What better aligning of the fates than RPS’s Survival Week, and a fresh arrival on Steam, to excuse playing some more of Lavaboots' Salt? The seafaring island-explorer has seen a few updates since I last played, as well as a place on Steam’s Early Access. And most of all, fishing.
I’ve previously written in some depth about Salt, so if you’ve not yet, do make sure to give it a read. But in short, this is a very early, yet very playable super-lite survival game, in which you pootle from island to island, searching for treasures, crafting equipment, and bopping pirates over the head with an axe.
So very much of the game is about building a little boat, and sailing from small island to island, hunting down equipment, and moving on, simply for the fun of exploration. The carrot throughout is the prospect of bigger and better boats, as well as uncovering the strange little surprises that are hidden along the way.
A very simple, and certainly often crude (the 2.5D grass really needs to go!) art style belies a subtle beauty, most especially when the sun is rising or setting. And that simplicity stretches throughout, in a really satisfying way. This isn’t DayZ or The Forest – it’s something calmer, gentler, far more survivable. (Although being surprised by a plate-faced pirate can see you rather quickly deaded.) While new elements are being added pretty regularly (and now it’s on Steam, being automagically updated – hurrah), there’s still no sense of clutter or busyness – instead it’s a refreshingly sedate experience.
New since I last played is fishing, which once again echoes the phenomenon I wrote about the game previously – where tiny new elements feel so unjustifiably important. Bamboo can now be collected (sort of – you run through bamboo patches and a stick might magic into your inventory – this could be a lot nicer), and then combined with strong plant fibres (a tricky find) or spider web (an even trickier find – in all the time I’ve played, I’ve only ever heard a spider, and never actually seen one) and an apple as a bob. And then things get even more calm as you stand idly, line in the water, watching the sun crawl toward the horizon waiting for tugs on the line. Yes – it’s exactly the same as in a million other games, but feels so fitting in Salt’s pastoral realm.
Other changes are perhaps more important – swing times and animations are improved, meaning things like the pickaxe are no longer such a bind to use, and fighting pirates feels more accurate. And best of all, pirates can no longer deliver fatal blows after they’re dead. That was a bit of a pain.
There are also more mysterious bits and pieces appearing - and now it finally has a Steam community, those are being catalogued and identified. One of the recurring pleasures of the game is thinking you’ve seen all it has to offer, and then stumbling upon an island with something new. Last night I found a place with a series of marble pillars arranged in a circle, and an alter in the middle. What could be placed there, and what might happen when I do, I’ve not yet discovered – but it’s these little intrigues that encourage happily dawdling on.
What’s yet to be improved is the horrendous interface for inventory and crafting. Peculiarly grouped inventory pages with meaningless symbols make finding things a pain, especially when everything’s a teeny tiny icon in the very top right of the screen. And crafting somehow takes place on the far left and far right in miniature, while most of the screen is left useless. I think this is where the focus needs to be in future updates, as it’s cripplingly poor.
I’ve been playing on the game’s main seeded world, which is apparently shared by all who start a default new game. Randomly seeded worlds are also available, but then you can’t share info! With a compass and sextant, you can plot courses and be somewhat methodical with your exploration. As I’ve gone along I’ve been making a note of the coordinates of each island I visit, and giving it an apposite name. I recommend checking out 14W/10N for instance. But don’t bother with 13W/14N, now named Nothingtodo Isle. (Tragically I lost an entire day’s notes after a bluescreen – please send flowers.)
I hope that such data will soon be shared amongst the new influx of players, and someone industrious will create a wonderful map of the infinite seas (island density becomes more sparse the farther you travel from the centre point, so there’s logic to mapping the enormous “central” area).
Anyone who bought the game via the game’s site can log into their account there and receive a Steam key, and I found that my saves travelled seamlessly across without having to do anything.
I can’t wait for building crafting to be added – it feels really important at this point. But even more, I would love to see customisable ships – they’re the real homes for a sailor like me! Salt remains super-early, but super-playable.
You can read more Survival Week articles over here.