Premature Evaluation: Avorion

Every week we give Brendan a heap of scrap metal and warp him to the early access quadrants. This time, the single- and multiplayer create-your-own-space-junk of Avorion [official site].

My beautiful butterfly of a ship is floating sideways through space, with only one of its thrusters still intact. In the distance, tracer rounds dance around an innocent convoy of traders. The pirates didn’t waste much time on my ship, the Strictly Murder. A few surprise shots, a clumsy collision and off I drifted, desperately checking a game menu in an effort to rebuild and plot a course back to the safe zone. I clicked the rebuild button, certain that enough time had passed since the last shot struck my craft’s blue, delicate wings. A red message buzzed in the corner of my display.

“You need 910 iron and 588 titanium.”

Oh good, I thought. Back to mining.

I don’t know why I keep doing it to myself. Only last week I lamented the stodgy promise of Galactic Junk League, where you could create your own wonderful spaceships bit by bit and then drive them into a mediocre multiplayer firefight. Avorion seemed to have the same idea, but replace the arena combat with an open galaxy to explore. Asteroid mines, ship yards, scrap heaps, distress signals. A space game, by any measure, but one in which you could piece together your own craft block by block. Surely this time.

After fumbling through the tutorial and making a small, cat-like cube of a ship which I christened the Muckraker, I began to float around and consider my options. There were asteroids everywhere, glinting and iron-rich. I could mine some of that. But why would I waste my majestic feline cube on such a menial task? No, the Muckraker was going to get renovated and we were going to see what we could do.

The build screen for your ship is fiddly yet deep. Each block type – hull, thrusters, crew quarters, cargo hold, etc – can be stretched and moulded and clipped on almost wherever-you-want. Mirrored modes allow for perfectly symmetrical shipwrighting. And a stats list, once enabled, will show you in fine detail how each block will improve or impede your vessel. This cargo hold will add 40 units of cargo space, but it’ll also affect your pitch and yaw speed, a problem that can be solved by throwing more thrusters onto the extremities of your hull. Each piece costs a bit of money and a bit of material – iron, titanium, and so on. It’s a very open-ended editor, if a little dickish to use. Rotating blocks, altering the size and adjusting the snapping grid is a process akin to learning some sort of futuristic Photoshop. I Ctrl-C and Ctrl-V’d a lot of pieces.

Eventually, I was happy with the Muckraker. Red, long, covered in random spikes. All good ships need a spike or nine. But the error messages came down like iconographic rain. Not enough miners to operate your mining turrets! Not enough gunners for your military turrets! Not enough mechanics! Not enough crew space! For every threatening barb on the Muckraker’s underside, there was a logistical problem that needed fixing. Not to worry. I know where to get the crew.

You pick up crew in a number of places, the giant space station in your starter zone being the closest and most stocked early on. Without gunners, your machine guns won’t work, without mechanics your ship will slowly take damage, because there’s nobody there to put coal in the engine or whatever. I stacked the ship with men and women and headed out into the galaxy at random, plotting co-ordinates and waiting for the jump route to calculate. The galaxy map is massive and my jump range microscopic, but with a few quick hops I could explore some of my surroundings. Maybe check out one of the distress signals nearby.

I landed after the first jump and roused the navigating computer again. Second jump, full speed!

“Your hyperdrive engine is using up all your energy.”

Hm. Well, I’m sure that can be sorted. I went into the build menu again and tried to discover what stat governed this new limitation. I covered the Muckraker in solar panels and told myself that it still looked threatening. The energy level increased by a pitiful amount. I would later discover that what I needed was a generator, only buildable with titanium. Because of my refusal to mine, I had a mere 4 nuggets of this metal. The solar panels glinted. I gave it some more spikes.

I hopped a little further into the void, landed, and began to plot the next jump.

“Your hyperdrive still needs 155 seconds to recharge.”

Okay. That’s okay. I am still trying to understand the game. What I ought to do is go back to the safe zone and figure this out. The Muckraker obviously still needs some work. I began to leap back, slowly, slowly. Pausing in each attractive-yet-empty sector of space fro 155 seconds at a time. A little yellow exclam appeared in the top right of the screen.

“The crew of ship ‘The Muckraker’ must be paid.”

Oh right. I checked the message. I was in debt to my own crew to the tune of 13,000 galactic quid. I had 3800 quid in my space account. This was a problem. Without payment, the crew get inefficient and annoyed. A mechanic begins to count for only 85% of a mechanic. A pair of miners only counts as 1.7 miners. In this way, the Muckraker became even more rubbish and energy inefficient.

I wobbled back to the safe zone and found some wrecked pirate vessels, loot still swirling around them, derelicts who had met the safe zone’s guardians in battle. I sold the loot – ship upgrades that boosted shields or allowed for deeper scanning range – for tens of thousands of credits and felt like a fool. I have been going about this all wrong. The Muckraker ought to be doing what its name suggests. In a blast of nominative determinism, my spiky, awful ship became a bottom feeder, searching the safe zone for wrecks and dismantling them with a salvaging turret. I made 88,000 credits and mined some titanium on the side for a generator. No more would I be hobbled by 155-second starjumps. The Muckraker would go from sector to sector and she would salvage like a hungry eel. An eel shaped like a scorpion.

I stumbled across this scrapyard. A gold mine for my purposes. All these shipwrecks, floating there like ripe cherry tomatoes. The scrapyard man said I needed to pay 10,000 galquids for the privilege of salvaging for a mere hour. I made it 10 minutes before extreme boredem set in and I drove The Muckraker into the side of a wide cargo wreck just to see what happened. What happened is: I exploded.

Here’s my problem. Space games, to generalise, are saddled with dull odd jobs. Even the best-looking spaceship sim is hollow at the core. Here, there were three options to make the money I needed to build a bigger and better ship.

Mining – this involves hovering your ship close to a rock as you hold down the mouse button until the giant space stone slowly dissolves into nothing. You can also discover larger asteroids, which are almost identical to all the others but slightly “more rocky”, and sell these to factions for decent cash. Later in the game, after you’ve earned the millions necessary for such an endevour, you can set up your own mining station on one of these. I’ve also read about drones and helpers, but I never found any of those. Until you’re rich, mining is no more interesting than in any other space game I’ve played – Eve, Elite, they are all sinners. Mining is the curse of the space game.

Salvaging – this is essentially mining, except instead of lasering a rock until it dissolves you are lasering a ship until it dissolves. Sometimes goodies fall out, upgrades that can sell for a good price, or cargo that the ship had been carrying. Mostly, however, each fizzled bit of metal will yield a tiny bit of iron or titanium. This makes salvaging like playing a senile slot machine, which instead of coins awards you mainly with crumpled-up bits of tin foil.

Fighting – now we’re talking, right? A good spacefight is hard to beat! Oh wait, you’re right. A good space fight is literally hard to beat. In the safe zone, you can rely on nearby AI captains to pitch in immediately, then let loose with your little gunboat. In distant sectors it is more of a challenge. I once responded to a distress signal and was faced with two pirate ships. Okay, I figured, I can do this. But then I noticed that there were actually nine pirate ships and that the little red boxes that serve as targeting reticules simply didn’t show up very well in the black of space. I turned around and left that sector, thankful that I would not have to pay my engineers again for another 90 minutes.

I’m simplifying this of course. There are other money-making methods. And each of them does have their subtleties. Some wrecks can be brought back to life for example and sold whole. You can build multiple ships and order them about with you in some way (although I never got to this point myself). You can found mines and build space stations. You can ferry cargo and do deliveries or material-sourcing jobs for money. You can set your cargo policy to take on stolen goods and try your luck selling those (again, I had stolen cargo but never actually sold it).

There’s a lot in this game, small touches that will appeal to a much more patient player. It is the sinkiest of timesinks. For me, I just wanted it to stop throwing handcuffs on me every fifteen minutes. For a game about making your own ship, it is a great fan of hobbling your creativity with necessary stats, crew rosters, energy levels, payment plans, insurance policies, hyperdrive requirements, and on and on and on. For many, that’ll be the appeal: here’s some material, see how you can do with limitations, see how much you can make with what you’ve got. Even I would like to get into that level of play. When I see the videos of it, I know there’s a good game buried in here, and something that many people will love. But when the early limitations can only be overcome with grindy, uninteresting bottom-feeding, I start to mentally check out.

The breaking point came for me when I forsook the plans to make a Muckraker II and instead began work on a new ship. It was to be a deadly Morpho butterfly of a spacecraft. It had large wings, coloured eternal blue. Six legs on it’s belly and two antennae, which upon closer inspection were just the same block type as the legs, except they were placed on the ship’s “forehead”. Most importantly, she had a triple barreled gun and another mono-barrelled gun. I called her the Strictly Murder and went out to seek my fortune.

That’s how I ended up floating in space, watching a fight from afar, seven out of eight thrusters destroyed in a botched attack on a group of angry pirates. Normally, I’d click on the build menu and then “repair” which would automatically buy and stick each missing piece to your ship, according to the last autosaved blueprint you had. In this case, I got the message that I was once again stinking of poverty.

“You need 910 iron and 588 titanium.”

Oh good, I thought. Back to mining. But then I thought again, and quit the game.

Avorion is on Steam early access for £13.59/$17.99. These impressions are based on build 1610306.

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28 Comments

  1. NOPper says:

    Check out the Steam guides section or the official forums and learn the bits that the “tutorial” doesn’t teach you. You will then be swimming in cash and materials and begin working on either a massive dreadnought of doom or a whole fleet of AI ships you designed kicking everything’s ass in seconds, covered in shields, with a jump range 10x what you have now.

    Examples: Thrusters work via surface area not volume, and can be stacked super thin for massive gains and covered in armor without worry. Hiring a specialist instead of general crew filling a role such as gunner is worth at least 1.5x the labor, and specialists gain XP for even better efficiency. Fitting some of those modules you’ve been looting starts to get really interesting when you find some that add +5 armed turrets. And speaking of those modules, you don’t have to use a salvaging beam to get them from wrecks (though you do if you want to strip metals from them), you just blow them up in a hail of gunfire.

    My friends and I picked this up last week, and have about 30-60 hours each already on a private server we set up. I own entire stations and fly a massive ship with 8 upgrade slots and 17 cannons, with shields over 400,000 HP. And that’s chump change compared to my buddy who build a whole fleet to follow him around and mine for him.

    I guess what I’m getting at is there is a lot more to this game then you get to see the first hour or two, and if the tutorial did a better job explaining some of it you may find Avorion to be a super cool and unique game. As a huge fan of the X series and things like Space Engineers, this was right up my alley personally.

    Opinion away!

    • Tigris says:

      When you have to use out of the game resources in order to play the game, the game failed. It is a 0/10 immediately.
      Of course this is in early access and can still change, but people directing other to necessarily guides do not help in getting the developers to stop failing .

      This also includes needing to have knowledge from a prior game from the series.

      • shocked says:

        When you have to use out of the game resources in order to play the game, the game failed. It is a 0/10 immediately.

        No, it’s not.

        Of course it’s nice when a game has tutorials for all of its aspects, but for complex games that’s often simply not possible in an exhaustive way. It’s totally ok when a developer counts on third hand guides for thorough information as long as the game teaches you the basics.

        • Tigris says:

          No it is not ok it is a sad failure by the developer. Do not excuse such blatant failures….
          It does not have to be a tutorial for everything, but there should at least be an easy way to get all necessary information inside the game.

          • GoJu says:

            How old are you guys 10? 12? in the real open world you still have to figure out some things by yourself and not be told by mom how to do things. So dont cry and blame a game 0/10 if you cant play a open world game cause there stuff to learn beside the tutorials

          • GFargo says:

            Seriously though, have you ever played an early access title? Both you and this reviewer clearly checked your brain before you started to play.

            For an early-access game this title is AMAZING imo. There are countless things you can do, almost unlimited variability with the ship building tools, and a dedicated developer working tirelessly to improve the title and support it’s growing community.

            The fact is this game isn’t finished yet and both you and the reviewer clearly don’t even take time to explore and play the game in front of you. Look at any of the comments from real players and you’ll see there are multiple ways to make money and survive in the Avorion universe that aren’t covered here.

            Also.. who the hell wants to exactly what to do to win a game? Sorry, I think game design has moved passed the “pillar of light to show the way” strategy. If you still need hand holding then a title in the Sandbox genre is clearly not for you.

      • Premium User Badge

        MajorLag says:

        It is certainly a design failure, but 0/10 is Cosmic Race bad, and there’s not a whole lot that’s as bad as Cosmic Race. Game Players magazine once said that Cosmic Race didn’t so much score a zero as it was The Zero, the same way a platinum-iridium bar was once The Meter.

        Hyperbole is fun and all, but let’s keeps some perspective.

        • Tigris says:

          Well for me 0/10 means unplayable.
          And when I look at games I look at them alone.
          If the game alone is not playable without outside game knowledge, it is unplayable and so by definition 0/10.
          Also design is most part not a precise science or anything. So there are not many clear design failures. Most things are just different design philosophies.

          • GFargo says:

            And when I look at games I look at them alone.
            If the game alone is not playable without outside game knowledge, it is unplayable and so by definition 0/10.

            I think you are desperately failing to grasp the concept of a Sandbox game. This game is by nature meant to be open-ended and largely unexplored… This is the game mechanic that countless gamers find so enjoyable, they aren’t given a guidebook and a linear series of lights guiding them through the game. *cough*boring*cough*. The game is more than playable without any outside game knowledge, and for an early access title, the tutorial in Avorion is one of the best I’ve experienced. Short, sweet and very educational. But yes, if you crash your ship like an idiot or fail to respect the rules of flying in Zero-G then you will be punished.

            Also design is most part not a precise science or anything. So there are not many clear design failures. Most things are just different design philosophies.

            Alright, now you’re really starting to grind my gears. It feels you clearly have no idea what you are talking about, Game Design is largely based on precise sciences. The mechanics in all the games we see are founded upon game design principals that have been shared and discussed for multiple years. You are doing everyone who works in the industry a discredit by assuming that the games we play are just randomly thrown together design philosophies. Grow up, get a degree in game design and then come back and talk to me about the shortcomings of Avorion’s game design pleb.

      • Premium User Badge

        Drib says:

        “When you have to use out of the game resources in order to play the game, the game failed. It is a 0/10 immediately.”

        Yeah I hate reading manuals for games! Burn the books, everything should just be fully explained in tutorials.

        Next patch for Crusader Kings 2 is a 500GB tutorial, hope you have a free month.

        • Cerulean Shaman says:

          We just talked about hyperbole, you know… Anyways, I agree that you can’t always explain a game to its full depth, though games that are like that are few and far between and usually limited to complex titles… (Like Crusader Kings and the X series).

          Still, the hard business fact is that your average player will boot up the game, get absolutely no real feedback, then get frustrated and quit (just like in the article), and you just lost a customer for life. Or they start hearing that you really need to read wikis and watch guide videos to learn the game and immediately think “nope nope nope”.

          Having a strong base tutorial that very clearly shows the doors to the deeper and more complex components of the game is important. At that point you’ll have a rough understanding of the game, enough to progress without frustration, and it’s curiosity that will drive you from there, i.e. Okay, I know how to do this, thanks game, but what if I wanted someone to do X for me. Can I do that instead? Let me go see.

          At that point they’re already invested and involved so self-motivated quests for information are not unusual. You see this a lot in competitive games. League does a good job of being immediately understandable to new players, but more involved players will see the doors that mean they have to look outside the game for meta, tiers, and efficient builds.

          Even in such a simple game.

          • Premium User Badge

            Drib says:

            Yes I rather obviously jumped right to absurdity.

            I suppose you are correct. There should generally be in-game tutorials on at least the very basics, even if the more complex bits can be left around.

            Not really clear if Avorion here at least tells you how to pilot the ship. That’d be a step up from Minecraft or Dwarf Fortress, at least.

          • RJWaters says:

            The game shows you how to do most everything, And minus a few end game things? if you can focus on building something functional rather than “pretty” you can easily build masses of things, 17hours in, at least 12of those have just been me puttering around exploring doing nothing useful and another 4not even at my computer, im about ready to build my second ship and make it a dedicated resource gatherer, or perhaps i wont? perhaps ill simply use some tiny drones and simply make my Borg cube of death bigger…. but yes if he managed to run out of credits i am greatly saddened, even the basic guns they give you are PLENTY good enough to rip a single enemy or two to shreds and there is back up, (just…. dont try to build to big before you can get a generator and put HULL over sensitive bits! this should be common sense!) Its a good game, it doesnt hold your hand but it DOES show you how to do everything you need to know and a bit more, everything else is just tooltips. Brilliantly designed and I am saddened at the review but then again these games are not for everyone, if you have a couple of hours to kill in a session you can get a lot done and feel proud of what youve managed to accomplish. If you only have an hour or so a day to play? you should probably give the genre in general a pass theyre time sinks, but this one for only being out less than a month has more depth and i would say it FEELS almost complete, not quite it needs some polish but its a good game

            Edit=Holy heck text dump did not think i wrote that much

        • Tigris says:

          I never said anything about tutorials. Not all knowledge has to be in tutorial form, but it has to be in an easy accessible way in the game.
          There is not a tutorial for every character in League of Legends, but a base tutorial + the ability to read clear and precise ingame what each character can do.

      • DFX2KX says:

        That’s the thing, though. I figured a lot of it out on my own. With the sole exception of asking the friend who pointed me at the game how to get Captains (so you can order your ships around)

        Turns out if you buy your ship’s starting cube from a station, you can get one as part of the deal.

        And thus began army of mining ships.

  2. brucethemoose says:

    I remember when Galacticraft was the sole answer to “I want Minecraft in spaaaace!”.

    But look at things now… I can’t even hope to keep track of all the space crafting games. Which annoys me, because I KNOW there are some gems buried in the dozens of duds out there.

    And, as this review and other reviews/comments show, finding them takes a ridiculous amount of time, thanks to the obligatory early/mid-game grind.

  3. grimdanfango says:

    *SIGH*

    When is any open-world space game going to take a leaf out of Factorio’s book… now that it’s definitively demonstrated THE ultimate solution to mining/general-survival-game-progress involving endless soul destroying tedium?

    I want a space game where you’re required to mine such vast quantities, that you have no option but to spend your time constructing and organising a logistics network of automated systems throughout an asteroid field, or across the surface of a planet.

    Let me build mining drones, ore haulers, furnaces, refineries, factories, defense networks. That’s fun – why have the fun bit boil down entirely to “magic” that converts the boring ore into a boring end product to boringly collect more boring ore?

    Construction is fun, firing a laser at a bland rock for hours is not. Let the construction do the laser firing for god sake!!!

    Almost all modern games with any survival element could benefit from being more like Factorio.

    • brucethemoose says:

      StarMade is moving in that direction, but the factories aren’t as fun yet and AFAIK the AI isn’t that sophisticated yet… So it’s not quite there.

      I 100% agree with you though. Everything is trying to be vanilla Minecraft, when they should be looking at Forge modpacks or Factorio.

    • drinniol says:

      The X series (at least up to Rebirth, dunno about that one) is exactly what you described.

    • angrysimon says:

      Actually, the review is not very in depth and is missing some of functionality in the game. You can hire a captain and create a mining ship (or another war ship) that will self mine while you patrol the zone, likely there will be quite a bit to kill with faction wars, pirates and aliens. When you’re ready to move on have the ships you’ve created follow you and away you go (pro tip: jumping is faster than using the gates once youve got the gear and mats.)

      If you want factories build them! supply chains aren’t as functional as the X series of games (or factorio) but hopefully with some time they get there.

    • DFX2KX says:

      a lot of that is planned. the one downside is that mining ships only mine as long as you’re in the sector, and the AI is PAINFULLY basic at the moment. But yes, you can already make your own stations and factories. It just takes a bit to get to that stage.

  4. Premium User Badge

    MajorLag says:

    The problem with “Space Games”, by which I think you meant Elite-likes, is that they are trying too hard to be Elite. Elite was a great game in the 80s, but it’s procedurally generated tedium of mining, haulin’ stuff, and foightin’ poirates just shouldn’t be aped so much in the great flying car future of 2017.

    We need something new to do in space. Like… I dunno, uh, Space Whaling? That could be cool, like a multi-player Shadow of the Colossus in space or something.

    • JB says:

      “multi-player Shadow of the Colossus in space”

      I’d play that!

    • dr_talos says:

      one thing this review is missing is the obvious potential of game within a game. For instance, if you could build megastructures in this games final version (way bigger than the stations and mines) you could make some amazing race tracks, and have epic space races with different classed ships. I’m not sure about space whaling, unless this game set up some crazy AI — but just thinking, if you were in a multiplayer server, and could build some sort of self-motivated (complex behavior) death machine for other players to deal with – I could see resource gathering having a much higher upside.

  5. Grim Rainbow says:

    This and the ride alongs can never stop. Hellion comes out on the 24th of Feb. I need you there, enduring it all. I need the feed. I need to know… I love your pain.

  6. Arktisk_Soldat says:

    This review is trash, you obviously didn’t play the game for long because you would know that there are other options and not just the three you give. For instance you can be a trader, you can have a mine of your own to get ore, you can have a station make items for sale, you can craft turrets, you can be a freakin pirate and steal peoples stuff.. etc etc. This game offers SOO much more but you wouldn’t know because you didn’t delve into the game far enough. I don’t like RPS or their reviews if you can call them that because they never give games a fair shake and are bias towards certain games and companies.

  7. Minamitsu says:

    Would be nice if the people making these reviews actually wanted to play. It really sounds like whoever wrote this was forced into it and didn’t care from the start.
    Lots of people read these and judge games entirely on the review of someone who wants a whole game spoon fed to them, and anything that takes effort is an instant negative.
    Most of the reviews I have seen on this site are by people who seem to do this. Like a game is just a task for their job and not a form of entertainment and fun.
    For this specifically, it seems like the reviewer had negative feelings about the game before even going into it.

  8. DrakesBlood says:

    This review reads like Polygon’s Doom gameplay…

    It’s not that hard to invest a bit of effort and brain power to figuring out a game like this, and if you’re writing game reviews it’s your job not to half-arse it.

    As far as early access title go this is pretty good quality for what you pay imo, and totally deserves a review reflecting this. Not a “I didn’t know how to play it so it’s garbage” review.

    I got off to a slow start on my original save because I skipped the tutorial, so my fault, then I had the only major problem that I’ve had with it so far in that I somehow straight-up lost my save.
    On my second save though within 15 minutes I’d designed a small and agile ship out of about 500 iron, with its own captain, and commanded it to mine for me. Shortly after I had 2 more doing the same. While they were busy earning their wages, and then some, stripping the starter sector of resources I used the titanium I’d found in the sector to build slightly bigger ship I could slot a couple of guns on and hunt pirates. Using the right pieces and build methods I looked nice and barely lost a segment even without shields.
    Confident I was ready for it, I went and explored a few other sectors and found an asteroid with something like 150k worth of titanium. Between me and my fleet I’d mined it in under 10 minutes and then I spent the next 4-5 hours of gameplay fussing over a ship that dwarfed all the others I’d made, and has so far wiped out many a pirate or alien fleet and even defied sector security forces in unfriendly territories.

    I let my brother watch me play it for a while over Steam and he’d bought it for himself by the next day. Since then I’ve barely seen him not playing it.

    I bought another copy for a friend of mine who’d sworn off early access and he hasn’t played anything else either for the last few days.

    The only genuine complaints I can make is that the AI is a bit dumb and the bulletin boards are never full enough.

    For the time I’ve gotten out of it it’s completely worth what they’re asking, and I think I’m going to go back to playing it right now.

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