Fiction that leans on steampunk as a major concept for its world-building has always been a fascinating thing to me. The unique mix of science, fiction, and creativity generally produces some of the most immersive and engaging experiences for me as a consumer. When you throw that all into a video game and add in a large helping of base building, a side order of survival and follow it up with volcanic islands for dessert; well that my friend is a pretty great meal. That’s exactly what Early Access title, Volcanoids, from the developer of the same name, has set out to do. In this first-person, base building survival title you are tasked with exploring and surviving a volcanic Island that also happens to erupt on a pretty consistently. Offering a unique take on the aforementioned genres, Volcanoids attempts to provide players with a pulse-pounding push to survive in an intriguing steampunk world. But just how well does it hold up under the ‘pressure’ of such a task? Grab that coffee kick back and find out in our preview of Volcanoids.
Scratching that Itch; You Know the One
The title finds players on the shoreline of a volcanic island tasked by a nearby submarine captain with silencing the foreboding volcano that is wreaking havoc on the general populous. Armed with your trusty wrench, pickaxe, and pistol you set out to claim an abandoned drillship. This giant drill acts as your central hub for crafting, protection, and means of escape from the constant eruptions that take place on the island.
The world itself is an interesting mystery laid out before you. As you navigate the surface you’ll stumble across abandoned structures, destroyed settlements, and most interestingly other abandoned drillships. With little by way of explanation, you are left to interpret the evidence around you and draw conclusions about what has happened here. It’s a great experience and scratches that curiosity itch quite well.
Visually the game isn’t the most impressive I’ve seen in recent days but there is a charm to the steampunk architecture the developers have designed that creates an immersive experience for players. The drillships themselves are an amazing feat of visual engineering. Every upgrade or added module dramatically enhances the look and feel of your ship so that every ounce of progress you make feels impactful.
These Drills really take on a character of their own as you can outfit them for various purposes, redesign the layout internally and add full extensions to the base model. It’s a wonderful sight to behold and, much like getting new armor in an MMO, leaves you with a sense of accomplishment with every upgrade.
That said I have to also mention that it is some of the more complicated crafting and building I’ve seen in a base builder in quite some time. During my playthrough, I wasted a lot of time trying to follow the game’s tutorial, understand the various storage methods, and how upgrades actually worked. There were a few times where I found myself frustrated having seemingly accomplished a task only to put an item in the wrong storage or not select the right option on an upgrade. It’s a system that is a bit of a double-edged sword at the moment. On the one hand its incredibly fun once you understand it. On the other hand, it’s so convoluted that if your not willing to push through you can quickly become frustrated and want to step away.
I would encourage players to push through because despite this issue I would argue that the base building in Volcanoids is by far its best feature. It’s even more fun with the newly added co-op play. I was fortunate enough to spend a few hours playing with friends and it was arguably some of the most fun I had in the game. Working together to design and craft your mobile fortress was so great to experience. Each player was able to lean into their desired playstyle and learn from each other’s discoveries. In our case, I spent most of my time laying out modules and designing the ship while my teammate explored, gathered minerals and tech and got into a whole lot of trouble with the COGS.
Skynet but with fewer Nukes
The COGS are crazy robots hell-bent on your death and the destruction of the island. They are also responsible for the consistent eruptions that take place throughout the playthrough. Armed with an array of weapons, these pesky bots can and will destroy your ship if you are not quick to defend it both personally and with turret modules.
This brings me to the game’s combat mechanics. Its a pretty straight forward affair in regards to combat; point, shoot, loot. In and of itself its doesn’t bring anything new to the table. What makes it interesting however are the array of weapons you can craft to get the job done. Everything from shotguns to grenades can be crafted on the drillship allowing to stock up and head out and raid COG drills and explore the world around you.
The former activity was a lot of fun in a co-op setting. We spent much of our time raiding drills for parts and pieces that we could take back and use for upgrades on our own ship. You can strategically destroy sections of ships in order to harvest items needed and if you have the right tech can even claim the ship. This gives you access to all the parts and pieces of the ship which, at least in our case, were far more advanced than anything we had.
The latter activity was an interesting experience that I have mixed feelings about. Your drillship acts as a means of travel throughout Volcanoids with all navigation handled via a map. You can burrow underground and move through various tunnels and even mine up ore while still in the drillship. There are points on the map where you can deploy and actually exit the vehicle. This is where the bulk of the exploration happens.
On the backend, it feels more like instanced dungeons and less like an open-world experience then I would have liked. The overworld allows you to move more freely but even here you are really restricted to the countdown timer to the next volcano eruption. It’s not that it’s a terrible system; in fact, it works quite well. It does, however, feel like a bit of a letdown in that you invest so much time in building up your drillship but can never really explore the world around you with it. There is a lack of freedom that is a little disappointing. Especially when you consider just how amazing the experience of building up your Drillship is. I can only hope that future updates will give us more freedom to take our ships into the unknown.
Overall I’ve really enjoyed my time in Volcanoids. Everything from the Steampunk drillships to the whole concept of a moble base all works really well to create a fun and immersive experience. At present, though some of the mechanics feel a bit convoluted and cumbersome which can lead to moments of frustration. However, once you’ve worked through some of those quarks and dive into the building and surviving Volcanoids offers an engaging experience for players.