By Terris Harned (NWOrpheus)
While hanging out on the Discord channel for Coffee Stain Studio’s newest title, Satisfactory, which just entered early access on the EPIC launcher on March 18th, 2019, I saw more puns about the word satisfactory than could be considered sanitary. As such, I’m going to do my best to avoid using them while I write this preview about my experience with this stunningly beautiful game during its alpha weekend just before that launch date. For the alpha weekend we only had access to the first three tiers of research technology, out of a potential 8 at full release, and I believe I read that the first 6 will be available during early access. Be that as it may, I enjoyed what I’ve seen so far, and find the game to be aptly named (not gonna say it!)
If you’re familiar with the developer Coffee Stain Studios, chances are you’ve played one of the Sanctum games, or even the infamous Goat Simulator (they’re still not apologetic for that one). Located in Skövde, Sweden, this crazy fun bunch of folks have been working hard on their automation building simulator, Satisfactory, for a while now. Likened to the lovechild of No Man’s Sky and Factorio, blending the stellar graphics of the former with the gameplay of the latter, Satisfactory is a first person view factory building game that puts you in control of an employee of the Ficsit Inc corporation. Ficsit Inc, like many powerful companies, is long on wealth and short on scruples. Their motto, “Construct, Automate, Explore & Exploit” pretty well sums up your objectives in Satisfactory.
You’ve been delivered to an alien planet with little more than your drop pod, and a mission: assist with the “Save the Day” program by contributing to “Project Assembly”. What you’re assembling in Project Assembly is a mystery, but if you follow Ficsit Inc’s instructional materials, you’ll reach your objective Soon™ and be able to move on to the next planet. That objective is automating the
exploitation utilization of the planet’s resources and shipping them into space via the space elevator, all for the benefit of Ficsit Inc humanity.
I love the sense of scale that the space elevator brings to the game. It’s massive.
To start with you’ll need to place your hub. Your hub is your base of operations, and where you’ll be carrying out research of the local flora and fauna’s potential for exploitation. This is done at the hub’s Molecular Analysis Machine, or M.A.M. for short. By bringing native materials to the M.A.M. you will actually unlock certain features, such as building energy crystals that can be used to overclock your facilities. I’m getting a bit ahead of myself there, though.
A good way to figure out where to set up your hub, which you’ll need to deconstruct your drop pod so that you have the materials for, is by utilizing your handy dandy scanner. This device is capable of locating various types of resources, theoretically using some sort of seismic sonar type magic. Once you’ve located a source of iron, hit your build button and drop your hub.
The game is pretty good at taking you through all of this with its tutorial. In fact, it will pretty much walk you through the entirety of setting up the “Tier 0” technology, which is, in essence, just setting up a base camp and finishing the construction of your hub. The one thing the tutorial seemed to fall short on for some people was the fact that before you can place a mining facility (in the beginning just a portable miner that doesn’t require being powered, but also cannot connect to automation), you have to destroy the resource boulder on the surface, if there is one.
Not all resource nodes have this large chunk, so I guess I can see how people on the Discord channel had some confusion, but having played any game ever before in my life I had the sense to walk up to the resource node and see what mousing over it did. Holding the “E” button on my keyboard allowed me to pull out my hand chisel, break the rock down, and then place my miner. Okay, maybe I’m being a bit unfair to people who weren’t familiar with the mechanic, but you’d think they at least would have figured it out when they used it to get out from the rock they were living under.
I dunno, it seemed simple to me, but I guess some people had trouble.
Now, as I’ve said, Satisfactory is a game about automation, but actually automating things takes time. Truth be told, the first couple tiers of technology, which you advance by deploying materials to space using a drop ship, you can probably craft faster by hand than by automation. If you do this, however, then you won’t be ready to automate when you get to the higher tiers of things that require larger quantities of more complex materials to unlock.
For example, technologies in the first tier require copper wire, iron rods, and iron plates. Copper wire is made from copper ingots, which come from copper nodes. Letting the autominer collect up a quantity, then running back to the craft bench to process, is probably a bit faster than building a smelter and then a construction facility to process the ingots into the wire. This is fine when you’re working in quantities of 300. When you start dealing with 1500 of the material, manually crafting, while perhaps slightly faster, is also far more tedious.
Let’s see, insert tab A into slot B aaaaand twist.
Additionally in higher tiers you need things like reinforced plating, which requires iron plate and screws. Screws in turn being made from iron bars. Now, you can go to the portable miner, grab the iron, run back to the craft table and grind it all out by hand, or you can build an automated Miner Mk I, which will send the ore via conveyor belt to the smelter, and then to the constructor that will process the ingots into bars, and then from that conveyor to another conveyor to make the bars into screws.
To me, it’s all like a big game of LEGOs, or puzzle building. There’s a strategy element in how to make things happen efficiently. Also, automated. Powering your facilities such as smelter, constructor, or assembler (which you need to make materials requiring two or more components, such as the reinforced iron plating mentioned earlier), is a requirement. For the first two tiers this is done by using biomass burners.
Biomass burners are essentially furnaces that consume leaves or wood in various states of processing, and convert it into energy. Basically wood powered steam engines. When you unlock Tier 3, and the appropriate technology, you can also create coal furnaces. This is when the magic of true automation actually begins, as you can create mining facilities that harvest the coal, then pump the coal into coal burners, which will power the mining facilities themselves. This is a major game changer, because the biomass burners do not have an automation intake. They must always be fed manually. But, at least you get a space chainsaw, which makes harvesting wood for biomass fuel much faster.
Now all I need is a boom stick.
From here, the game is simply about making more and more elaborate pieces, but also in doing so in the most efficient manner possible. Unlocking additional tiers of technology will require things like rotors, which will be used to construct motors, which will in turn allow for the unlocking of yet more technologies, but will also require more complex mixtures of components. All of this leading to huge maze-like connections of conveyor belts.
Now, let me tell you, I’ve played a few other of these factory type games: Factorio which I mentioned earlier, as well as Fortresscraft Evolved!. One of the most time consuming aspects of these games is the placement of your belts. Plus, if you need to move something, it can destroy your entire belt system. I really feel Satisfactory did a great job of overcoming this with their easy to use conveyor belt connection system. For the most part, you can simply connect any two conveyor nodes, so long as there’s an in and an out. You can also use them to make automated walkways by placing conveyor towers.
They also allow access to places you couldn’t otherwise reach. When you dismantle them you get all your materials back, making this a neat trick for early game.
The thing that Satisfactory seems to lack, however, is any sort of antagonist. There are a few critters running around, and your early weapons for fighting them are pretty crappy, but all in all it doesn’t seem to matter much. There’s no sense of urgency in your building. There’s no waves of alien critters perturbed by your industry that you need to defend against. There’s just the objectives set forth by Ficsit Inc. This also gives me some worries about the ultimate replay value of Satisfactory, but I’ll wait until release to set final judgement on that.
Frankly though I’d really like to see them do something like put up single player and multiplayer leaderboards (oh yeah, you can play with up to 3 other people in one game) that show off who has completed the mission in the least amount of time, perhaps reset seasonally. Just something to give some sort of drive to play again.
My other concern is that Satisfactory is going to have some pretty serious hardware demands. It ran just fine and without any stutters or lag on my system, which has an i7 8700k processor and RTX 2080 GPU, but it did cause some pretty significant heat spikes whenever I was standing near my factory. My CPU normally runs no higher than 52 degrees Celsius when I’m gaming, but when playing Satisfactory I saw it hit spikes as high as 65 degrees Celsius. While this is still within safe operating parameters, it’s not ideal for long term usage, and I wonder what it might do to lower end machines.
I had a couple other minor complaints with Satisfactory, such as the fact that the M.A.M. machine doesn’t give you any notification when it’s completed its current analysis. These take between four and twelve minutes for the stuff that I found during the alpha weekend, which is obviously longer than I want to stand around staring at the machine.
Also, whenever you use the hub to launch materials into orbit, which is how you unlock technologies within a tier, the drop pod takes off, and you have to wait for its return before you can unlock another technology. This felt like a bit of arbitrary time gating that I didn’t feel offered anything positive to the game beyond a bit of story fluff. At least it was fun to watch the pod take off. Finally, there’s the fact that nodes didn’t seem to have any limit, which I have rather mixed feelings about. It’s just one more way in which the game seemed to lack any sense of urgency or adversity.
Because who doesn’t love a big red button?
I have to say, I enjoyed Satisfactory quite a bit. Its early access price on the EPIC launcher, which holds at least temporary exclusivity (nothing definitive has been given out by Coffee Stain on whether or not this will be permanent or not) to the title is $29.99. I think you would have to be a very dedicated factory building game enthusiast to get your full money’s worth out of that price, given what has been shown so far.
Keep in mind, though, that I did only get to experience the first three tiers. Going beyond that might take a much longer time and require far more intensive automation than what I got to experience, but the scale of operations seemed rather diminutive compared to that of similar titles. Whether that’s a good thing or not might depend on what your level of gaming enthusiasm is. More casual players could prefer the less demanding setups that seem to be needed in Satisfactory than, say, Factorio.
To be more specific on this point, let me elaborate. When playing Factorio, you’re likely to have dozens of miners feeding into dozens of smelters, which feed into several conveyors, and many many constructors building just gears. Then another dozen similar setups making just wires. In Satisfactory I was able to get away with running on just four total miners: 1 limestone (for cement), 1 copper, and 2 iron. This was adequate up until the first 3 tiers, and to me that’s a little disappointing. Again, things could very much change as the game progresses into advanced tiers. We’ll just have to wait and see what the future holds for the title.