Grounded Early Access review: A strong survival game with room to grow

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In Early Access, there’s no shortage of unfinished survival-crafting games that litter the floor of your storefront of choice. Obsidian’s Grounded is the latest being added to that mountainous stagnating pile but with one key twist: it’s actually quite good.

With an aesthetic siphoned out of Honey I Shrunk the Kids, there’s no question that Grounded is one of the most interesting worlds for you to “survival-craft” in. Thankfully, the miniscule world isn’t style over substance; Obsidian Entertainment has utilized the game’s unique aesthetic to craft a well-rounded world that uses its environment rather than subduing it into a hollow, albeit pretty, backdrop.

The sense of scale is spectacular, even when Grounded in reality!

Within Grounded’s mundanely fantastical setting, you’ll rediscover the familiar survival crafting formula that you’ve seen countless times before in games like Minecraft, Subnautica, Ark and more. There’s hunger and thirst meters to manage, hostile creatures you’ll need to fight or flight from, and snappily built bases to keep yourself safe come nightfall.

While the core survival crafting elements aren’t anything new, Obsidian have created an incredibly cohesive experience, making your time in the miniaturised world truly special.  In Grounded, everything comes from the world around you, from the pebbles and sprigs that you pick up from the muddy floor, to Spider Fangs and meaty chunks you can tear away from your enemies.

With this unique cohesion, progressing in the microscopic world feels utterly fantastic, as you slowly begin to conquer the world around you by using itself. Take that, World! It feels like what survival crafting games have always wanted to be. Not only does becoming stronger mean you can defeat more powerful foes, but using their own body parts against them is the true triumph over the world you’ve been shrunk into.

A rag tag group of tiny teens gets even teenier!

Rather uniquely, Grounded isn’t just about surviving and showing nature who’s boss; there’s also a dedicated story that expands the world around you and explains exactly how you got shrunk into it. Disappointingly, the story is currently incredibly short lived, only lasting around half an hour.

After barely tasting the story and what mysteries it might hold, you’re pushed back out into the garden to survive, with only a handful of daily quests to keep you going if you’re craving structure. After that point it’s up to you to find your own fun, which isn’t all too uncommon from the survival crafting genre but feels lacklustre from a game with such a strong opening.

Without a goal beyond survive and explore, the experience starts to fall short as a lack of direction slows progress. Survival turns into an afterthought, as with basic game knowledge, or a little progression, food and water are never in short supply, making the core survival trivial.

With survival sorted, a few jaunts into the garden’s different areas is all it takes to see the rest of what Grounded currently has to offer. Even the latter stages of crafting are remarkably accessible once you know where to go, leaving only base building as the final evergreen mechanic.

The base building and blueprint laying is a snap! Literally!

Thankfully, in the tiny world of Grounded, exploring is an absolute delight! The minuscule scale makes even just wandering around through the forest of grass a marvel. With god rays beaming through the blades towards sunrise and sunset, it’s blissfully gorgeous, even in the muddy starting area, that only leads to prettier areas as the game progresses.

There are a few pointers to keep you motivated in progressing forwards. The aforementioned daily quests give a little structure in killing critters and surviving, offering raw science that can be turned in for a few new crafting recipes. In the first base you discover, there is also the resource analyser, which you can feed materials to -as the name might suggest- analyse for raw science, or new crafting recipes, often revealing you other items to spur on your exploration.

Unfortunately, without going out of your way into the outer reaches of the map to conquer the garden, it’s very possible to hit a dead end in research, stunting the obvious progression. We only hope that this will be remedied in future updates that bring in more story content, pushing you around the map with more structure. In the current early build however, you’re left only exploring the world for its own fun or resorting to souring the wiki for what to do next.

The Spiders eye’s glow red when angered. It’s terrifying…

The early access state of Grounded is by far its greatest downfall. As with such a short amount of story content, the game feels like it ends incredibly abruptly. Even when there is more content out there, without anything pointing you in the right direction, it feels like it doesn’t exist. On top of this, there’s of course the usual smattering of bugs and crashes that you would expect from an early access title, which while frustrating, are nothing out of the ordinary for Early Access gaming.

Making it even worse is how well polished the rest of Grounded is. Every UI element is slickly designed, and each mechanic thought out and implemented. It’s clear that Obsidian wanted Grounded to be actually playable and enjoyable in its early access state. Not just be another all too common tale of a game with promise but marred by janky design.

Grounded is a small game with big ambitions, and that’s not just a play on its microscopic setting. With story content and guidance sorely lacking in its current early access incarnation, it’s difficult to recommend as a complete experience. There’s undoubtedly fun to be had even as it is now, and it’s certainly one to keep your eye on for the future.

If you like the sound of this bite sized adventure, you can pick it up now on Steam Early Access, or Game Preview for PC and Xbox, with a Xbox Series X launch expected in 2021.

More about the topics: Early Access, game preview, Grounded, obsidian, Obsidian Entertainment, Xbox Game Preview, Xbox Game Studios