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Forever Skies is a gentle survival game of lonely, desolate beauty

A promising start

An airship in Forever Skies
Image credit: Rock Paper Shotgun/Far From Home

When I played a timed early demo of Forever Skies last year, my key question about this airborne Subnautica-like was how it would successfully guide its players across its boundless world of ruined, rusting skyscrapers, overgrown plant tendrils and swampy, toxic clouds. As we searched for a rumoured cure that would save what's left of humanity back in the depths of space, would we be ping-ponging from perilous rooftop to perilous turbine pad unaided as we bobbed along the nauseous expanse below? Or would it be a more guided affair, with forgotten text logs and computer terminals nudging us toward tailored waypoints?

Having now played its recently-released early access version, the answer is a mix of both, with the freedom to scavenge and craft new modules for your burgeoning airship at your leisure while a handy radar points you in the direction of its critical story path. Assuming you've found a busted one to research and 3D print yourself, of course. The tools you need to survive don't come easily in this strangely picturesque wasteland, but they're also not so hard to track down that you ever feel truly threatened by the minutiae of staying alive. It's a pleasant mix for casual survival toe dippers like myself right now, but the dramatic climax of its first major story chunk suggests this is but a brief calm before the eventual storm.

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Combat is still currently on the 'Future Flight Map' for Forever Skies (along with four-player co-op, airship gardening and further airship expansion), but during the first dozen hours or so it will take you to reach the end of its first chapter, it doesn't really need it. Forever Skies does an excellent job of getting you on board with its gentle crafting and survival routines - literally, at first, as you'll need to put together the finishing touches to a half-constructed airship left by some intrepid vaccine seekers that came before you. Once you're airborne, there's a very comfortable 'getting to know you' period where you can test the boundaries of its world and systems, as well as your own physical limits.

There are four main bars you need to keep an eye on in Forever Skies: your energy (and accompanying stamina meter), health, hunger and thirst. The first is kept topped up by having a quick kip on your bed during the quieter moments between airship journeys, the second you can literally forget about for the time being, unless you're in the business of repeatedly throwing yourself off high ledges at every available opportunity. As such, it's really only keeping yourself fed and watered that you really have to worry about in this early access iteration, which in the grand scheme of things is plenty while you're also figuring out what you need to build a bigger and better ship and where you need to go in order to get the required materials. Anything more at this stage, like having to fend off other potential terrors lurking about the place, would be too much, I fear - not least because it took a good five hours to find the blueprint to craft a basic knife, and even then my puny muscles would only ever get a couple of swings out of it before I ran out of stamina.

A rusted wind turbine pokes above a toxic green cloud sea in Forever Skies
Wind turbines are home to some very specific resources you'll need to craft more advanced equipment for your airship. | Image credit: Rock Paper Shotgun/Far From Home

No, if this is a world I'm going to be continually dipping in and out of over the better part of the next year, I want this to be a journey I can savour and get cosy with before having to acclimatise to the next big rug pull. There's no need to rush, is what I'm saying - although I'm sure the thousands of folks I'm meant to be getting a cure for on this wretched future Earth would probably think differently. Still, until they learn to pipe up and shout at me to hurry the hell up from wherever they are in space, I'm content with taking my time down here.

It's easy to find your rhythm in Forever Skies. Land on a rusty outcrop, pillage its innards for scraps and supplies, yoink the battery from the communication tower, and carry on to the next one. You'll need to give your ship's fuel supply topped up as you go about your business, but thankfully there's a steady stream of basic fuel components available on tap if you look out the window. One of your early ship modules is the extractor, which can vaporise the enormous synthetic dust bunnies careening through the air around you, as well as other resource types such as glass and metal. Chuck those synthetic bundles into your fabricator, and hey presto, you've got some fuel. Sure, that synthetic fuel isn't as efficient as other types you'll find on your journey, but it'll do in a pinch, and means you're never left stranded between landing points. When you do touch down, your ship also has a very handy knack of telling you upfront if there are new gizmos to scan while you're there - and if there is, you can betcha bottom dust dollar that there's a new piece of tech waiting for you to plug back into your ship's research station.

The player looks out at an apocalyptic sunset from inside an airship in Forever Skies
A sun sets over a toxic cloud sea in Forever Skies
Dusk is my favourite time of day in Forever Skies. | Image credit: Rock Paper Shotgun/Far From Home

Early on, a combination of smartly placed computer terminals and your general ship's navigation system will guide you where you need to go, giving you the basic equipment blueprints you need to head to your next story destination. Things like that aforementioned radar, a build tool to expand your ship, and basic turbines to increase your altitude. The latter become particularly important when you start encountering higher landing platforms - wind turbines that reach higher above the dust sea, for example, and overgrown greenhouse gardens that sit precariously on top of large skyscrapers. Much of what you need to do is signposted in your objective log, but there's also just enough leeway for you to make a couple of connections of your own without being explicitly told what you need to do next. It's a welcome combo of feeling both self-sufficient while still having a firm hand on your back to keep you steady.

I'd like to see Forever Skies lean harder into taking off those training wheels as the game goes on, though. If it can strike a similar balance to The Legend Of Zelda: Tears Of The Kingdom, say, in how it presents its players with an objective and just a box of tools to make their own solutions with it, I'll be pleased as punch. Feeling my way to an answer and have it 'work' without it necessarily being 'right' is one of my favourite things in video games, so I hope there's more of this as early accesss progresses. For now, though, I'm enjoying the guidance. I love a good step-by-step to do list to make sure I really know what I'm doing before being chucked into the deep end, and right now Forever Skies has judged that perfectly.

The interior of an airship in Forever Skies, complete with large friendly bug pet.
It's not much, but it's home (and yes, there's a bug friend you can craft a big cushion for, too, but you can't pet it). | Image credit: Rock Paper Shotgun/Far From Home

If I was to do some real nitpicking, I'd say the buildings you root around in right now are all quite cookie-cutter. One radio tower is much like the next, as is the layout of most wind turbines. Some offer a little extra challenge by requiring you to bring your ship around to vaporise some of its flimsier walls and structures in order to get to its juicier innards, but it often doesn't get more complicated than that outside of its larger story structures. But there's also reassurance to be found in its familiarity here. Wind turbines, for example, are a reliable source of helium and copper, while communication towers are better sources of water, food and electrical components. That water will almost certainly need purifying back at your ship - unless you're a fan of acid green rainfall, that is - and the food will almost certainly need to be boiled in that purified water in your trusty electric cooker, but these locations are plentiful enough that if you do find yourself in a bit of a tight spot, you can quickly find what you need to get yourself back on track.

The only real disappointment in Forever Skies right now is its undercooked immunity system. As your energy dwindles, so does your resistance against this world's supposedly rampant diseases, which can be contracted by consuming things you probably shouldn't - a raw sun melon, for example, which you're pretty much forced to do right at the start so the game can teach you about curing said viruses. Fail to boil that sunmelon so it's safe for consumption, and you'll become overly sensitive to light - which is problematic when the sun is an ever-present companion above the cloud sea. The remedy is simple enough to track down, but much like your fire-and-forget health bar, that first immunisation lesson was so vivid that I never disobeyed it again, and thus never had to engage with any further sickness for the rest of my play time.

A fallen explorer lies slumped in the corner of a dark room cradling an oxygen tank in Forever Skies
Scan other bits of technology out in the world, such as that oxygen tank, and you'll be able to research how to make them yourself back at your ship. | Image credit: Rock Paper Shotgun/Far From Home

There are signs you'll be researching and using these viruses to your advantage later on, such as lowering your body temperature to bypass a particularly boisterous plant species intent on blocking your path, so it's possible this may be just another thing like its not-quite-there-yet combat that will come into play properly further down the line. I hope it does, because having spent ten-odd hours absolutely perfecting my hunger and thirst management, I'm ready to take on the extra Jenga bar to keep my teetering sack of bones alive for a little bit longer. But as I said, I'm in no rush, and I have no problem with this system incubating a little longer as early access progresses.

For now, I've had a swell time in Forever Skies, and I look forward to returning soon when see what else its strange and beautiful world has hiding beneath its toxic cloud blanket. There is something bleakly beautiful about its pock-marked surface of stringy skyscrapers that look like they could topple over at any moment, and the raging lightning storms and gorgeous sunsets cast an eerie glow on the world through the murk and the gloom. You feel terribly alone out there, but that's probably for the best, all things considered. I'm not sure I could cope with something else rising out of the shadows to swallow my box on a balloon hook, line and sinker. But it feels like there could be, which is the important thing. There's a lot of potential in this desolate apocalypse, and I can't wait to explore it further.

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