Given the amount of Early Access survival games I’ve played in recent years, I like to consider myself somewhat of an expert. Outpost Zero, developed by Symmetric Games, is one of the newest entries into the genre and it’s very Early Access. Even after a slew of updates over the weekend, it’s abundantly clear that it will be some time until Outpost Zero makes its way into the “finished game” category. (Or if it follows tradition, it may never leave Early Access.)
On the surface, Outpost Zero is similar to all of its survival counterparts. If you’ve played any survival game–Ark, Rust, Minecraft, DayZ, the list is endless–there’s nothing new to Outpost Zero. Spawn in an unknown world, gather basic resources, die a few times, build a paltry square base, continue farming resources, fend off mobs, build basic crafting stations, gather, gather, gather, repeat until you die.
Despite all the signs of an early access game, repetitive structure, bland textures, and lacking character design, Outpost Zero does offer at least a rudimentary tutorial for the starting stages of the game. It comes to an abrupt end after a few quests, but it leaves you believing there will be more in the future with perhaps, dare I hope, a more intriguing narrative.
Speaking of story, there’s not much to mention so far: you’re a humanoid AI sent to the vast world of Gaiya to prepare for human colonization because the creators have learned nothing from Battlestar Galactica and robot slave labor is all the rage.
After you’ve done all that gathering with a multi-tool that’s reminiscent of Starbound, you can begin to build your corporate shrine of a base. Shockingly, building is the most polished aspect of the game. Ark, a self-proclaimed “finished” survival game still fumbles through its building, but Outpost Zero has streamlined the process while also offering interesting designs into the mix. With a relatively clean UI and crafting process, it is by far the best part of the game and I’m eager to see how the developers improve upon it.
In fact, once you dive into Outpost Zero, you’ll find it offers a mostly clean experience. The UI and inventory are intuitive, crafting is easily understood, and there is enough variation in the world to not feel like you’re doing the same thing over and over. (Except farming carbon. You will always be farming carbon.) Once you’re established enough, you have the opportunity to build drones who can do work for you. Tired of farming iron? Send a drone to collect it. Want them to craft steel bars? They can do that, too. Don’t send them to farm uranium right now though because the adorable little orbs will just suicide on the radiation. The addition to craft new robots to help you, even ones that look like you, is such a unique addition to the genre that has a ton of potential. And while the AIs can be a bit dopey, like running into their doom, or spinning in dizzying circles before crafting more med packs, they listen to commands most of the time. Which is all I can really ask for in an Early Access game.
And if you’re playing on a PvE server, because hosting a game for your friends is busted at the moment, Outpost Zero is a calm, almost enjoyable experience. Joining a server is easy and I’ve suffered almost no lag but I suppose that has more to do with how few people are playing the game the game at the moment. Playing PvP, however, is a nightmare.
For a game that boasts twice as many PvP servers than PvE, Outpost Zero’s combat is an outright circus. Hitboxes are a mess and more often than not, whatever item you’re holding will be invisible, so targeting accurately with a sword is a lesson in futility. Because of the shoddy state of combat at the moment, most of your battles will come from NPC space pirates that want to assault your invisible weapons with long-range rifles and outdated video game memes. Still, despite their climbing difficulty levels with every spawn, they’re dealt with easily enough. If you’re planning on using your fighting skills against other players, now isn’t the best time in the game’s development. Mostly because, well, it just won’t happen.
For as popular as these survival base-building games are, relying so heavily on PvP for conflict instead of any sort of narrative, they still cannot find a way to make PvP balanced. In any of these games, players don’t have to fight you to destroy everything you’ve worked for; all they have to do is wait for you to log off the server. Without a player to mount any sort of defense, these power players who rush to end game content, are able to demolish every ounce of effort (see: all the time spent gathering resources) you’ve put into the game in a matter of minutes.
Outpost Zero has done nothing to improve on this fatal flaw within the genre. In fact, it may have made it worse. Given the unstable nature of power systems, with generators sometimes not working or powering important structures such as doors and turrets, it might be the easiest robbery these players ever commit. And therein lies the major frustration. Quirks like invisible hatches are fun to joke about, but griefing will deter most casual gamers from playing the game. It’s already known that communities in Rust and DayZ are some of the most toxic online because of the griefing and I’d hate to see Outpost Zero ignore that behavior.
Because of all this, I cannot, in good conscience, recommend anyone plays on a PvP server unless they enjoy playing for most of the day and have a group of friends to join them. If you’re curious, try the game first on PvE and see if it fits, but beware because it’s still a mostly monotonous experience and if you’re looking for more finished game material, give it a few months.
I want to like Outpost Zero more than I do. I have hopes that in a few months when I check it out again, it’ll offer the richer sci-fi game experience. There’s potential in the drones and the science that might make it a wonderful game for those looking for a unique survival experience, but I need Outpost Zero to avoid the pitfalls of the genre in order to enjoy it more fully in the future.