You’ve crash landed on an unfamiliar planet. Your cramped escape pod assures your safety and provides limited shelter from the environment, but it’s up to you to collect the resources needed to rebuild your ship and take flight. The game is called Planet Nomads, and it’s the first PC game released by the Czech developer, Craneballs. It’s a sci-fi sandbox game that encourages survival through creation.
When the Planet Nomads Survival Mode begins, you find yourself tumbling through space in a small, shuddering escape pod. Outside the chamber, you’ll discover a lush, vibrant-colored world of trees, grasses, lakes, and alien creatures. Each planet is procedurally-generated from game to game, so one playthrough may be different than the next. You have the ability to explore the entire planet, from the north to the south pole, and the biomes change as you travel. The environments are visually stunning and inspiring.
Planet Nomads will let you wander aimlessly for a while, but eventually, the sun will set. It will get too dark to do anything worthwhile, but if you build a stasis pod, you can rest overnight to pass time more quickly. In the most recent update of Survival Mode, the game begins with only enough resources to build a basic foundation. You must explore your environment to collect the resources needed to build a generator, stasis pod, 3D printer, vehicle wheels, and filtration devices for the food and water you collect.
Similar to No Man’s Sky or Minecraft, you can break down trees and rocks into usable materials. Generally, plants break down into biomass containers and rocks break down into minerals. Loading these materials into your 3D printer will allow you to build the electronic and mechanical components needed for larger objects, such as an armory or a vehicle cabin. You have creative freedom and can build upon your planet however you like. Do you want to build an underground lair to protect yourself from territorial creatures? Okay! Do you want to dig a moat around your base? That’s possible, too. With many building blocks available and more to come, you can create your own, unique home base.
The Planet Nomads team created a user-friendly building interface they call Buildvision. By hitting the TAB button, Buildvision is turned on, and it allows you to interact with the objects you’ve built in more technical ways. You’ll use Buildvision to craft your bio generator and first few appliances, and then Buildvision is used again to supply electricity from the generator to the appliances. When Buildvision is turned off, those actions are no longer available, so you don’t have to worry about accidentally pulling power from important objects in your home base.
In Survival Mode, not only must you collect resources to build, but you also must keep your character well fed, rested, and hydrated. Food can be harvested from plants and animals, and bodies of water are usually found in abundance. You can build a stasis pod to rest and restore stamina. It is possible to work yourself to death, so attention must be paid to your character stats in the lower left corner of the screen. Wild animals may attack and it’s possible to fall to death while jetpacking – yes, you have a jetpack – around the world.
If Survival Mode sounds too daunting, Creative Mode offers a more relaxed building experience. All of the buildable objects and blocks are available for crafting without a resource cost. You can still use your laser tool to destroy trees or rocks that are in your way, but resources are not collected or needed. You cannot die by starvation, as food is not needed, and animals do not pose a threat.
After putting dozens of hours into collecting materials and building your perfect base, you may never want to start an entirely new game. You may, however, find yourself returning to the game as new updates are rolled out. The developer is keeping their players updated by publishing YouTube journal entries every few weeks. According to these journals, and the game forums, they intend to spend another two years adding content to Planet Nomads once it reaches the Early Access stage. They are purposefully leaving the game in an open design so they may continue to add new mechanics, and they are open and welcoming to ideas from fans.
I wrote the original draft of this preview during version 0.4.3 of Planet Nomads. At that point, the frame rate was very low and the vehicles had just been pulled from alpha testing. Developer journals promised optimized graphics and redesigned vehicles before Early Access, but to be honest, I doubted they’d be able to pull it off. Two weeks later, version 0.5.0 was released with working vehicles and much better frame rates. There’s still room for improvement, but I see this as a sign that Craneballs is dedicated to keeping promises to their players. Not only were frame rates better, but the textures of the environments became richer and the load time when starting a new planet was much faster. When they mention adding VR support in the future, I believe they’ll do it. Planet Nomads as a VR game would be a beautiful, incredible experience.
While previewing Planet Nomads, I created about 20 different planets to explore, and the starting biome of each planet was similar. I started in a temperate forest with dense, spring-green vegetation and sparkling, blue water. The color schemes are magnificent and textures of the tree bark are striking. However, the game is demanding on the system graphically, most likely due to the procedural generation of the landscape. With my PC setup, I can usually play games on Ultra settings, but I experienced steady, low frame rates when ran at Medium or higher settings. Even with the most recent update, I have to run the game on the lowest possible settings to get a frame rate above 40 FPS. The developers seem well aware of the issue, and the Planet Nomads FAQs state that “optimizations is a big priority”.
Games are always hard to review at this stage, but Planet Nomads will be an interesting one to follow. It’s definitely of an Early Access quality, but it’s off to a great start. If you enjoy providing feedback to developers, coming up with interesting new ideas for them to try, or even attempting to “break” games, you can find Planet Nomads in Early Access on Steam or GOG in May 2017. If you want a game that’s ready to play, this one may not be for you. Not yet. There is plenty of potential though, and it’s encouraging to see a development team as communicative and transparent as Craneballs.
A PC preview copy of Planet Nomads was provided by Craneballs for the purpose of this review