After spending years in Early Access on Steam, Space Engineers is loaded with ideas. The idea of a creative crafting game in space with a degree of complexity to it is instantly intriguing – a game you could get lost in as you figure out new ways to effectively build ideas. Space Engineers is a game I wanted to love. Unfortunately, when those who you love disappoint, it hurts even more.
Space Engineers doesn’t really have a story, per se. There is a small campaign and some scenarios to get you used to the basics, but they aren’t really very important. In the first, you must build and fight your way to a black pillar, a simple McGuffin. The second has you stranded on a series of rocks floating in space. They all contain the remnants of some form of space architecture and you must repair them to see their function. These involve devices for converting rocks and ores or an assembler for making parts. These parts can then be used to build more. It’s a simple but effective gameplay loop.
The gameplay loop consists of using tools to mine resources from the planet or asteroid you’re on. You then use the resources gathered to build better tools and better ways of processing those resources. After this, you use the better resources to build strong weapons and even better facilities. So far, so survival crafting game.
Like most crafting games, you start off with very little resources and must build your way to a space empire. You are stranded with a spawn pod and a few basic tools, yet from there the rest is up to you. There are a few main resources to keep track of: your health, hydrogen, oxygen and power. Your main priority is building a survival kit and connected battery. This acts as a healing station, spawn and stone processor. It’s very helpful starting out. This can be attached to a small ship for ease of access and portability. After sorting out needs, the game really opens up to be changed at will. This process is one of the best aspects of Space Engineers.
Space Engineers promises a refreshing level of complexity not often seen on consoles. The scope is huge. Just google Space Engineers creations to see some absolutely incredible builds and concepts. I discovered this early on just from building a simple processing station. To do this, I needed the parts for the processor itself, a battery big enough to power it and a way of connecting the two. This sparked creativity in a way I found fascinating. Building machines to affect gravity to build puzzles, or connecting doors to open when powered in certain ways. I regularly found myself jotting down sketches for plans and how they might interact.
Unfortunately, this potential doesn’t come without issues. The entire experience is filled with small but frequent bugs. Platforms that would jettison me upward or to the side at random, and graphical bugs or pieces that would just disappear, are infuriating. Having the exact right blocks or components to build something just for them to disappear made me regularly stop building what I was working on.
There are weird things going on in Space Engineers. For instance, an assault rifle, predominantly used for fighting other players, uses bullets from your inventory. On the HUD, you shoot and a bullet unloads, but there is no reload. This means you could shoot 400 bullets from an assault rifle. This is a really small issue but accentuates some of my problems with Space Engineers. I love some of the concepts the game has but it has a ton of very small problems that bring the whole thing down. In fact, this feels like the product of a very ambitious team that wants to spend more time on the big ideas than the small issues. The move to Xbox seems like it has happened a little too fast and this is solidified by the fact the controls and menu still reference mouse and keyboard, rather than an Xbox controller.
These issues were even more prevalent in my time with the multiplayer. Servers regularly suffer from connectivity issues. Whilst this could be coincidence or down to the others in the server, the PSU limit was a huge issue I had. The PSU is essentially a limit on how much you can build in one server. Unfortunately, this is often full when joining a server, meaning you can’t even build the necessary tools to survive. One resource hog can bog down an entire server. For me, one of the biggest draws of survival crafting games is the multiplayer. Being stranded in space, building and exploring together to fight off other players and build great creations, is one of the most unique experiences games of this calibre can offer. It is a shame this multiplayer is so flawed.
Overall, from my time with Space Engineers on Xbox One, it is clear to see that it is a game with a lot of potential. Its complexity could take days or weeks to fully master and that is something that will probably keep me coming back in a few months. Unfortunately, as of right now, the multitude of glitches and multiplayer issues makes it hard to justify any more playtime.