Disclaimer: This game is currently in Early Access on Steam and so is currently incomplete. Some issues raised in this review may have been addressed since the time of publishing.
Minecraft. Easily one of the biggest forces in recent gaming history. A game I have avoided for so long. Not because I have an issue with it, just because it always looked so tedious. I’ve sat and watched my brother play it and always thought to myself “What is the appeal of this game?”. I never saw the point of playing it. But Stellar Overload seemed different. It had plot. The game’s short description on Steam reads:
“Robots of the Imperium Machina invaded the peaceful planet Merx. Go on an adventure to free your world from them. Stellar Overload is a 3D open-world, blocks-based, FPS, adventure game.”
After reading this I was immediately interested; this I could get behind. The easiest way to explain Stellar Overload is by asking you to imagine if Minecraft and Fallout had a baby. A cute lil plot driven crafting adventure. My time with the game was very mixed. At times I was really enjoying myself. Other times I was almost pulling my hair out in frustration. It certainly was a very mixed experience, but is the game worthy of it’s “Very Positive” rating on Steam. Let’s have a closer look.
The game’s story is extremely simple, and one that feels fairly stable in adventure/exploration games these days. The game opens with the character being awoken by Joe, the village’s coach, who awakes the villagers and offers them Zen training every morning. Joe tells the player to fetch their brother for training. This leads to the player’s character realising that his brother Xander is missing. After talking to some villagers the player discovers a note from his brother stating that he has run away to help the Rebels fight the Imperium Machina. The player begins preparing for their rescue mission and obtains the Digging Gauntlet and, just in case they pesky rebels try anything, a gun. The player makes their way to the rebel camp, only to find out that their brother stole gadgets from the Rebels and run off to take down the Imperium Machina on his own. Of course, being a video game, he was unsuccessful and now the player is tasked with rescuing him from the Imperium’s fortress.
You are tasked with taking over control of the fortress and rescuing your brother, which is much easier said than done. The fortress is a complex building full of many, many rooms with teleportation pads adding to the task of navigating the structure. I found it almost impossible to navigate, so I decided to head to the internet in a desperate attempt to retain some of my gaming ego. To my surprise I wasn’t the only one unable to find Xander. Ego saved.
One Steam user answered the question “Where is Xander tho?” with the simple reply:
“In one of the many, many prison rooms”
I can’t comment on much more of the game’s story, due to my inability to navigate the fortress. But I will say this. Even with the game’s story being rather cliche, I still feel it has potential. The story seems to be building up to a very climatic end, with a very “It’s our land, you can’t have it” feel to it. Villagers and Rebels rising up and fighting off the evil Imperium Machina. Even with it’s flaws, I am interested to see where the story is going.
Now, onto the gameplay. The game is very obviously inspired by Minecraft; something that can be seen by the game’s art-style and the way it plays. The first person perspective is nice, and helps for the game’s gunfights with the swarms of Imperium Machina’s robots. One interesting feature for me in the game was it’s cloning tanks. These tanks are basically spawn locations, allowing you to choose where you spawn after you die. Given that the game is adventure driven it meant that if you needed supplies, you could simply allow yourself to die and spawn back at camp to gather supplies before heading back out on your adventure. A nice little touch.
But is there more to the game than just clone tanks and a cute art-style? For the game’s gameplay, we’re going to split it into three sections: Single Player, Multiplayer and Crafting. I will be awarding each section it’s own score, before averaging those scores for an overall gameplay score.
When you create the world and begin your game you have the choice to turn multiplayer off, make it friends only or have it public. Let’s assume that you have made your world private, much like my second world (more on that later). The game’s campaign is playable solo (minus the whole hard to navigate fortress thing) and is actually enjoyable for most of that time. There are some issues however.
For instance, the moonstone mission. This mission tasks the player with obtaining moonstones for the Rebels to help with one of their projects. This mission has no map marker, but tasks you with finding a cave and then mining stones from that cave. This mission took me forever. Given that the mission has no marker I went off exploring, attempting to excavate every cave I could find in search of the stones. Safe to say I couldn’t find the moonstones. Until I fell into a cave hidden behind the Rebel camp, and found my moonstones sitting there shining.
Maybe I am being a little salty. But that’s because I ended up draining the resources from every other cave in (what felt like) a mile radius around the Rebel camp before, by chance, stumbling across the correct cave. I can’t help but feel that a marker could’ve been placed on the cave to at least navigate you to the entrance. The mission is purely to get you used to using the jetpack your character gets given. The closeness of the cave to the camp shows that this mission was never about exploring, so why the lack of an objective marker?
Then there is the aforementioned fortress mission. Not to mention the groups of robots you will meet along the way. Your best bet, on a solo playthrough anyway, is to avoid these groups or run away. They will kill you if you try to take them on. Trust me.
You will find yourself searching the internet for what to do next; “Where is Xander?”, “Where are the moonstones?”. But once you get past those hurdles, the game becomes enjoyable once again. However there are only so many times in 7 hours with a game that you can get stuck before you start to ask yourself why are you repeatedly finding yourself unable to progress.
Now for the multiplayer. When you create your save file you have two choices for multiplayer: friends or public. If you wish to enjoy this game’s story with others, pick friends. Do not pick public. Your save file is like your own personal world, with your own personal progress of the game on there. Shared with whoever visits your world. I learned this the hard way.
I made my first world public, with the hopes of playing with others because none of my friends own Stellar Overload. The issue with this is that whatever story missions I have that require completing, can be completed by anyone that comes to visit my world. While I was lost in some cave somewhere, somebody I didn’t know was completing my story missions. Finding the moonstones and progressing through the game’s story. Now you may think I was grateful for that. But I wasn’t. So heed my warning: If you care about Stellar Overload’s story do not start a public world.
The multiplayer itself adds nothing new to the game. You can do everything that you normally do, just now with friends. There are new people to shoot ( if you wish to betray your friends), and now you can take down those pesky robots that were trying to gun you down when you was online alone in your world. It could be helpful if you have friends who play the game and you need help with a mission, or you want to craft together. But overall nothing that drastically changes the game; no new modes or the like here.
Score: 70% (just because gaming is always more fun with friends)
The crafting system in Minecraft was what always made the game look tedious to me. Removing and placing blocks one at a time? Do you know how long it would take me to build my Bencave? Too many man-hours for me to even consider doing. I have a very short attention span when it comes to crafting. But Stellar Overload’s crafting mechanic is easily the game’s shining feature.
The crafting system is so simple, but works so perfectly that you actually begin to forget about the game’s shortcoming in the other gameplay elements. Below is a gallery of a small little building I built out of Yellow Sandstone I managed to mine during my time searching for the moonstones. It’s nothing amazing, but it took me about two minutes to build and decorate (a word I use very loosely). But I feel this is an impressive amount of time considering I don’t craft.
The game’s Digging Gauntlet allows you to clear a 2×2 square, making clearing the area for whatever your crafting much easier. Then you simply drag your materials from your inventory to the bar at the bottom of your screen. This is when another nice feature comes into play. Say you have X amount of Yellow Sandstone, for example. When you drag the Yellow Sandstone into your little bar, the game will show you how many blocks of Yellow Sandstone you can place for the number in your inventory. In my game, my 19k pieces of Yellow Sandstone I had collected equated to 4k blocks of the material. I told you I got lost.
The actual building mechanic works very nicely as well. Each side of my little building was built as one complete piece. In Stellar Overload you can select your material and then simply click and drag to create the part you want. I simply laid a floor down, went to each corner and dragged diagonally to create my walls. The pieces hanging on the walls were easily placed; with ways to change rotation and orientation it worked very nicely. You acquire recipes for crafting from all over the playable area. I have recipes for things like sliding doors which will be interesting to add to my Yellow Sandstone shack …
Stellar Overload is gorgeous to look at. The art-style is really cute. A blocky universe where one minute you will be looking at an adorable peacock just running around minding his own business, and the next you’re in a gun fight with (what feels like) a small army of robots. In my time playing the game I never once got bored of turning off my HUD and just wandering around taking in the scenery. You feel as if the game will get boring to look at, but it doesn’t. I’m honestly not sure why though, but it’s not something I questioned too much.
In terms of audio the game delivers very well. Much like other crafting video games, while you’re walking around the world the music is very jolly. It matches the cute art-style of the world excellently and actually makes for a very relaxing experience. But the game doesn’t just have one form of music. Every area you enter brings with it it’s own music track. The Rebel camp has a track that has a very military feel to it, pumping you up for your next mission. The village you begin is has a very peaceful track, while the fortress’s music is very sombre and foreboding. Even small interactions while your walking around trigger a new track. Encounter a Imperium Machina robot while on your travels and another track triggers. These end up acting as audio cues to tell you of any danger you are in, and do a good job of giving you a sense of what kind of situation you have put yourself in.
The tracks however don’t just cut off once you change area or flee the robots. They gently fade away, as the new track comes in. It sounds small but it’s nice not to have a very harsh jump from one music track to another, especially considering how often the music will change while you’re wandering around.
So to conclude, does this game offer anything game changing? On the surface no. But as you delve into the game a bit, and scratch away at it’s surface, you reveal something more. Stellar Overload has taken what is, in my opinion, a stagnant genre (crafting) and improved on it very well. By adding a plot to the game, and improving the crafting mechanics greatly, this game has made me want to craft. I want to get on, gather resources and build my cave. That’s saying something for someone who was initially opposed to crafting games.
That being said the game’s story gameplay does need improving. The issue I mentioned with the fortress and the moonstone need addressing I feel, however that decision is ultimately down to the developers. Failing that, the game seems to have a helpful community of fans that will be able to point you in the right direction.
Even with it’s flaws, I do recommend Stellar Overload. I will be following the game’s progress and am interested to see where the game goes from here.