Early Access Review | Grounded
When a game goes into Early Access, it’s often because the developers want to acquire feedback to build their true vision. While this is an effective strategy, most games in Early Access try to give a good idea of what consumers can expect in the final product. Grounded, the newest project from Obsidian Entertainment, gives a good first impression, but not much else beyond that. I’ve been hopping in and out of the various builds since July, wanting to get the most of my experience. Shrinking players and putting them in a large backyard is a great idea in concept, but in its current form, even after a few content updates, it still lacks substance. Even though Grounded is in Early Access, it honestly feels like a glorified demo.
Grounded lets you pick one of four teenagers to play as, each with their own personalities, though not much else. Given the current context of story content in the game, this may likely improve. Reduced to the size of an insect, you’ll wake up in an oversized backyard with little knowledge of how you got there. There are tiny research stations here and there, and some data logs, but you don’t get much about the plot until the end of the story segment. Even then, you’re simply told that the story content ends there and that you have to wait for more updates.
There’s a lot of potential here for a good mystery plot, but we don’t get much to go off of. There are no NPC’s to talk to except for a robot named BURG.L. You don’t have any cinematic moments to enhance the plot. It’s more or less a roleplaying game that you create. This is your story and your adventure, but also your survival. That is the true purpose of Grounded’s Early Access. You’re exploring this decent sized sandbox and using the resources to survive against the threats of the average backyard. After two major updates, there’s plenty to do, but not a ton of purpose yet.
Grounded relies heavily on a crafting system for all your essentials. You’ll need to scavenge for materials to build weapons, tools, armor, and even your own base. It’s a lot of crafting, so if it’s not your thing, this might be a bit much for you. Everything has to be made by a player, and aside from a few common materials, most will require a tool to acquire. Need a blade of grass? You’ll need an axe to chop it down. Need a ladybug head? Well you better have a club to take one out. There’s a ton of things to utilize, and part of the game is figuring out what you need for certain tools. It’s a lot to manage, and perhaps too much for one person to do alone.
Thankfully, Grounded offers multiplayer, which at this time, that’s the best thing about the game. Everything becomes much more manageable when you have a few friends along for the ride. You can do a lot more throughout the days, help each other in a fight, and even revive someone that goes down (instead of an instant death when playing solo). Sadly, this mode is pretty much only viable when playing with actual friends. There really isn’t much in the way of playing with complete strangers online, so if you’re looking to enjoy this game, hopefully you have some friends willing to join you.
Another part of the survival aspect is the SCA.B system, which sort of monitors your status and inventory. This helps you keep track of your health, stamina, hunger level, and more. You’ll want to make sure you keep an eye on your SCA.B, because you’ll need to eat from time to time. You’ll also want to watch what you eat, as some items can be detrimental to your health. Overall, it’s a lot of trial and error, and you’ll want to grow accustomed to your options. You also now have mutations that allow you to equip various perks to improve your abilities. This changes the game up a bit, but doesn’t add much to the gameplay outside of convenience.
Combat in the game is interesting, as it’s not exactly thrilling to take part in. Of course, it’s definitely scary to come across a giant spider that can take you out in now time. As far as the actual fights go though, there isn’t a lot of strategy to it. Sometimes it’s just keeping your distance with a bow and arrow, using blunt weapons to stun, or just ganging up on something with your friends. Despite not offering much gameplay variety, combat can still get pretty intense. With survival as the focus, you’ll often want to do everything you can to stay alive.
As you explore the backyard, you’ll come across plenty of landmarks and points of interest. If you work with BURG.L, you’ll be able to take on various missions to earn Raw Science. With Raw Science, you can redeem it for upgrades and various blueprints to improve your options for survival. The biggest issue with this is a lot of the stuff is pretty expensive and requires a lot of Raw Science to acquire. This means it’s a bit of a grind to get some of the cooler items, and with no way to really try it out, it could end up being a big waste of your time. The game needs to have a way to reward you with more Raw Science if it’s going to make it worthwhile for players.
Finally, getting to the updates in the game. The first major update added a giant crow to the game, which of course added new items. Utilizing crow feathers that drop, you can make things like the Marksman Cap or stronger arrows. The more recent pond update added more aquatic life to the pond, including a whale sized Koi fish. New materials and new underwater mechanics help to make things interesting, but you need special tools and weapons here too. These updates also added new base options and more things to craft overall. It’s nice to see the world grow, but the game needs to give more story to motivate the player. Without that, this is just a test of survival just to say you can.
When it comes to survival in the Early Access for Grounded, I don’t know if I have the patience for it. It’s fun with friends for a bit, but otherwise, there’s not a lot to keep me going. There’s a ton of potential with this concept, but it needs more narrative. It feels similar to how Fallout 76 started, but with less players in the mix. Of course, this is still an Early Access title, so there’s plenty of time to add the much needed spice. With 2021 just starting, hopefully Obsidian can find what they need to hook players with Grounded before the official launch. Until then, if you have some time to kill with friends, it’s at least worth a venture on Xbox Game Pass.
Early Access Score: 6.5 out of 10
Early Access Scores don’t represent the final score of the game, as things are subject to change. We will provide an official final score once the game launches. This score simply stands for the current experience.