Satisfactory: With Kids!
My wife and I don’t have kids of our own, so I tend to take advantage of my sizable population of nieces and nephews when I can. If my wife’s family can manage just a couple more, we should have enough for a pair of regiments and can begin force on force engagement training…
Uh. Disregard last. The Sergeant comes out sometimes and I get a little side tracked. This article is about Satisfactory, and I need to get back on topic.
I had a chance to play for a few days with one of my nephews and get a sense of how the game might work as something that I could enjoy with the kids in the family. The short of it is that while there’s some room for improvement, it’s pretty good. Today I’ll be taking a look at some of the standout things that I liked about the game as an adult, some of the things I picked up while playing with my nephew that might be worth passing along, and explore some of the simple changes that Coffee Stain Studios might make to enhance the long-term sustainability of the game.
If you like games like Factorio, you’re going to really enjoy Satisfactory. It’s really that simple. For my fellow nerds who enjoy building huge structures and complex layouts to automate tasks, Satisfactory is a serious scratch for that hard to reach itch.
Built using Unreal Engine 4, the game runs a lot more smoothly that I might have expected. It’s very solid work for a relatively small studio that came to fame with a game called Goat Simulator. The Swedes know their business, though. They’ve proved their chops with rolling out a very well-developed game, despite switching genres yet again.
The 30 square-kilometers of pre-generated terrain is a lot more interesting to explore than I had initially expected. I thought from some of the streams and videos I’d watched that it was a nice-looking world, but I realized it was even better than I’d expected once I’d spent a little time playing it. You’ll find a number of biomes that blend into each other relatively naturally, which is to say the biomes aren’t perfect squares in given quadrants, but rather extend at odd angles and shapes to merge into each other in interesting patterns. There are also caverns and interesting topographical features that make exploring rewarding and enjoyable.
I sometimes get frustrated with games that include vehicles because with maps being finite, vehicles usually just make the game feel smaller and that’s typically a bad thing. Satisfactory is built on a scale that’s nearly the size of modern Arma maps, though. You need vehicles to travel larger distances, help haul equipment, and then there’s automation.
Vehicle automation might be one of the cooler aspects of the game. Players can drive various vehicles between points using a system of nodes to map out the route. That truck can then be automated to drive the plotted route and thus be used to automate resource transportation between points.
As if that wasn’t cool enough, though. You can also get trains. Placing down tracks and setting up a system of rail transport in first person is awesome. Things are a little buggy at the moment, but nothing that can’t be worked out over time. The concept is brilliant, and there’s nothing about the system that suggests to me that any of the glitches will be difficult to correct.
The tech tree is also deeper than it seems at first glance. While there are only eight tiers to the tech path, each tier includes several milestones that focus on smaller specific upgrades. One milestone to upgrade power options, another to allow processing of more advanced material, and another for better automation, for instance. Unlocking each milestone and tier is the driving force for the game. Each requires more advanced components, and each of those requires greater number of the smaller components. The progressive system of using what you unlocked in the last tier to create the things needed to unlock the latest tier means you’re constantly expanding your factory to automate a new process by expanding on the old industrial base.
The nice thing about that tiered system is that it breaks progression down into smaller and more manageable chunks while still leaving some room for conversation. Playing with my nephew, I found that I could focus on automating the bulk of what we needed or would need in the next tier. While I worked on that, I could let him pick which milestone in the current tier we worked on next. That constantly gave him a sense of contribution to the game, and I think was a good learning experience, as well. I asked him to tell me why he wanted to unlock one milestone over another, and I think asking him to think about and justify his decisions really helped encourage him to process information logically and gain a deeper understanding of the decision-making process.
I did make one mistake while playing with the nephew, though. I went in knowing that we’d need to automate a large number of things and would need to automate along different tracks. Copper needed to be refined into wire and then cable, while iron needed to be turned into sheets and rods, for instance. I’d initially planned to let my nephew take over one chain while I worked on another.
That didn’t really go so well. I think for older kids, that’d definitely be the way to go. My nephew in this instance was only 9, though. He wasn’t exactly ready to venture out on his own and make it big in the cruel world by bootstrapping his own industrial venture. I found that it was better for me to take on all the strategic vision and just task him out for specific missions. With a goal to accomplish, he was tickled to contribute, and it gave me a lot of opportunities to brag on him and tell him that he’d done a good job.
Of course, with him being 9, if that task involved jumping on the tractor and driving to another location to pick up resources, he was very happy to be helpful. If sometimes that tractor ender up in the lake… well, he’s only 9 and he isn’t growing up driving tractors in real life like his red-necked uncle (who might have also put a tractor or two in the pond when he was younger).
Another great thing about Satisfactory that parents who know about Goat Simulator will be happy to hear, is that there’s no vulgar language in Satisfactory that I’ve seen. It’s also just not a silly game that uses goofy physics as the main source of entertainment. I think Satisfactory is one of those games you might want your kids playing because I think it helps develop problem-solving skills and enhances a kid’s innate grasp of logic. The crafting system is effectively a giant dynamically changing Boolean algebra problem, after all.
Besides basic bugs and glitches, there are a few issues that Coffee Stain should consider, in my maybe-not-exactly-humble opinion. I love the game as is and would recommend it even if they never issued another update, but there are a few things that could give the game a little more sustainability.
For one, I’d like to see a slightly more aggressive PvE component to the game. Related to that, they also need to implement some sort of respawn for critters. When you kill critters currently, they never respawn after their death. They’re only needed for the research options that you can do as an aside to unlocking the main tiers and there’s more than enough for that. Respawns would be the first step in creating some needed opposition in the game, though.
Playing with Lego is fun, but Minecraft proved a long time ago that Lego with just a touch of adversity is even more fun. Plus, adding turrets and different types of defenses would create more options for expanded tech, which would make the game even deeper and increase the number of things that could be built.
Another big improvement would be the option to have a dedicated server. As it is, if any of the kids want to play together (and they usually want to do it on the same server that I’ve been playing on), I have to start the game, login, and then invite them all into the server (which is actually my client). Satisfactory runs in the background a lot and if I’m not at home and am busy, then they’re just out of luck. I’d really like to throw up a dedicated server that they can connect to and enjoy any time they like.
Satisfactory is an excellent game that I’d easily recommend to folks who have kids they enjoy sharing games with. The game has enough depth that adults aren’t bored and there are enough simple tasks to do that even relatively younger kids have a chance to contribute. I think there’s a lot of learning opportunity here, as well.
If you’re an adult without kids, I think you’d probably also enjoy the game. If you like those games like Factorio, Screeps, and other automation-type games, it’s a no brainer. You definitely want to play this game. How long you’ll play it is the main question.
I think the tech tree is deep enough that you’ll get your money’s worth out of a single play-through, but the option to start in other places on the map and to attempt the game again to make a more efficient base than the previous run make it likely that you won’t stop with just the one time through. If the developers add in a little more PvE and a touch of randomness to the game, the replay probability jumps dramatically. We’ll just have to wait and see where they go on that end.
As for now, I need to go see if I can put rails around the water. The developers say you can have an infinite number of vehicles and a certain someone is doing their best to test that statement. Worst case, it’s about to get to the point where new tractors will be able to cross without getting their tires wet. He’s only nine… He’s only nine… …and he’s now discovered that you can drive off of the cliffs in-game…