By Jaime Skelton (MissyS), Senior Editor
I can’t imagine why any sane developer would decide to create a new sandbox voxel game. It isn’t a question of needing a different selection of games in the genre. It’s an issue of facing off against the behemoth that is Minecraft and its community. Like many other popular games, Minecraft has created a fiercely loyal and often defensive player base, and it is their words that carry heavy weight in the genre. If a Minecraft player claims a game is just a “Minecraft clone,” few people will question the claim.
So when I discovered Creativerse on Steam in December 2014, I was intrigued. Here was a developer (Playful Corporation) who was brazen enough to make a product they believed in, knowing full well what they were up against. On top of that courage (or foolishness, depending on your point of view), the game’s goal was clearly to launch as free to play. It didn’t take me long to reach out to Playful directly so that we could get a first-hand look at this young game.
But First, A Word About Pachyderms
Once in a while, a game comes along that’s so hulking, so epic, so popular, it becomes the standard to which all others in its genre are compared. For MMO gamers, that monster has been World of Warcraft, the yardstick to which many MMOs have been compared. For trading card games, it’s Magic the Gathering. And for sandbox voxels – games in which you explore a cubic world and are able to shape and craft it to your whim – it’s Minecraft.
Just because a game has become a community’s standard, however, does not mean it is flawless: only that it has become the best measure of a complicated and subjective formula of success. To be a critical gamer, we must be willing to see the faults in our favorites. We must also acknowledge that games do not stand isolated from each other: our entire library of video games has been a product not only of creating new ideas, but on making old ideas better. It is how human society, as a whole, progresses, from science to art. In short: we must accept that examining similar games in a genre is almost always a more complicated argument than “it’s just a clone.”
I will make comparisons to Minecraft as I continue. These comparisons are not made to determine Creativerse’s status as a clone, but to serve as a common point of reference. While core gameplay mechanics are similar, I believe that Creativerse is a truly different game.
A Fresh Experience
The new player experience in Creativerse can be a little disorienting, even for Minecraft veterans. After the world is generated, your character is spawned in a random location in the world with only two hints on how to progress. The first of these hints is a small note in your inventory that suggests you should find shelter before the end of the night if you’re to survive. The second of these hints, though it may go unnoticed at first, is a gear icon on your compass. If you do follow this beacon, you’ll find yourself at the nearest crafting station, where you should build your first little shelter before night falls.
From there, you’re on your own. Thankfully, unlike Minecraft’s PC version, Creativerse’s crafting stations include the recipes of items you can craft. Because of this, a new player’s lifeline becomes their first crafting station. It’s here players must discover what they need to forage in the world to make their first items, from simple torches and armor to mining cells and processors. For those less intuitive types, the Steam forums offer starting guides to make it easier to learn what next steps to take.
It’s been a fun experience so far in making my way through Creativerse, mostly blind (peeking only at the forums when I was simply stumped). The further I go, the more I’m finding I can’t always apply my Minecraft knowledge and experience to making it in Creativerse. While I have a general idea of how to progress – dig deeper, find new materials, make better stuff – I’m finding new challenges that Minecraft never offered. There’s simply no blitzing your way to end game from scratch, that’s for certain.
Torches can be hung from the ceiling. It’s the small things, readers.
A simple example: building a mine. Typically, in a new Minecraft game, I’m quick to build a staircase straight to the deepest layer of bedrock, and then start digging and exploring there for the best materials. There’s no real point of working through the strata below the ground sequentially, and the game’s mining pick system lets you drill your way down with no obstruction. In five minutes on a fresh world, you can have everything you need to make your way down to the best materials (pre-Nether) in the game.
So when I looked at my gear and progression in Creativerse, I decided to use the same strategy. I hadn’t gotten very deep before I hit a wall: I could no longer mine or remove the stone in front of me. Instead, I had to go back with the stone I’d found, collect materials, and craft a new mining cell that would let me go further. And further I went again, to hit the same issue: new types of stone blocking my way until I crafted the next mining cell.
While my first mining cells were made of wood and stone, my next was made of Obsidian. This is the first real ‘ore’ of the game, but in Creativerse, ore is rare and requires extraction. Extraction is a process that uses a special “Extractor” that, when placed on an ore block, will process it over time to provide you with the ore it contains. It’s like a different mining pick, except for several key differences: it can only be used on ores, it automatically processes ore on its own time without your input, and it is destroyed on use. Yes, that’s correct: ore is a precious commodity in Creativerse and requires additional resources to obtain. I found it to be a nice element, however, that encouraged exploration and helped pace the game.
Discovery Isn’t Just a TV Network
It is unfortunate that many games do not reward exploration and discovery. There’s a true thrill when you wander into uncharted territory and find something unexpected or rare. It encourages and rewards players to look beyond the most direct progression path. I’m sure there are many gamers who prefer the direct path, but I’ve never been able to have as much fun in a game where everything was laid out for me like a trail of breadcrumbs. I like having freedom and choices.
Creativerse is, as sandboxes should be, a game that welcomes discovery. This isn’t just about stumbling upon a random wizard tower in the wilderness, though. Many of the games’ rare and powerful recipes are found randomly in chests throughout the world. While a solid number of essential recipes are always available for you to discover through standard gameplay, it requires further exploration to hunt down these items. Chests can also contain little notes and fragments, which offer tiny pieces of the puzzle that is Creativerse’s story. In order to have a complete game experience, you must take the time to look for these elusive items.
So far I have yet to discover a recipe, though I have found a torn note, and I’m left with mixed feelings about this system. On one hand, in a single player game and on my first play through, I love that mission of ‘go and find it.’ On the other hand, I can see this discovery system becoming frustrating in the long term, especially for players who play across multiple worlds or servers. It also introduces the possibly unsavory element of RNG. It is an element of the game that cannot quite be judged this early in the game’s development, but one that bears serious consideration.
Let’s Talk Business
So I’ve hopefully established how Creativerse differs from current sandbox voxels, except for that last hanging factor (the other elephant in the room): the words ‘free to play.’
Playful’s decision to make Creativerse free to play on release is a bold one, and the reasoning the developer cites is their desire to make the game available to as many people as possible. It’s a fair choice for both gamers and business – it allows players the chance to enjoy a free sandbox voxel (which are scarce) and the company to build a larger player base and gain priceless word of mouth. F2P business models, however, do carry some heavy stigmas and concerns that few developers have really conquered.
In fact, Playful has already made a blunder with the model. Though the game’s cash shop currently is disabled, its first incarnation caused a community outcry. The shop included the ability to purchase recipes with real cash, plus a super extractor item that was not available in game. However, the developers are active in the Steam community and pulled the cash shop, promising to revise it so that only cosmetic options will be available and that no pay wall will exist. This is, as far as I’m concerned, a good sign. While free to play games do carry the inevitable burden of microtransactions, a developer that is willing to adapt and redesign their monetization because of the game’s community is on the player’s side. If Playful sticks to those values, they’re in for long term success.
Might want some better furniture if you’re settling in for the long haul, though.
Early Verdict: Looks Promising
There are a number of things that I haven’t mentioned about Creativerse, little details that add to its uniqueness. Combat, for instance, is more engaging in that creatures become deadly at night, and that each has its own unique ability to counter. The game will be integrated with Steam to make it easier than ever to connect to public and private servers, including playing with your friends. Oh, and there’s the fact it’s not built in Java.
Still, I’m cautious about preaching Creativerse conversion just yet. Plainly, it’s still too early to make a true judgment call about how well Creativerse can hold up long term, although I see many community members still enjoying their games after hundreds of hours played. And while it’s certainly a different game than Minecraft, fully enjoyable in its own right, the differences between the two games are not as great as those found between, say, Terraria and Starbound. Creativerse has a lot of time and room to make something not only better, but different. This is definitely a title to keep an eye on if you’re a fan of the genre.
Want to see more Creativerse? Catch our First Look video!