Even though I had been hearing it wasn't the most polished experience, I still went into Atlas with faith that it would at least be functional enough to review on its merits. The plan was to play the Early Access pirate-themed MMO long enough that I could compare it to another seafaring adventure, Sea of Thieves, and report on the two games' similarities and differences. However, I quickly realized that Atlas is barely playable in its current state, and comparing it to a game that was released last year wouldn't be fair. But is it fair that Grapeshot Games is charging folks for a game so early in its development cycle without warning of its crude state? On a broader note, is the whole Early Access system being abused?
My experience with Atlas very much reflects that of MMORPG.com's Robert Baddeley. To quote, "I’ve spent over 30 hours simply trying to play ATLAS and about five hours successfully." Like Robert, I spent an agonizing couple of hours spawning underwater, swimming toward the shore, and then being eaten by alligators. And if I made it to shore, I was eaten by lions. If it weren't for some well-meaning locals helping me through the very early stages, I'm not sure I would've had the patience to continue. Performance is shamefully slow for a game that isn't all-that detailed, considering my PC's mid to high-range specs. It's just a hot mess, all around.
It's a tale as old as time, at least in internet years. You watch a game trailer on Steam, disregard the Early Access label and buy the game, only to realize the trailer isn't the most accurate representation. I bought into DayZ back in 2013, and I've yet to see a return in the form of a fully-finished game. ARK: Survival Evolved is another game that spent the near-entirety of its development in a nonfunctional Early Access state, marred by controversies like paid DLC and a pre-release price hike. Even after release, many argue ARK still plays like a game in Early Access, perhaps explaining its dwindling player base.
The problem with Early Access are multifaceted and often individual to each game, however, one major problem lies within the vagueness of its terms. It's true that Steam clearly warns users that an Early Access title is an unfinished game, but developers aren't required to indicate development progress in terms of performance or play-ability. It's also true that Steam implores users to take it upon themselves to determine how any Early Access title plays and performs by looking at screenshots and watching videos, which is a wise idea in any case, but is it really the consumer's responsibility to circumvent the traps of false advertising on Steam?
Make no mistake, I don't have an issue with Atlas being on Steam, even in its rocky condition. What I do question are the ethics of selling an experience without making painfully clear its inexorable flaws.