By Terris (NWOrpheus)
I recently mentioned how much I love open world survival games, in my preview of Frozen Flame. I don’t know if I would call them my favorite genre, per se, but definitely top 5. Another genre that would be in that top 5 ranking would be the colony management sim (aka Dwarf Fortress clones). I’ve chalked up a fair few hours on games like Rimworld and Oxygen Not Included, and one of my earliest reviews for OnRPG was the game Judgment: Apocalypse Survival Simulator.
To be honest, this genre is sort of becoming the “next big thing” in the way that open world survival games did, and then battle royale games did. Not quite to the extent, but the trend is definitely there. The colony survival sim has definitely gained a great deal of popularity. My most recently explored title in the genre, Embark, is one I’ve got some mixed feelings about. Thankfully, it’s very early in its alpha state, so the one man development team of Singapore based studio, Overly Complicated Games, has plenty of time to add some polish that could really bring the game to the next level.
I’ll start with the basics, for those not familiar with the genre: Most colony survival sims have a lot of procedural generation involved, both in the creation of the world and of the characters that your colony is comprised of. Embark is no exception to this, though it does have some aspects of launching a colony that are fairly unique, and worth mentioning.
The additional options you have when making your starting colonists is quite refreshing.
First of all, you’re not strictly limited to three colonists, which is a fairly average number. Instead, Embark gives you a set number of points with which to “purchase” your colonists. The colonists themselves are randomly created by clicking a button. Generally speaking, you want to start your game with a set of colonists with decent ability in a few key points, like mining/digging, wood cutting, food preparation/cooking, etc. The basics that you’ll need to get resources to build shelter, and supply food for your team.
Given Embark’s numerical system, this isn’t overly difficult to do, so long as you’re willing to put some time in clicking the reroll button until you get your basics covered. What skills exactly you want to start with will depend largely on your play style. Some people choose to start with extremely “fertile” colonists, and not worry about the first generation overmuch, but instead proliferate the colony through reproduction. These traits, of which each colonist has 3, can vary greatly both in their nature, and in their potency.
For example, one character might have the traits minorly psychotic, extremely lazy, and decently friendly. Each of these statistics in turn contributes to what abilities the colonist will be good at. For example, a psychotic character might sound worrisome, but that trait tends to make them good with weapons. On the other hand, it can also make them more likely to anger other colonists when they interact, so you might wish to make efforts to largely keep them away from other people.
Before I segue into said interactions, I’ll point out that points aren’t merely used to purchase colonists. There’s also a short list of “perks” that you can choose to give your colony, such as beginning with some basic tools, food and seeds to plant crops, beverages, and even what time of year your colony starts in (winters can be harsh on some maps!). So before you’ve even started the actual game play, many tactical decisions can be made. Additionally, which the re-rolling may be tedious at times, one feature that Embark offers that I haven’t seen in most colony survival sims is the ability to actually save your colonist loadout, so it can be reused. This is a most welcome feature!
Okay, so the interactions: Embark relies heavily on a mood mechanic. The mood of colonists is affected by a number of things. How much food a colonist gets to eat, whether or not they have a bed, and how nice a room that bed is in, their health, and frequently, their interactions with other colonists. Introverted and extroverted colonists, for example, may not interact well.
Hassan is content, and despises people who are competitive. But since he’s also undemanding, he enjoys the company of optimistic people.
Each colonist has a list of likes and dislikes based on their three variable assets that you roll up before beginning the game. They will also talk about things like their rooms, other colonists, and even when you construct new buildings or facilities. It’s a very in depth system reminiscent, by design, of The Sims.
Beyond the mood and interaction system, Embark begins to look more like the rest of the genre out there. It is a full 3D environment, which I think might be something of a genre first. The game Gnomoria came close, but was 2.5D isometric, not full 3D. Embark actually lets you fully change your camera angle, as well as change your Z axis view, even allowing you to look underground and find caves. It’s kind of mesmerizing.
I don’t know why I love this so much, but I do. Don’t judge me.
Otherwise, it’s fairly familiar territory. You have to build shelter and beds for your people, protect them from the elements and starvation, arm them so they can defend themselves etc. It does have a full research tree, which unlocks new technologies. Some dedicated players have reached quite large populations, but I haven’t had the time to get past some of the bugs which have caused my colony to collapse, such as my colonists spontaneously deciding they’re not going to cook food any more.
Also, much though I appreciate the 3D nature of the game, there’s something about the graphics that just puts me off. I think the creator was going for a sort of Minecraft feel, and if so they’ve achieved it, but each block just repeats itself. This takes away from the world feeling like it has any sort of texture. Additionally, when you stick a normal shaped tree or a round faced human onto that blocky Minecraft texture, it just feels off. I also am just not entirely in love with the art style itself, to be frank, but that’s a subjective thing.
Again, these issues can be said to go back to the game being an alpha build, and an Early Access release on Steam. There’s every likelihood they can be fixed in the future. If you enjoy games of the Dwarf Fortress, Rimworld, and Oxygen Not Included style, and want to help development of Embark, the $24.99 price tag really isn’t too terrible. Just be aware that what you’re getting isn’t a finished product. It does however receive regular updates, despite the one man development. Drop into their Discord channel and say hi.