Early Access Preview: Planet Nomads (Steam)


Some months have passed since my last review about a complex video game focusing on crafting. I feel like I always need a break between titles within this subgenre because frankly, they always feel more like chores than fun activities. Planet Nomads shall be a preview instead, since it’s still in Early Access stage and it really needs to remain so until most of its many flaws may be amended. It is the Steam debut of Craneballs and I admire their efforts. They went straight for the type of game which either endears itself or alienates users from the first hour of gameplay. Right around the time you realize that you have to harvest, survive and build all that pretty stuff you see in the official screenshots. No one said it would be easy, so be prepared!

There isn’t a noteworthy narrative thread or otherwise in Planet Nomads. Phoning Home and Conan Exiles at least featured some context to all that crafting and the struggles to survive in a harsh and foreign environment. Despite the title which clearly features the plural form of “nomad”, our nameless & silent protagonist is all alone. The year is 2071, space exploration and terraforming are allowing humanity to colonize new worlds, but apparently the privately-funded expedition in the Epsilon Eridani star system (an actual location within the Eridanus constellation) is conducted in a rather unprofessional manner.

Sending a one-man team, even if he or she’s an accomplished astronaut on a strange and unexplored or surveyed planet, is a dangerous and ineffective method. Infiltrating them on a capsule which resembles an escape pod does not alleviate concerns. Nor is supplying the character with resources lasting only a couple of days and just hoping that he can harvest more on-site and survive long enough to gather sufficient intel until he’s rescued. You’re not leaving the planet on your own, that’s a certainty. No Man’s Sky at least combined crafting and planetary surveying with space exploration via player-controlled spaceship. Perhaps Planet Nomads might ring true from the perspective of never settling down. Resources are scattered across a vast territory. Being constantly on the move is the safest path towards prolonged survival. Nomadic societies would agree to this course of action.

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So you’re cut loose in a strange and exotic place but fortunately, the flora & fauna aren’t as hostile as in similar titles I played over the past year. Nothing will try to kill you after every 100 meters you step in any direction, as was the case with Conan Exiles. And you definitely don’t need an Engineering Degree as Factorio might demand in order to fully step into the shoes of one determined automation engineer transforming the surroundings where he crash landed, into an industrial hellscape. No, Planet Nomads is Easy Mode through and through when compared to those two. And to this game’s credit, you can opt between the open-ended (& infinite resources) structure of the Creative Mode and the less forgiving Survival Mode. I strongly recommend you familiarize yourself with the game in Creative, before venturing onto the ample harvesting activities found within Survival.

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Sadly, my biggest gripe with Planet Nomads stems from its instability. You wouldn’t normally expect erratic frame rate drops from a Unity Engine project, yet the game I’m previewing today has proved me wrong. Even getting it to run in another resolution than the monitor’s native, was a chore involving trial & error. I had to switch the desktop resolution as well and that is something that only Age of Empires II HD has forced me until now. It goes without saying that I haven’t played that one on Steam too much just for this reason. A modern title shouldn’t face resolution scaling issues in 2017.

So I “frankensteined” a custom setting which featured 1080p resolution assets while running in 4K. Only way to run this game at ≈ 50fps with some degree of stability while the visual details wouldn’t have to suffer as well. I honestly don’t know which solution may suit your needs but perhaps it may be easier if the monitor doesn’t have to scale up or down depending on the application it’s running. Either way, Planet Nomads looks more than decent. The landing and initial area you’ll be exploring is procedurally generated and the terrain type along with the resource distribution is also quite randomly imposed.

Yet it still feels deserted, if you look close enough. Apart from terrestrial creatures there are no water-dwelling life forms and no flying critters either. It makes the arduous journey from one point on the map to another, all the more lonely. Fortunately, once Planet Nomads leaves Early Access, biodiversity shall be well simulated. That is of the utmost importance given the title’s themes and subgenre. Exploring a new planet deemed suitable for terraforming and subsequent colonization, needs to reflect its appeal beyond the dynamic weather pattern and climatic spectrum. So far, the plants seem to have received far more attention than the various mammals and reptiles roaming around the game’s map.

Silent protagonist or not, at least the AI companion is more chatty. Don’t expect an equivalent to Mass Effect’s EDI, yet it adds to the immersion nonetheless. The soundtrack is decent enough but there’s definitely room for improvement and the sound effects might require some more diversity as well.

The tutorial relies more on still images than a step-by-step procedure in real time, yet the barebones stuff gets explained even if it’s expedient. It was a wise choice, adding the option to craft and modify a land roving vehicle to survey the planet’s surface in both an efficient and safe manner. When I said that the wild life is less aggressive than in previously played crafting & survival titles, I didn’t mean it as if you’re going to pet space puppies and kitties in Planet Nomads. On the contrary, the animals shall leave players alone provided they keep their distance. Get too close and that cute alien deer will try to transform you into an easily opened tin can.

Speaking of the exosuit, I enjoy the features it allows such as the jetpack and the option to play the game from a 3rd person perspective. It’s like you’re playing Mass Effect Andromeda but with less stiff facial expressions. Can’t tell if “Character” (seriously, he/she has no name registered in-game other than that) has a tired face or not since that helmet can’t be removed. Terraforming implies that the atmosphere doesn’t contain sufficient oxygen to support human physiology yet, so that is perhaps the reason why sending a larger survey team is not part of the plan. Less mouths to feed or consume oxygen and purified water. The structures you can erect resemble a research station along with a small biodome for creating a sustainable environment for a small team of pioneers. Perhaps our lucky astronaut is just setting up the foundations and scouting for his future colleagues.

Even if I shall refrain from offering a rating and summary containing strong/weak points, I can point out to Planet Nomads’s flaws and still consider the game promising if it shall continue receiving constant support from the dev team. One thing is certain, the crafting system and the harvesting options won’t disappoint the true fans of this particular type of gameplay. You obviously need little to no convincing from me or anyone else, if you’re both experienced with the subgenre and willing to sink several dozen hours into just building a proper base and the auxiliary vehicles to warrant the expedition in the first place.

All the screenshots you see above, have been taken by me in-game through the Steam Overlay.

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