Volcanoids (Early Access)

Volcanoids

This started off as a script to read over footage of me being terrible at Volcanoids, but a) my voice is really annoying and b) it’d just be me writing a review and reading it out over footage of me being very bad at a survival crafting game. Add to this people seem to have a real problem with watching videos for more than 30 seconds (which I absolutely get) it seemed pointless in making Brad edit together the footage just for it to be ignored. So I thought I’d write a review everyone could ignore instead.

Volcanoids is a crafting/base building/survival game for PC. You probably know the type. It’s well regarded with Very Positive reviews from a few thousand people, but it’s been out since 2019 so I’m not entirely sure why we got a code for it. It’s still in early access that I can see and hasn’t received a so-called 1.0 release so yeah, a bit baffled. Still it’s not like I’m doing anything worthwhile with my life so I gave it a chunk of time and… it’s alright?

The premise goes like this; you are on a volcanic island where the volcano erupts every 25 minutes, regular as clockwork. When it erupts you have to get underground and stay safe while the eruption wrecks the luscious island with ash. 

To do this you are given a phenomenally steampunk vehicle called a Drillship. The Drillship is your mobile base where you can place benches and stations to research, refine and construct components, devices, weapons, ammo and armour.

To use these stations you need to have relevant modules installed into the walls or ceiling of the Drillship, plus the requisite power so you can use them. You can then upgrade these modules to unlock better items, weapons, ammo etc.

None of this is possible without materials so you must leave the safe confines of your base to go and scavenge for metal ore, coal, technology parts and whatnot out in the world. The volcano isn’t the only thing on this island trying to kill you though. There are automatons wandering around ready to shoot your face off and bust up your Drillship. Luckily you can stick a pickaxe in their head (or shoot them with the pistol, but they tend to go down quicker with the pickaxe, oddly) and plunder them of their loot and components to help research new modules for the Drillship, or for components and so on and so forth.

The gameplay loop in Volcanoids is pretty tight; the quest system as it currently is leads you into the game and gets your Drillship set up and does it in a fashion that is clearly explained. Go here, get this material, make this many things, put this here. So on and so forth. It teaches you how to navigate to new areas of the island, to the subterranean levels (apparently going underground to avoid the eruption and going underground to new areas  are two different things) and back up into different parts of the island. And as survival gameplay loops go it’s good fun.

So why is the game only alright?

My first issue was the game doesn’t effectively explain that one type of station takes materials from the Drillship inventory and another type (the earlier workbench version of that station) takes the materials from your inventory. I might have missed it but I don’t think I did. It took me a good hour to get that straight in my head. That may be on me because I’m a dunderhead with the attention span of a child after 10 packets of pre-EU regulation Smarties. You know, the ones with the plastic lid and the blue ones. The REALLY blue ones.

When I got my head around with where the materials needed to be it was plain-er sailing. I say plain-er because the crafting in this game is humongous, and not necessarily in a good way. The volume of components and materials and the modules you need to install and the materials you need to craft those is mind boggling. I’m not really au fait with crafting games outside of Minecraft, and even after a good few hours I still felt like I didn’t have a decent grasp of it all.

Another thing that frustrated me that isn’t a product of me being a dim, cack handed chimp (for a change) is the odd way the game ramped up the difficulty. After a certain number of quests it moved me onto different areas and the enemies suddenly got upgraded ammo. While that meant I could loot them for their ammo and use it, it also meant I was getting wrecked easily. The game has a roguelike mechanic of dropping all your stuff upon death and if you die again before retrieving it it’s gone which resulted in my game being a lost cause (which the game actually told me, so that was nice) and so had to go back to a previous save (I lost 40 minutes because I can never remember to save frequently and I didn’t see the autosaves. Again, that’s on my dumb arse).

Frustrating still is while you’re off trying to loot other Drillships for materials plans and modules the robots can attack your ship. You can set up turrets to defend your ship (note: make sure there’s ammo in the ship’s inventory so they have something to fire with) but sometimes they’re not enough and the mobs will obliterate your modules, storage and armour. For a while I kept running back and forth between my objective and my ship trying to defend it but with the objectives tending to be hundreds of meters away and requiring you to be nimble with shooting and healing ultimately you may just have to suck up that you’re going to repair your ship a lot. I did try to go back to the starter area to farm some materials so I could fix up after a particularly vicious attack but the robots back there had ‘levelled up’ also.

Also the healing mechanic only heals you to full health once the protracted animation has fully played out, so I did die unnecessarily a few times because I thought I was healed and switched back to my weapon only to find I was still near death.

My biggest issue was that I couldn’t see the point in Volcanoids. I’ve mentioned before that I’m not very good with games that have open objectives, so while the quests definitely kept me focussed and interested I did wonder where the whole thing was going. Do you just keep expanding your ship? Find harder enemies? As I mentioned at the top it’s still in early access so it might not have an end game yet. I have to admit the time I’ve put into it may not be nearly sufficient to find out what it’s all about.

Volcanoids is decent enough, though. It’s got a solid foundation (though you’d hope so nearly 2 years after entering early access) with a satisfying, if moderately over complex crafting system and excellent central conceit to the gameplay loop. It just left me feeling a bit like I needed more impetus to keep exploring, crafting and playing.

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