Xbox One, PS4, PC, Nintendo Switch
October 10, 2020
The Survivalists is a sandbox survival game developed and published by Team17. The game comes with a single-player mode and an online co-op mode that lets you play together with up to three friends. As the title indicates, The Survivalists’ premise is all about exploring, gathering resources, and crafting tools in order to survive.
With bright and colourful pixel graphics and a great soundtrack, it was easy for me to dive straight into the game. The environment is beautifully rendered and the game loses no time throwing you straight into the action. When you boot up a new game, you’ll find yourself stranded on a desert island. Through short and concise tutorial prompts, you’ll immediately learn how to gather food, craft simple tools, and explore your surroundings.
While you start a playthrough with one simple crafting menu for rudimentary tools and materials, you’ll quickly unlock more complex crafting menus as you progress through the game. Initially, most items I found myself crafting ranged from primitive axes to rope and straw, but once I had completed the simple materials’ crafting skill tree, I unlocked more advanced recipes for creating and building blueprints. This allowed me to craft more complex things like campfires, chests, furniture, and weapons. It also enabled me to make more complicated crafting tools like a forge or a crafting bench, which in turn, unlocked more specific crafting menus once built. While I felt that the tutorials could’ve been clearer in places, it’s easy enough to figure out the game’s crafting mechanics on the fly.
Similarly to Team17’s previous release, the Escapists, the Survivalists mixes open-world mechanics with puzzle and sandbox elements. Once you start exploring your island, you’ll quickly discover mysterious dungeons and catacombs that contain puzzles and otherworldly enemies. However, everything you do in The Survivalists revolves around crafting in some way or another. To traverse these catacombs successfully, you’ll need to craft good enough weapons to survive them. Once you do, you can expect to find unique resources at the end of each dungeon that’ll allow you to craft rare weapons or tools.
While the game’s tools themselves are fun to craft and use, one of the things that makes crafting endlessly more interesting is the use of monkeys. Scattered all over the island, these monkeys are either trapped in caves or ruins or roaming the beaches, looking for food. If you can help them in some way, by giving them specific items or by setting them free, you’ll gain a monkey’s trust and they’ll join you on your island journey.
The more monkeys you recruit, the more crafting, gathering, and fighting you can delegate. The game lets you teach monkeys how to copy your behaviour through a dedicated menu, and if you set things up strategically you can teach the monkeys all the things you know. It didn’t take me long to have a whole monkey empire set up, where I had some cooking my meals, others crafting my furniture, and a few extra ones acting as my personal bodyguards.
“…it’s easy to get lost in The Survivalists’ quirky and colourful pixel world.”
The personal bodyguards are especially handy when you’re exploring ruins or caves. Enemies in The Survivalists are relatively easy to defeat initially, but as you start exploring more ruins, you’ll encounter enemies in larger groups more often. If you don’t have a few monkeys to back you up in a fight, it’s easy to get overwhelmed. There are also dungeon-like labyrinths to be explored. Each labyrinth needs to be unlocked with a specific key. You can find labyrinths spread across different islands, and you’ll need to keep exploring the surrounding seas in order to find them all.
For me, the bulk of my time in The Survivalists was either spent crafting, exploring, or training monkeys. It’s a good thing that the crafting game loop is a fun and engrossing one, since the gameplay can feel aimless at times. While you’re free to do things in your own time and at your own pace, there doesn’t seem to be a clearly articulated goal in the game. Initially, when you’re still figuring out how to craft different things, it’s easy to get carried away with building increasingly complex structures. I found that this eventually culminated into building a wooden raft, which enabled me to go exploring different islands and sail across the ocean. Discovering new regions with new enemies and threats was enormously satisfying, but after reaching that milestone I found myself wondering what to do next.
Undoubtedly to add structure to the sandbox-driven gameplay, the developers have added treasure maps to your inventory. These mini quests will have you searching an island for a treasure chest containing a tool or set of resources. You can unlock more treasure maps by picking up messages in bottles on the beach, or by talking to a shopkeeper who shows up in different locations on the islands and offers rewards in exchange for different kinds of items. I found this a great way to keep me on my toes and offer some structure to my experience, without complicating things unnecessarily.
Especially when playing with a friend, it’s easy to get lost in The Survivalists’ quirky and colourful pixel world and explore different ruins and labyrinths together. While there is no clearly formulated end goal in The Survivalists, it quickly became clear to me that it isn’t a game about plot or linearity. Instead, it feels like the focus is on exploring, pottering around different islands, and experimenting. And when there’s so much to see in your immediate environment, that goal was more than enough for me.
- Beautiful pixel graphics
- Great crafting mechanics
- Lots of areas to explore
- Great soundtrack
- Gameplay can feel aimless
- Tutorials could be clearer in places
The Survivalists is a great sandbox game that will have you exploring for hours, whether you’re playing by yourself or with friends. With its engaging and colourful pixelated environment, it’s easy to while away the hours roaming the game’s beaches or sailing the seas. If you don’t mind a non-linear gaming experience and you’re not afraid to explore the world in your own time, this game will be a joy to play.