Population Zero is an upcoming survival MMORPG set on a distant planet called Kepler. This is the first ambitious project from developers Enplex Games based out in Moscow. As a colonist stranded on this alien planet, players have 168 hours (one week) to gather enough supplies to repair their hibernation pod or else succumb and turn into feral mutants. I’ve had the opportunity to get hands-on with Population Zero ahead of its Early Access launch on May 5, and here are my impressions.
That’s one small step for man…
Logging in to a survival game for the first time is always daunting, but Population Zero eases that by immediately having an easy to follow tutorial pop up on screen. My first thoughts in-game were, “Wow, this is giving me some strong The Outer Worlds vibes,” due to having a very similar premise. I stood in front of a crashed pod on an alien world with nothing but the clothes on my back. I scoured the pod for some items – including a metal bar I could use as a weapon – and I continued along, following the tutorial’s instructions.
The beginning of Population Zero teaches various aspects like how to attack, collecting resources, crafting, and the thirst meter. It’s all pretty standard fare for a survival game, but I appreciated the simplicity in which it introduced and taught the mechanics. Soon after leaving the tutorial zone, I started exploring the world and headed towards where the hub was marked on my map. Unfortunately, I didn’t last more than five minutes and was quickly massacred by some wild fauna. Luckily, I happened to respawn inside the hub that I was headed towards.
The world of Kepler in Population Zero is honestly pretty bland to look at. Its color is mostly composed of muted tans and reds, with a splash of gray to dull things out. I have encountered a few varied biomes that spices things up, like a toxic marshy area and a serene oasis pool, but those areas are few and far between in the areas surrounding the main hub. A lot of the plants remind me of things I would see in No Man’s Sky, like tall pillar coral that stretch up into the sky or the grass that look like staghorn coral. In fact, a lot of the plants look like they would be more at home on a coral reef rather than on a desert-like alien planet.
An ever-evolving world
At the main hub, I was able to learn more about this planet as well as what had happened for us to wind up here. Apparently, our spaceship was sent to colonize this planet, dubbed “second earth”, as part of some flagship Artemis mission when all of a sudden it mysteriously crashed landed. On this planet, when nighttime falls every seven days any human that is exposed will mutate and turn into a creature called a Void. In order to prevent that fate, you must secure a hibernation pod for yourself by the time night falls.
Therein lies the whole premise and gimmick of Population Zero. The game world resets every week, wiping character progress, and players will earn experience that goes towards an overall account level. Different game modes are available for higher level players, like a PvP mode at level 2 or an Ironman mode, which must be earned instead of just being immediately available. I like this system of having different game modes at higher levels, but I have yet to see how any of it will pan out.
I do really like the technology tree system that Population Zero uses in lieu of a level system for characters. When you scan new wildlife or discover new plants, you increase your rank in certain sciences like botany, geology, or zoology. In addition, you earn Theory Points which can be used to learn new recipes to craft. Advanced recipes are locked behind having a higher account level, but I was able to learn most of the beginning recipes up to iron tools. Which is fine because I have yet to discover how to even make iron.
I did encounter quite a few bugs during my time with Population Zero, including clipping through environments, permanent stamina loss and inability to run, text appearing in Russian, and at one point it did crash and quit to desktop. There was one bug in particular that caused quests not to update, so I had no idea what I was supposed to be doing or working towards. As such, I ran around for hours just collecting resources without a real objective in mind. The next time I logged into the game this bug was fixed however, and I started continuing on with fulfilling quests for the hub.
In order to survive by the end of the week, you must have completed enough quests for the hub or gathered enough resources to fix a hibernation pod. To make matters worse, every time you die your character gets closer and closer to mutating into a Void. Once mutated, there is no more respawning - so there is a limit to how many times you can respawn before it’s Game Over for the week. I’m curious to discover if I will be able to gain any experience towards my account level by just playing the game or if I only gain experience for a successful completion of a week.
…One Giant Leap for Mankind
I like the idea of a survival game resetting every week. One of my problem with other survival games, like ARK or Conan Exiles, is how veteran players build up giant fortresses in the starting areas and crowd out new players. With a weekly reset, the slate is wiped clean and players must start over from scratch with a brand-new character. But I can see how it might put some people off that their progress doesn’t get saved. I personally like restarting characters in MMORPGs, so I think that Population Zero is a survival game that I will be coming back to for a while.
Personally, I think it’s too soon to tell what the future holds for Population Zero. I haven’t been able to discover what exactly happens at the end of the week, nor do I have any idea what the PvP looks like. There are plenty of bugs that need to be squished but I think the developers have quite the unpolished gem on their hands. It will remain to be seen how the majority of players will react to progress getting wiped every week, but I think it is an interesting method to ensure an even playing field for newer players to acclimate more easily. I look forward to seeing how it will evolve.
Population Zero launches in Steam Early Access on May 5th and will be available for $29.99.
Note: A copy was provided by PR for review purposes.