Astroneer has finally escaped the gravitational pull of early access and launched in full. System Era Softworks's survival sandbox stands out from its often-bloody peers by being non-violent, cooperative and scientifically minded. Players aren't pioneers sent to tame foreign lands, but explorers, discovering new alien flora, fauna and environments. Launch has been accompanied by the game's biggest update yet, overhauling the entire seven-world solar system, adding a new tutorial and UI to help ease players into their spacesuits. Study the launch trailer below - gently, please.
For those who skipped on the two and a bit years of early access, Astroneer also bypasses the 'caveman' nonsense of most survival sandboxes. There's threats to deal with - mostly environmental - but you start the game out as a space-scientist. You won't be going around bashing rocks with a pickaxe to make a slightly better, rockier pickaxe. You'll be 3D-printing yourself a drilling machine to explore the planet's caverns in search of resources to build fancier gadgets, and establishing outposts for oxygen and resources outside of your main base. It's this accelerated sense of progress that led Fraser Brown to put it on our 20 best survival games list even before it was finished.
It's been a while since we've seen much of Astroneer. The developers went radio silent after a big update in November to focus on finishing the game. So far, there's been no official patch notes released for the launch version, so players are finding out what's changed the old fashioned way; exploring and poking things with sticks. According to players on Reddit, planetary environments have been reworked to be more natural (especially caves), and there's been big changes to the portability of your constructions and vehicles. Vehicle bays have become large 3D printers, and if you want to, you can flat-pack a vehicle (or anything else you've printed) into a crate to be reassembled elsewhere.
There's also a bit more story now, surely to unfold as players discover more of the glowing purple alien structures and artifacts shown in the trailer. I'm always up for a good bit of xeno-archaeology, and this sounds significantly less stressful than the similarly themed Subnautica: Below Zero. The game has online multiplayer and cross-play with the Xbox One version, with one restriction: Only the Windows 10, Microsoft Store-exclusive version can play with Xbox people, so keep that in mind.