Satisfactory Alpha: Initial Impression

I had the good fortune to be a part of the open alpha weekend for Satisfactory recently, an upcoming first-person version of Factorio, basically.  The TLDR is that I’m going to let this one simmer a bit before I look at it again, because it’s definitely got promise but it’s not ready to be fun yet.

It was okay.  Honestly, after seeing the stuff in the trailers and early devblog footage, I was a little disappointed at how little there is to do in the actual alpha, that I was able to get to in the time given to us.  They just released an early access version and I honestly don’t know if I’m into it.  This makes me a little sad.

There ARE some things they do really well.  I like the way conveyors and building things works, very smooth.  At first, I thought it was neat that their progression system for unlocks is tied DIRECTLY to production instead of how Factorio has like, the intermediate step of processing things into “science packs”.  But at the same time, there’s just not a lot there and there’s no incentive to explore around, even though the way they have resource spots set up basically makes you roam.

You have a small amount of “pure” ore or stone or whatever jutting out of the top of each spot, and this is clearly meant for you to mine by hand.  Then once that’s out of the way, and you’ve researched like 3 or 4 tiers up, you can set up an automated miner to pull up the rest in drips and drabs.  That’s a neat idea, but it means at first you’re running all over the damn place looking for pure stuff before you’re supposed to settle down.  But ALL your unlocks are tied to a building you have to set down in one place, it’s a huge decision.  It’s not like Factorio, where you can just pick up and start a new base somewhere else, you definitely have one single HQ in Satisfactory.  Not sure how I feel about that.

They have a cooldown on unlocks beyond a certain point for some reason, and in places the progression also felt wonky, like, there’s a side building you NEED to build in order to build automated mining equipment, that they just never tell you you need.  The only things you build in that building are a tool you already have, only need one of, and get for free, and then the automated miner core thing.  Two recipes in this building, one of which is useful.  Cool.

The mineral scanner is a nice idea and kinda needed in a first person game where you can’t just see everything at a glance, but then the scanner works kinda weirdly and doesn’t always detect deposits.  Which sucks in a game where you NEED that information to save yourself huge trips back and forth on foot.  I never got to unlocking any vehicles; those would’ve been nice to have.

I was also not super impressed with the alien creatures and how combat works.  I never unlocked any guns or turrets or anything, you’re just meleeing these things and you end up taking a lot of damage even after you figure out how to bait them and strafe out of the way.  There’s also basically guaranteed to be a small group of these things defending every single mineral deposit, so you can’t ignore the combat until later like you can in Factorio.  Healing items are all natural berries and fruits that you pick up and eat, there’s no crafting of medkits or anything.

The more I think about it, the more I appreciate Factorio’s science packs approach, because it strongly incentivizes you to automate things you normally might not think to automate.  It gives you goals.

Literally every unlock I got in the Satisfactory alpha, I was just switching around what product came out of my iron smelter and constructor, then just running around picking up the products.  There was never the sense of a blossoming factory that has almost a life of its own, or a series of interconnecting goals where the lay of the land is super important and I have to think about increasingly complicated logistics, no.  It’s just like, here’s a miner, a smelter, a constructor, done.

It’s also a little bit annoying that there’s no good way to automate feeding fuel into your biomass furnaces at ALL from what I saw.  There were also a lot of what I would consider core UI functionality missing.  For instance, there’s no fast way to equip something in your hands slot from inventory.  Double clicking and shift clicking, both of which work elsewhere, don’t work for that.  You have to click and drag.  There were quite a few instances where an expected shortcut just wasn’t there.

So basically, the engine here has a lot of promise, and I get that this was just an alpha build for testing, but I’m not going to be very interested in the early access period for this one when Factorio already exists and is great.  They just released 0.17 and have been working like crazy on smaller incremental updates to that build, and the game is really in a fantastic state right now.  Satisfactory is, in my estimation, going to need another year or two of content updates and progression tweaks before it’s something I’m going to want to take another look at.

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