Astroneer is the first game by System Era Softworks, a third-person space and planet exploration sandbox that allows players to collect resources, build bases, and pretty much explore freely - provided their characters have the needed oxygen in their suits to do so. You'd be forgiven for thinking Astroneer sounds conspicuously like No Man's Sky, another space exploration game with similar mechanics. Rather than focusing on hardcore survival like that title however, Astroneer leans into base building and offers a more mainstream, laid back experience comparatively. In fact, it probably has more in common with Minecraft at the end of the day than it does No Man's Sky.
Astroneer starts players off on one of its many random planets, with a home base and a few different supplies necessary for expanding that base. Like No Man's Sky, resources can be collected for this purpose, but unlike that game, the base building element feels more refined and less restricting. This is where Astroneer really shines as a game, leaning into those aforementioned Minecraft elements and allowing more creative players to truly push the limits of the crafting system.
Just because Astroneer doesn't double down on its survival elements like No Man's Sky doesn't mean it doesn't have similar challenging elements in its DNA. Oxygen is a scarce commodity and if players move too far from their home base, their oxygen begins to deplete rather quickly (represented by a blue bar) so timing is everything in the game. Of course, there are certain measures that can be taken to extend one's oxygen supply.
Perhaps one of the most unique elements in the title is the use of tethers, which can be connected to an oxygen source as well as other tethers, creating an endless line of supply. There are other methods like tanks and filters, but tethers are definitely where most players will gravitate toward.
Other than oxygen, the biggest and perhaps most dangerous obstacle players will have to keep their eyes on is storms. These can be treacherous, much like in real life, easily killing players or completely disrupting their base or various vehicles. Again, this is all pretty similar to No Man's Sky (though it'd be easy to argue that storms are worse here in Astroneer) but in a lot of ways, it's actually a relatively casual experience. There are no enemy creatures to fight, no space battles to get locked into and no PvP whatsoever. For that certain player just looking to explore without the annoyances of combat, Astroneer is built for you.
The multiplayer experience in Astroneer is better than expected, though the lack of local cooperative play may be a deal-breaker for some. While the game is now in full release, it still doesn't quite function as well as it should in this regard. The host player will still experience lag and sometimes games will simply drop out or lose connection for absolutely no reason. For as massive an endeavor as Astroneer tends to be most of the time, though, it's still amazing that it works as well as it does. System Era Softworks will certainly work on and tweak this aspect of the game in the future.
Unlike the multiplayer, there's another technical aspect of Astroneer that's unforgivably badly optimized: frame rate. Walking through material-dense areas is often times unbearable, and the game will often become so bogged down by this that it becomes nearly impossible to play. To add to this, when things get particularly bad, Astroneer will just crash to the home screen forcing a complete reboot of the game. This wouldn't be nearly so annoying if the loading times weren't so bloated and long. Surely this will also be patched, but there's just no legitimate excuse for a game that was in Early Access for as long as it was to have such game-killing performance issues.
Technical issues aside, Astroneer is a nice and easygoing alternative to titles like No Man's Sky. It's a Minecraft in space adventure that players have been clamoring for and it'll certainly offer dozens of hours of fun with its complex base building and endless exploration. With a little bit of tweaking and perhaps some patience by System Era Softworks, it could have come out of Early Access as a truly great game. As it is, it's just good right now and hindered by its performance problems, but come this time next year, Astroneer may very well be a near-perfect sandbox.
Astroneer is available now on Xbox One and Steam/PC for $29.99. Screen Rant was provided an Xbox One copy for the purposes of this review.