Factorio is a game where you build a factory. God, what a stupid sentence. Doesn’t do this game justice by half.
Your primary motivation in freeplay mode is to build a rocket with which to escape the planet you’ve crash landed on. Which means you have to do research in labs. Labs in turn require materials to build, they need to be powered, and each research topic requires tons of “science packs”, which are crafted materials that escalate in complexity and have to be brought to the labs repeatedly and quickly as the research goes on.
All of which is to say, you’re strongly encouraged to start automating things as much as you can, as soon as you can. You start off just plopped down in a random spot on a randomized map, with nothing but your wits, a coal-powered mining machine, a stone furnace, and a few iron plates to get you started on an axe. From there, what you do is up to you, and you have so many fun things to play with.
You have access to conveyor belts and robotic arms called inserters, to pull things off of belts and put them into furnaces, or pull them out of furnaces and put them into boxes or onto other belts, or whatever you want to use them for. There are splitters, which can take items from one belt and put them onto another in parallel, as well as underground belts, for when you need two lines to cross over or when you don’t want to muck up your stone and concrete paths by running lines across them.
You start off with coal powered equipment, but you can quickly progress to using boilers and steam engines, piping water from lakes and heating it with coal to generate electricity. Later you can use nuclear power. It gets really crazy. Spreading all that power around means you need to build power lines, and there’s several types. There’s also accumulators, which can store extra power for emergencies.
There’s a whole complex system for pulling crude oil out of the ground, extracting its fractions and refining them into various other substances, and this largely drives the tech tree and your creations in the mid-game. I think this kind of thing is just so cool. You can make pipes and barrels and big tanks, and move the stuff all around. You can put liquid cargo cars on your trains, and move it that way too. Sulfuric acid, lubricant, petroleum gas, solid fuel, different types of liquid fuel, all kinds of stuff. You have to develop a lot of infrastructure to get this stuff moved around, and that’s also a lot of fun.
You can build walls, pave roads for yourself, light up the area, run power lines all over the place. you can invent and build cars and trains, and create detailed train routes with timed stops and switches. This can take hours of planning and forethought, and is really satisfying to see in motion. You can set up automated builders to put ingredients together for you (which is key to making science packs in any kind of reasonable time frame). Later, you can use flying robots to build and destroy things for you, and resupply you personally with whatever you specify you want, or take stuff from your inventory and store it.
There’s also a detailed programming and logic system using copper wiring that you can use to make logic gates and such. So you can make speakers that broadcast alarms when your water reserve tank levels start to drop, or only fire up your smelting columns when there’s fuel available, or open and close gates with switches, or play Megalovania constantly on a loop, whatever you can think of and make. This is basically exactly Minecraft’s redstone but with more stuff to play with.
On top of all this, you’re not alone on the planet. There’s native creatures that the game calls “biters”, that don’t like the fact that you’re cutting down all the trees and filling the air with your factory’s pollution (you dick). Once they get a whiff of you, they’ll start sending waves to attack you, and you have to defend against them. This entails making a gun for yourself, putting turrets on your cars and trains, building stationary turrets (guns with different kinds of ammo, rockets, flamethrowers), using artillery to shell their homes to stem the tide. Nuking them. Blasting them with tanks. Running them over with trains. Doing this to them.
There’s this balletic quality to a factory in motion that I find fascinating. It’s incredibly satisfying to just stroll around your base, watching stuff get made into other stuff. Inserter arms whipping back and forth, tiny plates of iron and copper going by on belts by the thousands, armies of flying drones laying out buildings in perfect formations a piece at a time, trains zipping by with cargo, smoke billowing out from the boilers and furnaces and blowing in the wind.
There’s also a campaign (several, in fact) that have set objectives for you to complete on a series of non-randomized levels. When done alongside the in-game tutorials, the campaign can teach you how to play if you’re lost or overwhelmed at first. There’s multiplayer as well, which I’m not super interested in, to be honest. But it’s there if you want it!
In my current game, I’m in a situation where I’m rapidly running out of things I can research and make without having access to crude oil, but I have yet to find any. My factory is definitely getting larger, to the point that I’ve pissed off the biters, but I’m well defended. Got several radar units up and scanning around to help reveal the map, but there’s nothing anywhere near my base. Stocks of local iron were running low, so I went out in my car and took down a biter settlement that was on a massive iron deposit to the north, walled it in and built up a little outpost there to send more iron back home (and provide a base for more radars). That’s fine as a stopgap to keep production going on all the essentials, but I urgently need oil to progress. So I’m driving around in my car looking for crude, fighting off biters with the turret, trying not to crash into trees. Once I find it, it’s going to be far enough away that I’ll probably need to set up a rail system to get it back home, and I’ll need to set up local power production, since I won’t want to run power lines that whole way either. Since I’m deep in biter territory, I’ll also want some turrets up to defend while I build. Luckily, the car’s trunk is big enough to fit everything I’ll need to get going. Without plastics, though, I can’t make the construction robots I’d want to quickly build up an outpost, so I’ll have to do it all by hand. I’m looking forward to the challenge!
This is the kind of game you think about a lot, even when you’re not playing it. It offers up a slew of logistical and engineering challenges, alongside a huge box of tools and toys that you can use to solve those problems creatively. What you make is up to you, but there’s just enough direction implied in the tech tree to get you going. I frigging love this game.