Empyrion – Galactic Survival
Eleon Game Studios
Space exploration games have traditionally been hard to pull off, mainly due to computer software limitations. But ever since people first got a glimpse at the potential of 3D open-ended space games, first with 1984’s Elite, we’ve all been fascinated by what lie ahead for the genre. With the recent advances in computer technology, however, we’ve seen science fiction exploration games turn from a small, rather limited cadre of titles, into a burgeoning, exciting new frontier that is really just now taking off (so to speak).
Arguably the first, most fully realized space game was the highly addictive science fiction experience titled EVE Online. EVE captivated many people for quite a lengthy amount of time (including reaping literal years off of some folk’s lives). But, due to several recent developments, EVE has seen a significant downturn in popularity. 2016’s No Man’s Sky was long bandied about as the Second Coming for the space gaming genre. Unfortunately, however, we all know how that turned out.
Luckily, many gamers are just now beginning to find out that there is a cure for the No Man’s Sky blues, and that remedy is called Empyrion – Galactic Survival. Not surprisingly for a small indie house tucked far away in Germany, Empyrion doesn’t have much in the way of marketing power going on for it. In fact, I first came across it while randomly window shopping through the Steam Store. But it wasn’t until a good gaming friend came ranting and raving to me about it, that it really bleeped on my radar. So after two or so solid weeks of having to listen to my friend blather on and on about Empyrion, I decided to pick it up, and these are my impressions…
First and foremost, Empyrion is an open-ended, sandbox, science fiction exploration and survival game. You start off crash landing on a hostile alien planet, and like most survival games, have to scrounge around for resources in order to build yourself up. I must say that when I first played the game (with my previously mentioned friend giddily in tow), I quickly realized how much content there was in it even though it is still an Alpha build. There is already an RPG-like leveling system present, complete with skills, opportunities for co-op play against AI enemies, tons and tons of craft-able items, and much more.
The starting planet was so interesting and fun to play on that I wasn’t even in a hurry to get off-world and into space for a few days (real time days that is). When my buddy and I finally made it a point to finish our first spaceship, that up to then we’d been casually been putting together, we hopped in and turned on the thrusters. As we blasted off and sliced upwards towards the heavens, I took a gander around and, unlike No Man’s Sky where everything is more or less barren, I actually saw other ships flying around in the skies surrounding us, as well as many man-made structures populating the planet’s surface.
When we finally emerged from the atmosphere and reached the cold vacuum, there was a memorable sense of accomplishment, as well as an appreciation for the sense of scale that Empyrion delivers. As we approached a nearby moon, I saw a huge space station close to it, seemingly in orbit. “Oh, that’s just a friendly neighboring clan’s space station. We’re free to board it and run around on it anytime,” was my friend’s flippant comment on the matter, as I sat there on my gaming laptop with my mouth agape.
From there, we travelled to distant planets, traded goods with friendly factions, went to war with enemies, performed raids on outposts, explored seemingly derelict space wrecks, made alliances, and more. What made all of this so particularly exciting was that much of this was done in a player-developed universe. In other words, many of our interactions were with other gamers within our server, as opposed to No Man’s Sky’s virtually empty (yet extremely large) universe.
Eleon Game Studios did a smart thing but reducing the scale from servers filled with trillions of stars, to ones containing ten to twenty or so of them. This is still one massive game—you can lose days off of your life by merely exploring several nearby planets, since each of them are so diverse. Not to mention that many of these same planets have their own human (and AI alien) communities to interact with. What’s also a joy is that Empyrion is such a customizable game.
For example, I’m playing on a server right now that not only has its own in-game rules and regulations, but also a website describing them in greater detail. You can play any role that suits your demeanor or play style, such as a bounty hunter, space cop, trader, pirate, explorer, and many more, and can even join factions that are of the same ilk. Empyrion is also a great game because you can tell that the developers really care about it. Indeed, it seems like every time I turn around they’re releasing another massive update or patch.
Presentation-wise, Empyrion is visually very good, with well rendered geometry and cool looking weapons and equipment. You can even modify shapes and their colors with handy tools that you can either find, or craft yourself. I must admit that I had lots of fun simply building starships and trying out the different designs, and then having friends “ooo” and “ahhh” at each of them. You can build everything, like land skimmers, small space vessels, capital ships, mammoth space stations—heck, we even built some asteroid sentry stations. Empyrion’s construction system is just that open-ended and customizable.
I’m really excited for the future of Empyrion – Galactic Survival. Its careful blend of subtle RPG elements, open-ended gameplay, opportunities for emergent storytelling and role-playing (especially for RPG geeks such as myself), fun construction and crafting systems, and unique style, make it one of the best indie games of 2016. But, those glowing compliments come with a warning: Stepping into Empyrion can be slightly addictive, so plan on many hours of fun, adventure, and comradery throughout your gaming experience with it. And the scary thing is that it’s only going to keep getting better and better.