Either I haven’t been paying too much attention to the usual gaming media buzz or Core Keeper really has come out of nowhere. I first heard about it during Steam’s Next Festival back in February, but it was only after it arrived on Steam’s Early Access that it really grabbed my attention. It’s the new survival indie hit that has been sitting on Steam’s top sellers for a while now, so if you fancy that sort of game, then you might want to keep this one on your radar.
Since games such as DayZ, Minecraft, and Terraria have popularized the sandbox survival genre, there have been numerous games that have attempted to find their place in this market. However, very few have succeeded. While some obviously lack any kind of inspiration or unique selling point, there are a select few who seem to have hit the nail right on the head. Despite the fact that the current version of Core Keeper is a very early one, and one that will undoubtedly change a lot as the game gets closer to its final release, I’m pretty confident when I say that the future is bright for this game.
While a lot of games seem to pour a lot of resources into making something really unique, something that nobody has ever seen before, sometimes they end up failing in providing an enjoyable gameplay experience. Sure, it might not be perfect, but for an Early Access title, Core Keeper sure feels great to play already. The Swedish team over at Pugstorm really seem to have struck gold.
It might not be groundbreaking in any meaningful way, but Core Keeper’s gameplay is a satisfying one that will, hopefully, only get better with time. For me, exploration is always a key aspect of this type of game. If I don’t feel motivated to go out and explore a game’s world, then that game has already lost me. Luckily, Core Keeper is quite compelling in this aspect, at least initially, when everything still feels and looks mysterious in the eyes of a new player.
As you step into Core Keeper’s world for the first time, there’s barely anything other than darkness all around you. A faint blue glow emanates from a nearby stone, one that’s intricately shaped and that looks exactly like the one that teleported you here, wherever here is. Whether you’re alone with seven other people, it doesn’t matter, you’re stuck underground.
The chamber where you start is completely enclosed, and so you find yourself forced to dig your way out into a series of small cave networks. There is no compass to guide you, and your map only shows what you’ve explored so far. However, you can spot tiny glints of light in the dark and you hurriedly make your way towards them. That’s how you often find ore or other things that have been randomly placed in your world. Core Keeper is a sandbox game, but these small hints really make it feel like the game is pointing you in a specific direction. Personally, I appreciate that.
I think that the genius thing about Core Keeper’s exploration is how mining is directly tied to exploration, and as a direct result, so is resource gathering. In Core Keeper, resource gathering and exploration are beautifully married together. Because the whole game takes place underground, you need to dig and mine walls in order to explore, and so you’re doing two things at once. I really think it’s quite a brilliant execution, even though it might not sound the most exciting.
There sure is a lot of mining to be done, but I quickly realized that this only made the discovery of ancient ruins and other landmarks all the more exciting. With that being said, mining is extremely satisfying, not only due to the sound that your pickaxe makes with every blow, but also due to the fact that you can see each block starting to crack as you hit it repeatedly. Another rather funny detail is the fact that walls wobble when you hit them, it’s almost like they’re made out of jelly. I think it’s quite funny, but I honestly stopped paying attention to it after a few minutes.
Thankfully, Core Keeper has streamlined a lot of the menial work that’s still present in a lot of survival games. For instance, torches can be crafted with just wood, you don’t need coal. Likewise, all you need to smelt ores is a furnace, there’s no need for fuel. I’m sure some people will be put off by that, but I think it just improves the gameplay flow a lot since it saves players time that can be spent doing more interesting things in the game.
Unfortunately, the combat has got to be Core Keeper’s weakest aspect. There’s just not much to it. Sure, you can get better weapons and armour to fight its various enemies and bosses, but combat just revolves around an attack and run loop. If you’re using melee, all you have to do is charge at the enemy when there’s an opening, attack, and then run from the enemy’s attack range. Rinse and repeat. It’s about as basic as it could be, but to be honest, I’m not sure how the developers could improve it without having to create an entirely new combat system from scratch.
Regardless, whether this will be detrimental to your gameplay experience as a whole will depend on what you’re really looking to get out of Core Keeper. If you’re looking for the whole package when it comes to a sandbox survival game, then you’ll probably be somewhat disappointed. However, if what you’re interested in is just a cosy and charming little survival game with the usual activities like fishing, farming, and tons of mining, then I’m pretty sure that you’ll have a jolly time with it.