Astronomy is a busy field, producing new discoveries on a regular basis. In the last couple decades we’ve discovered hundreds of planets, all of which have one thing in common in that they’re completely uninhabitable. Earth life evolved as it did because if it didn’t fit in perfectly with the local conditions it would die, and that’s great for the home planet but terrible for anywhere else in the universe. If we want to spread out to become an interstellar species and not live in the gigantic tin cans of O’Neil cylinders, we’ll need to aim for planets that are close enough to Earth-standard to work with and terraform from there. It seems like that would be a huge multi-generational project, but seeing as future-tech is basically magic the work is capable of being completed by a single busy worker.
The Planet Crafter: Prologue is a nicely-sized chunk of a first-person survival game set on a cold and dusty desert planet. The atmosphere is unbreathable, vegetation nonexistent and the temperature frigid. Human life just wouldn’t be pleasant here so a lone worker has arrived on site to make the place useful. Armed only with a matter-manipulation gun, a protective space suit with limited oxygen reserves and a landing capsule with a basic crafting station, the worker will need to harvest the abundant mineral resources scattered around the landscape and convert them into planet-altering tech.
The planet has three basic statistics that need to go up in order to become habitable, each with its own type of machine to push the numbers in the right direction. Drills release gasses from within the planet’s crust, slowly improving atmospheric pressure, while plants in vegetubes boost the oxygen level. Finally, heaters improve the overall temperature, and as each machine boosts its corresponding feature the unseen powers-that-be provide new tech rewards for reaching terraforming milestones. As useful as drills, vegetubes and heaters are, though, it’s going to take a lot more than that for the worker to survive long enough to build the needed machinery.
A working base is an excellent place to start and the needed materials are plentiful. The landscape is littered with different types of rocks and minerals and the basic starter equipment can be synthesized from iron, titanium, silicon and magnesium. A simple living compartment, for example, is two iron and one titanium, which can be scavenged with about ten seconds of looking around. Each mineral deposit earns one unit of the resource, and one unit takes up a full inventory slot with no stacking. It doesn’t take too long to realize that most minerals can just sit on the ground until needed, and it’s only the more scare items that are worth stockpiling. Once you’ve got a couple rooms built and linked together, plus crafted a door so you can actually enter the starter base, it’s time to start decorating your new home with a combination of storage, useful tech and maybe even furniture so it feels like a living space. Various types of computer monitors provide info on terraforming progress, new blueprint milestone requirements, energy usage and more.
Once a nice home base is built and the starting space suit has gotten inventory and functionality upgrades it’s time to get exploring. The world of The Planet Crafter is hand-built rather than randomized and there are a couple of good points of interest in view of the initial landing site. There’s a downed ship up a nearby hill, a walk that takes roughly a full tank of oxygen, but refills are cheap to build as is constructing a mini-base right near the wreck’s entryway. The ship holds a good number of resources, some of which allow new crafting options, and it’s worth poking around in odd places to see what might be hidden there. The thing about exploration, however, is that it takes time, and while the worker is busy finding all these goodies the machines back at home base should be hitting a new milestone or two, giving you something to put those resources towards.
While technically The Planet Crafter: Prologue is the opening section of the forthcoming game, starting from landing on a desolate rock and finishing when the first major accomplishment of turning the sky blue is reached, it’s a surprisingly meaty chunk of adventuring. The whole map is open from the start, with different biomes, caves, wrecks and caverns to poke around in, although by current estimates it’s only 40% of the eventual world. Additionally you can access a huge chunk of game beyond the ending point simply by switching to the beta branch, opening up clouds, rain and other watery upgrades. There’s something incredibly satisfying about seeing the barren wasteland come to life, and while the seed-scattering machines are a bit pricey to build that first hit of greenery makes it all worthwhile.
The Planet Crafter: Prologue may only be a good-sized fraction of the whole game, but it’s a promising one, filled with a satisfying progression of tech and exploration that makes one task effortlessly flow into the next. There’s not a threat or enemy to be found anywhere, barring the air, thirst and hunger gauges, and even if one of those bottoms out the worst that happens is ending up back at home base. This leads to a nice sense of freedom, providing a bit of pressure to keep you on your toes but otherwise letting you get on with whichever errand you’ve set for yourself. That could be something in-depth like building and decorating a fancy base, checking out a newly-discovered crash site, scavenging the necessary parts to build a nuclear reactor or just kicking back and watching an asteroid storm crash to into the landscape around you. It’s a barren, hostile world out there but with the right tools and plenty of exploration and scavenging, it’ll become a place for humanity to call home.