Is there a name for the “Minecraft-like” genre yet? Are they sandbox games, taking that term away from the GTAs of the world? That’s fine I guess, considering they are usually called open-world games anyway. It’s heartening to be involved in what is still the formative years of gaming, where new genres can still come out of nowhere and defy definition for years. Anyway, Planet Explorers is another sandbox-ish game hoping to take the Minecraft ascetic into the full third dimension, rather than a world of obvious voxels. Add in its impressively in-depth creation tool for weapons and vehicles, and Planet Explorers already looks like a gift to the Garry’s Mod crowd.
So far, the narrative in place is pretty standard for this type of game. A group of would-be colonists have crashed onto a mysterious planet, and they must rebuild their tech tree and explore their surroundings. You quickly arm yourself with swords and rifles and fight all manner of huge alien creatures that will tear you up if you’re not prepared for them. The single player feels like an MMO story, consisting of fetch quests and containers for looting. The NPC and quest givers are fully voiced, and if feels that there is a lot of effort put into a facet of the game that is often ignored in this genre.
Planet Explorers also features a fully fleshed out multiplayer component, although it is one that seems rather underpopulated compared to the number of active servers it has up. It is in Early Access, so it’s not a huge problem, but it is always sad to see 0/32 player servers up and running, regardless of the game. When you do find a populated game, you see the true potential of the game’s creation tools. The weapon and vehicle designs already floating around the community are outstanding, and the tools used to make them could be mistaken for modeling software at first glance. It’s easy to see this game becoming a “hangout” of sorts, much like MMOs — only with a hell of a lot more to customize.
For now, that’s the real selling point here. The combat and story are serviceable, but the creation tools could lead to something that ends up being well worth the relatively steep asking price of $25. It needs Workshop support or some easy way to load in mods, and it also needs some other mode other than campaign for more chaotic play, but these things will most likely come with time. The creation tool is also in desperate need of a tutorial of some sort for people like me who don’t generally engage in making and customizing user-generated content.
As with all Early Access titles, there is some enjoyment to be found here, but it’s definitely not a complete product. If you’re the type to spend hours building castles in Minecraft and you’re willing to learn a new toolset, Planet Explorers will be right up your alley. If you’re looking for more than that, perhaps throwing it on your wishlist and waiting for the full release would be a better plan.