August 14, 2020
Factorio is a game that’s been culminating a lot of love ever since releasing onto Steam as an Early Access title back in 2016. It’s a game that allows players to get lost within the 2D world, always striving to push the boundaries and take their production lines to the next level. It’s a game that can feel limitless yet daunting as you build and iterate upon your automated factories, becoming absorbed within the ever increasing complexity and logistical simulation. Now that the game has finally released as a complete, 1.0 product, I decided to pop in and try it out for myself.
Personally, I am fascinated by Factorio. At the same time, I have to admit this is a style of game that’s niche on a fundamental gameplay level. The moment to moment loop of Factorio is likely to be unappealing for many people. You might find this complex resource management simulator immediately intriguing, you might even love it unreservedly. However you might also be bored to the point of never touching it again. While I love this game, I can’t fault anyone who comes down on that second camp.
Whether you’ll enjoy Factorio comes down to your personal attitude towards fiddly, time-consuming busywork. The gameplay loop of Factorio is, by design, a chore. You have crash-landed on an alien world and must build a spaceship to escape. Unfortunately you don’t know how to build a spaceship, which means in addition to gathering raw materials for construction you will also need to build and maintain research laboratories and work through a long tech tree to unlock literal rocket science.
“The only way to keep up with the mounting demands of furthering your research while meeting resource demands will be to increase the size and efficiency of your base”
Resource gathering in Factorio will be familiar to anyone who’s played RTS games like Age of Empires or Starcraft. Veins of ore dot the landscape along with forests to harvest for wood and reservoirs to drain for crude oil. Most resources you collect will be useless in its base form so you’ll need to construct furnaces and assembly lines to process your haul into finished components like copper wire and circuitry. Powering your burgeoning factory will require constructing and maintaining a power plant as well as keeping it fed with a steady supply of fuel. Gathering enough material to build and fuel your base is made made possible by constructing automatic drills, conveyor belts, and manufacturing plants that each require their own resources and will further strain your power supply. The only way to keep up with the mounting demands of furthering your research while meeting resource demands will be to increase the size and efficiency of your base, building more machinery to sustain more growth. Advancing down the tech tree will take hordes of gathered resources and hundreds of fabricated research materials over many in-game hours.
I wasn’t far into Factorio when I got the sense that progress was going to be slow. My power plants drove the drills that mined the copper that I smelted into ingots and spooled into wire and laid into sheets of steel to produce the circuit boards that control the armatures that load copper ore into my smelting furnaces. This is what it took for me just to get a steady supply of steel and copper ingots, and from there more complicated systems had to be fed these materials to produce the even more refined research products used to fuel my laboratories. I thought I could relate this to other resource and time management games I’ve played like Stardew Valley. Although after getting deeper into Factorio’s layered crafting system I learned that was clearly not a suitable comparison. The sheer number of steps to get from point A to point B in Factorio requires patience and, potentially, a flowchart. Stardew Valley is excellent and relaxing while Factorio is excellent and work. Putting aside Stardew Valley then, the closest thing I can liken Factorio too is heavily modded Minecraft. If you ever played with the mods that allowed you to build automatic mining and sorting systems to extract coal and feed it through your processing facility to fabricate diamonds then you should absolutely check this out.
It’s not just building that you’ll be focused on, however, as you’ll quickly find that a local population of giant insects don’t take kindly to you efforts to expand into their territory. The more you build and burn fuel, the more pollution you’ll spread into the surrounding area. This growing cloud will attract swarms of tick-like armoured insects to destroy your infrastructure or attack you directly. You can meet this threat defensively by researching technology for walls and turrets to fortify your base, or go on the attack with an assortment of hand-held or vehicle-mounted weaponry to destroy their hives. If you invest enough in science and military research you can fully commit to your desecration of the local ecosystem by constructing and launching tactical nuclear warheads to wipe attack bases from the map in a blink of an eye.
One thing that caught me by surprise was how customisable your game can be within the framework of Factorio. In addition to choosing whether your map will be on an island or large plain, you can individually customise everything from enemy spawn rates and group size to the effect pollution has on plantlife and the size and distribution of ore veins. This allows you to tweak each run of Factorio to suit your preferences and can make the game easier when you’re starting out or much, much more punishing depending on your preferences. Personally I created a second map with enemies heavily nerfed to play when I’m feeling easily distracted or not quite up to facing the threat of enemies destroying my precious little base.
And, after a short time, my base was precious to me. When insects attack it wasn’t just a nuisance, it was a threat to the little hard-won progress I’d managed to scrape from the wasteland. When a drill site was destroyed it disrupted a balanced loop of connected systems I’d designed and crafted—it was a personal insult. The turrets and walls I built provided more than convenience in holding back the swarm; they defined a small patch of land as my one relatively safe refuge on an inhospitable planet. Personally, I found the loop of reinforcing my staging area and carefully managing resources and production and venturing out in my armoured buggy when necessary decidedly calming. Factorio invites a relaxed attitude compared to other RTS games I’ve played, still requiring attention but paced less frantically. It’s a game that asks you to take your time, and for me it’s time I’ve been happy to give it. Right now a structured, logical system I can find some sense of control in is a welcome fantasy.
- A complex web of crafting to really sink your teeth into.
- Incredibly detailed customisation allows you to tailor each run to your preferences.
- A perfect game to get fixated on if you find escapism in immersive, structured systems.
- The slow-paced grind will be off-putting for some players.
- An unlucky spawn with inconveniently placed resources can make starting a run much harder than usual.
If you enjoy learning systems and refining processes to maximise efficiency, enjoy getting into the weeds with min-maxing numbers, and have a tolerance for or enjoyment of repetition in a gameplay loop then you might be exactly the right person to enjoy Factorio. I understand anyone who would be turned off by Factorio’s slow pace and grind; it’s a core feature here while grinding for most people is fundamentally unenjoyable and a mark against a game. All this said, if immersing yourself in this complex system sounds interesting to you I wholly recommend giving Factorio a chance. There’s a very narrow niche this game occupies but it hits its mark so well; if this kind of game is your jam then Factorio will be your rare gem.