The design of this game is pulled in two direction. On one hand, it wants to be a lightly comical ‘story generator,’ as it says on the menu screen. ‘Twists and turns! Watch your people be eaten by geese and fall in love!’ On the other, it wants to have relatively tight gameplay about logistics. ‘If your planting zones are too big you’ve done messed up your optimization.’ These two demands kind of conflict with each other.
After about 50 hours of play, I never really encountered the content freedom that made my runs feel unique, like a generated story. There aren’t 100 bizarre plot twists that occur, like weird obelisks that mesmerize you or mysterious wanderers. On the other hand, the ‘plot’ that does happen — getting sick or a prisoner making a break for it — sometimes seem silly for silly’s sake, and after enough time becomes subsumed to pretty regular gameplay. Often these happen as ‘tick’ events, as taming an animal takes X tries at Y percent of success to reach Z quantity — not exactly a story generator.
Worse is that the time-scale is pretty unforgiving. There is an element of ‘Haha can you believe my best colonist died because a cougar bit off his hand!?!’ but then the hours and hours of progression is in danger. The game seems to not want you to reload, to let things play out, but for me the game is paced a little too slowly and can go wrong so fast, that it just seems a little off. Reloading isn’t fun, but then again, neither is accidentally hitting someone with a grenade after 15 hours of hard work, setting you back hours and hours.
Another negative for me is that it’s a bit too much of a sandbox for starting conditions. Ostensibly, you’re running a base of crashlanded strangers on a border planet. But you always crash land with the same materials, you get to pick exactly where you land, you can re-roll all your characters (for hours if you want, if you’re psycho like me). I tend to like beating ‘official’ challenges, and the freedom here (LOTS of opportunity for meta play at the beginning, i.e. rerolling, restarting) was not a plus for me, and seemed to contradict the story-generator sense.
(I eventually installed the ‘Prepare Carefully’ mod. If you can re-roll ad nauseum, why not just spare yourself the time? This mod lets you create a character within self-imposed limits. (i.e. attributes worth 1,500 points total))
Overall, as my first foray into this kind of game, it was accessible and engrossing for a while. But 50 hours in, I’m starting to grow a bit critical and frustrated with the game. That being said, I’ve picked this game up off and on for a while now, so it’s obviously hit me from an unexpected angle.
Bottom line, if you’re trying to be careful with the games you spend time with (so little life, too many games), I’d consider being wary with it.