Nuclear power is finally in my sights in Satisfactory, but it's still so far away. Between myself and what I can only assume is the be-all and end-all of power generation: more milestones of increasing complexity and the realization that my facilities are absolutely going to need significant expansion to pull it all off. And I couldn't be more excited.
Satisfactory has dominated my free time over the last month or so and it's made me come to terms with a rather long-lasting love I've had for base building in games. As a kid I cut my teeth on Roller Coaster Tycoon 2, designing elaborate parks with massive food courts that made millions in profits and terrible rides that occasionally left guests mortally wounded. I spent loads of time in Fallout 4 piecing together rickety settlements and running power lines to the tunes of Diamond City Radio. Even more time was spent gathering resources in No Man's Sky to construct gorgeous space ports I will never complete, the shells of would-be galactic citadels lying dormant on verdant planets after the lone architect abandoned the project for the stars.
No such issue in Satisfactory, a factory/assembly line game that demonstrates the power of automation in ways that neither Fallout 4 nor No Man's Sky achieved for me in recent years. The game begins in familiar territory with hand gathering basic raw materials to turn into basic parts. But it's the machines and conveyor belts that transform these sorts of games, putting the focus not on building something and having that be the end of it, but on becoming an efficiency artisan of your own design. I haven't played a factory game before, but I am familiar with snapping things together on grids and on the uniquely pleasurable act of turning small objects into much larger constructions. Satisfactory felt great from the get-go, but the brilliance of its design became more apparent the deeper I got into it.
For one, Satisfactory is remarkably approachable. I love the game's progression; new parts and mechanics are unlocked by completing milestones, which require producing specific parts and launching them into space. Completing every milestone in a tier will complete the tier, and to unlock more tiers the player must complete phases of a mysterious overarching corporate project. This is done by contributing the game's most complex resources to the space elevator. These take longer to make than most other items, but they're always made with things the player's been making up to that point.
Importantly, these objectives are laid out in an order that eases everyone into the game, never overwhelming them with more than they could reasonably take on. It also understands roughly when the player will begin running into certain obstacles. The first vehicle is unlocked around the time you might be thinking of expanding your base, and when rudimentary biomass power production begins to bottom out the game introduces coal generators.
Adding to the game's approachability is how infrequently I feel that I am fighting against it. Fallout 4's base building was as imperfect as can be, and trying to get the AI to behave a certain way was just not a worthwhile undertaking. And for as much as I think No Man's Sky is a pretty terrific game nowadays, its modus operandi is to constantly push against the player with inventory and resource restrictions every which way it can. Satisfactory does not do this. There is an inventory, but its capacity upgrades at a rate that feels appropriate. Crucially, the game lets the player build from very far away, allowing for protracted conveyor belts and power lines without too much leg work. Other small touches, like power lines automatically becoming power poles when dragged off a building, add to Satisfactory's player-friendly attitude.
Two, Satisfactory allows for a wonderful degree of player expression. Single-player games are most often driven by static objectives and quests. Some of these games offer a choice of how to reach this goal; maybe with stealth, or with guns blazing. At its core this choice is really about which of the game's paths or mechanics to engage with, which doesn't feel particularly expressive. What's expressive about Satisfactory is how one chooses to construct their facilities. Very little outside of the game's most basic rules and part recipes is written in stone. It never instructs on the optimal way to build conveyor belts or how to arrange machines to maximize efficiency and minimize bottlenecking. Instead these lessons are learned by the player through their own experimentation.
Even then, the game doesn't require that everything is done perfectly. Save for a few specific late-game examples, where certain production lines are particularly susceptible to bottlenecking, the player is free to build out their factories as they wish. Organization is entirely player-driven, and thus everyone's facilities look uniquely personal. Maybe you want to build everything on the terrain, or perhaps you'd like to assemble structures to house everything. Is conveyor spaghetti appealing to you, or do you want nothing but straight lines and right angles? I love the way I've constructed my factories, not because they achieve any sort of peak efficiency, but because they are exactly what I would make.
I often think of Minecraft in relation to this game. Player expression in Minecraft is on a much grander scale; the act of terraforming a uniquely generated world and building anything on it obviously eclipses what Satisfactory is going for. But in some ways this game is a lot more satisfying, because the way you express yourself through your factory design directly leads to the completion of goals, which in turn rewards new things to play with.
Three, Satisfactory makes me feel smart. It also makes me feel dumb, but it's always followed by a genuine feeling of achievement. One of my favorite bits in Satisfactory has been retrofitting my own bad designs in the mid- to late-game. As the milestones began to require more complex parts I simply bolted more machines to my original lines, frequently asking myself, "Why in the world did I design this in that way?" I was initially hesitant to expand too far out, believing that the time it would take would be better spent at the home base throwing more things onto the pile. This worked for a bit; I was able to add new constructors and assemblers and create increasingly nauseating conveyor entanglements. This effort was helped by my too-late revelation that a single miner can output enough raw ore to feed into three or more smelters. I wish I had known that sooner. Nevertheless, it was working...
... but not for long. Eventually I needed to swallow my pride and admit that I was gonna need to take a hike in search of untapped nodes. But this presented something very exciting indeed: the chance to build new factories from the ground up, with all of the lessons I had learned up to that point firmly implanted. Thus, the brand new aluminum production line that I've just established on the edge of a dreadfully abhorrent gaseous swamp filled with the most terrifying spiders I've ever seen in a game is a lot smarter than my earlier efforts. But, in a nod to my previous point, the important thing is that it still feels like my design.
Four, it all just looks and sounds great. Seriously, I am extremely into the vibrant, playful-but-not-cartoonish aesthetics of Satisfactory. Everything animates really well; I especially like the way the zipline spins to life in my hand. The machines have a great hum to them, and the minimalist score fits very well. Not much else to say here.
And not much else to say about Satisfactory, at least until the release of Update 5, which will be my first update with the game. I'm secretly dreading how my factories might break--I heard the introduction of water and pipes was particularly troublesome for coal-dependent players-- while also totally stoked for what might come next. In the meantime, I have more aluminum to make. Nuclear power won't invent itself!