Subnautica is remarkable for a great many reasons, and one of them is a particular creature discovered at about 300m deep, stomping their way in long processions across a well worn path of the seabed. The Sea Treaders. These titanic crustaceans(?) are a herd of complete joy.
So much of Subnautica’s charm comes from the wisdom with which the sea creatures are designed. A slightly lesser game would have thought to have the aquatic beasties either there to be eaten, or to eat you. But while many of both groups certainly exist in the game, there is a whole other section of the marine biology – the creatures that are there to be wonderful. And most wonderful, in the whole game, is the Sea Treader.
It is in the class of Leviathan, which also contains the game’s astoundingly peaceful and comforting Reefback’s – vast behemoths that are part whale, part turtle, with an entire ecosystem living on their backs – and the utterly terrifying Reapers. The Sea Treader occupies a more interesting middle ground between the benevolence and malevolence of the other two. It’s ambivalent, until it’s fiercely protective. Because to my eyes, the Sea Treader exhibits far more interesting behaviour than any other creature in the game.
First of all, they live in herds, which I think is unique in the game. Other creatures bunch together, but that’s more as a result of the game’s localising them to certain sections of the play area. But the Treaders are deliberately herding creatures, moving together as they complete their mile-long migration across the sea floor. More than that, they herd for a reason – their young (and they’re the only other creature to have young, along with the Reefbacks) are surrounded by the mature, so they’re protected from predation.
On top of that, their movement is wonderful. These 30m giants stamp their ways across the sand and rock in their groups, and their vast rear two legs and similarly sized mouth/front leg thump at the ground, stirring up sand and rock. When they reach a fertile feeding ground, they stop and gather in a circle for a splendid festival of stomping.
My absolute favourite thing about the Sea Treader is connected to that stomping. If you get too close to their young, their protective instincts kick in, and indeed kick out. They rear up on their hind legs and their proboscis-like mouth-leg will give you an almighty kick. They’re herbivores, and aren’t going to make a snack of you, but they’ll certainly make it clear that you’re not going to be making a snack of their kiddies.
That stomping works well in our favour, too. Because as they forage, they bring up rock from the seabed containing some of the most precious elements in the game. Gold, diamond and lead can all be easily gathered once you’ve found their path and gained the equipment necessary to descend to their depths. Stumble upon them, and you can fill your boots with precious metals!
And that’s not the only precious thing they offer. So more complete is the behaviour of the Treaders than anything else in the game that not only do they exhibit such unique migratory feeding, but they poop it out too! Described by the game rather ambiguously as “Alien Feces”, Treader poo is a splendid resource for anyone operating a Bioreactor, and there are plans to have it act as a fertiliser for growbeds.
And none of this is to point out that they’re also the most beautiful creatures in the game. Sure, the astonishing Ghost Rays, with their translucent skin and vivid internal organs, are incredible to swim amongst. A Jellyray may be mesmerising. And yes, the Crabsquid is a remarkably creepy and beautiful octopus-like. But the peculiar Sea Treader is, in my view, the best of them all. It should be so awkward, bipedal yet using its mouth to form a tripod, and yet it looks so elegant. Their orange and blue patterns shine in the deep, dark waters, two large black eyes giving them such a friendly appearance (two further smaller eyes less obvious), and all delightfully contradicted by the seemingly incongruous feathered antennae.
I love so many of the creatures in Subnautica, but none so much as the Sea Treader. It’s a ludicrous, gorgeous, protective and spectacular titan.