The Joy Of Subnautica’s Sea Treaders

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.

36 Comments

  1. Premium User Badge

    Drib says:

    I did not realize these guys wandered around specifically in herds, or fed at all. I presumed they just milled around randomly like the other fish that don’t attack anything.

    That said, the wiki implies that Reefbacks have pods of two or three generally.

    Anyway, I liked these things mostly ’cause they’re so different from everything else. You’ve got four or five kinds of peepers and boomerangs each, but then there’s… these guys. They’re an entirely different evolutionary track.

    Also I like moving close enough to make them raise up to strike, and then backing up and watching them poof dirt around.

    Subnautica really is quite fun.

  2. Premium User Badge

    Aerothorn says:

    I am really glad I discovered these for myself last night before this article was posted.

    As you said yourself before the verdict – this is a game best gone in blind, if one can help it. Yes, we’re all crazy spoiler-averse and that makes it impossible for a working journalist to write about anything, but I think putting their picture and location after the cut will preserve the surprise of their discovery for others!

    • Evan_ says:

      Same here. Hell, I’m even drawing a map by hand, just to avoid looking one up.

      • sapien82 says:

        Hehe now that is old school , Im sure I still have a book of maps which Ive drawn as a kid ina school jotter for various amiga 500 games and some early PC games . Also my own doom levels in there on square jotted paper!

        Aye Im fair enjoying the exploration of subnautic and all the creepy noises in the deep , there is somethign about underwater games that really puts me on edge despite the fact that you are invincible I still always feel like something could nibble on my toes or bite my leg off ala Jaws!

        the Sea is definitely a mystery

  3. Nauallis says:

    I love these articles, John. Please never stop.

  4. Halcyon says:

    Thanks for ruining one more thing that I could have discovered on my own in the main banner image. You love this game so much you just cant help but spoil things for others?

    • BathroomCitizen says:

      Oh, c’mon, don’t be so sensitive. You could’ve easily stopped reading this post as soon as you checked the banner image – and you’d have still wondered what that sea creature was.

      Gamers are too fussy these days.

      • Mawh says:

        I agree, actually, it’s not cool putting up the picture of something part of a recent update directly into the article header. I enjoy discovering Subnautica by myself and would have loved stumbling upon those things unprepared. I’m going to expect it now.

        • KyukiYoshida says:

          “Part of a recent update”. These creatures have been in the game a year now I believe. I wouldn’t exactly call that recent. I have to assume you got here through the news portion under your game in the steam library. If you enjoy discovering things yourself, I’d avoid clicking on articles titled things like, “The joy of Subnautica’s Sea Treaders”. Everytime you read a news article about the game, you risk hearing or learning about something you didn’t know of.

          • fish99 says:

            The image can be seen just by visiting the RPS homepage. The fact that Halcyon clicked the story is irrelevant since you don’t know whether he read any of it, or just came in here to express a bit of disappointment about the spoiler.

          • Mawh says:

            No, I came here by browsing RPS, and the picture was on the front page, that’s it. I had no idea these were added a year ago, I played twenty hours during the past month and I’ve never seen them ! So, I assumed they were part of release 1.0…

    • fish99 says:

      Agreed, it’d be nice if stuff like this was kept out of header images. The best moments in the game are finding new creatures for yourself.

      • poliovaccine says:

        To be fair, I feel like John says exactly that in the beginning of every time he talks about Subnautica, and this is like the one time ever that he neglected to include that boilerplate caution.

        Also, I do kinda think at least the potential for spoilers should be obvious before you click the article. I mean if the article is about See Treaders, and you don’t know what Sea Treaders are yet, well… what did you expect?

        I suppose the bit about it being in the unavoidable header image is a legitimate gripe, but I hadn’t found these things yet myself, and I find it impossible to actually care. That’s just me, of course, and ymmv, but still, it seems fair to expect people to assume this whole article is a kind of spoiler, and anyway, for as much as it spoils, it gives a lot more insight into the worldbuilding and AI.

        I’d say if you glimpsed the header and it really bothers you, just pretend you saw it in the trailer video haha..

        • fish99 says:

          Again, it’s not about the story. I deliberately didn’t read the story, or look at the screenshots. It’s about the header image on the homepage where you have no choice but to see it.

          It’s not a massive deal though.

    • Zorganist says:

      I got a Sea Treader steam trading card after playing for about an hour or two, so the game itself is doing a pretty shoddy job of keeping these things un-spoiled.

    • John Walker says:

      The top image is deliberately confusing to look at for anyone who doesn’t already know what they look like, and gives little away.

      But honestly, they’re one of dozens of creatures in a game that’s been out over a year, and as spoilers go, a deliberately obfuscated image is really perhaps not the one to get so angry about.

      I’m sorry that you feel it’s spoiled something for you, but I hope you can recognise this wasn’t an act of malevolence.

  5. geldonyetich says:

    I found a lovely spot for a base, but there was no way to power it. However, it was right next to an active sea treader migration path.

    Long story short, I’ve now four bioreactors full of sea treader dookie.

    • Stillquest says:

      Do they still poop? I remember finding loads of treader doo-doo back in early access, but none in my new version 1.0 game.

      • Evan_ says:

        They do. I only played after the release-

      • geldonyetich says:

        Go up and down the sea treader migration path (that’s the area that’s been stamped clean of any flora) and you’ll eventually find scads of scat.

        What’s probably happening is the game reaches a maximum count of them so they’re not everywhere, just in the area where the most were produced before it hit the max.

  6. Mezzelune says:

    Man, I ran into these in almost pitch black darkness, pretty terrifying. It’s always a massive relief when you scan something and it isn’t a predator…

    I think the Reefbacks are my favourite, they’re like friendly squid-whales, find them strangely reassuring.

  7. LewdPenguin says:

    There is another creature that has young, albeit not in a social group sense as with the Treaders. I’m assuming anyone parsing this far into a slightly spoilery articles comments section is ok with it, but if not avert your peepers from here on to avoid further slight spoilering: when you go to the deep places there’s also a Juvenile Ghost Reaper to say hello too, or rather it’ll say hello to you since it’s just as bitey as the fully grown form.

    • Archonsod says:

      They’re not bitey at all – Ghost Leviathans are filter feeders. They are however incredibly territorial and evolved along the ‘sort things out by headbutting’ line.
      There’s other creatures with young in the game, but that would definitely head down a spoilery path.

      • Premium User Badge

        Drib says:

        Aren’t ghost leviathans the sole creature that can eat you whole at full health?

        I think the spoilery guys are the filter feeders.

        • modzero says:

          They are filter feeders, they’re just filtering out all the plankton bigger than a reasonably sized submarine.

  8. Monggerel says:

    Subnautica really brings out the best in everybody!
    Some people marvel at alien wonders, others stripmine a planet to build the perfect underwater city for one person, and some build a giant robot in order to fistpunch every Leviathan to death.
    (so far I’ve done in 2 Reapers: they’d be a lot harder to fight if their standard attack didn’t bring their big stupid faces right into punching range)

    • Archonsod says:

      The problem I found is grappling hook + punch might sort them out, but after you latch on to the Reaper it’s far too easy to get carried away and start referring to it as ‘my noble steed’.

    • Marclev says:

      Personally I strip mine the planet while marvelling at the alien wonders in my giant robot that can fistpunch every Leviathan to death.

  9. Darloth says:

    Subnautica makes me treat gold, especially, as a form of shiny yellow trash.

    Diamonds and lead are slightly more useful, but only just.

  10. Chaoslord AJ says:

    Love those, they are basically diamond farms.

  11. Crusoe says:

    I’ve been playing Subnautica an obscene amount since release, and your wild enthusiasm and child-like awe and joy for the game, John, is the perfect compliment for my (rare) down time with the game.

    It’d be interesting to know what you’re favourite biome(s) are, maybe in a while once spoilers are less of a big deal.

  12. Ghostwise says:

    What we REALLY NEED is some HARD-HITTIN’ INVESTIGATIVE JOURNALISM to know whether these critters are zoologically related to the Stilt Striders in Morrowind.

  13. Ejia says:

    But what if I still want to eat them? Massive tentacled beasties lurking in the depths may be frightening, but I also wonder what they’d taste like battered and deep fried.

  14. Evan_ says:

    “Crabsquid.” That’s the first time I hear that. Such a mundane word to describe something as magnificient as that creature. Sorry, Sea Treaders can only take the second place for me.

  15. celticdr says:

    BTW thanks a lot John for convincing me to buy another awesome game to add to my Steam backlog [intended both sarcastically and not].

    Now I’ve got 50+ hrs of fun times under the sea thanks to you, jerk! [again intended both sarcastically and not].

    :)