if it let players build flying death machines and then didn’t provide suitable opposition to test them against. Every planet is dotted with a dozen or so computer controlled “points of interest”, or POIs, that can be attacked and looted. POIs are heavily defended, so potential raiders should approach with caution. If the core is located and destroyed, players can replace it with their own core block to claim the base for their own purposes.

If you couldn’t care less about computer controlled opponents and prefer to match wits with other humans, there are multiplayer servers to join and terrorize. Create a faction for you and your friends and battle other player factions for interplanetary dominance.

It’s also worth noting that Empyrion provides offline protection for your bases and vessels, so fret not over cowardly offline opportunists.

It does have its rough spots, of course. Many animations are stiff or still missing entirely, textures could use sprucing up, enemy AI is average at best, and there are a few bugs that need to be squashed. I would also warn that the game requires a sizable time investment. Even a smaller vessel or base can take a few hours to assemble, but with time and knowledge your production speeds should increase.

Empyrion still has a long road to travel towards completion, but the content it currently provides can potentially entertain for hundreds of hours for those who love to build and scheme. And for how much is going on, the game runs surprisingly well.

So if you’re a fellow space explorer and aspiring engineer trying to forget your No Man’s Sky woes, then Empyrion might just scratch that futuristic frontiersman itch.