Survival Sandboxes may not be the trendy genre they once were but there is still a sizable fanbase who really enjoy them, myself included. That said, they have traditionally come with a large subset of issues that have made some of them difficult to be enjoyed by all but the most dedicated players.
Newer ones have made some strides to mitigate these issues and while I’ve seen some great ideas we have yet hit the Magnum Opus of survival sandboxes. You can sidestep some flaws by playing on an unofficial server or renting your own, but that shouldn’t be a requirement to play a game.
Last Oasis is the newest contender to step into the ring and it too is bringing some cool ideas to the table, but before I get to that, let’s go through some of the others and the issues plaguing an entire genre.
I’ve never personally played the granddaddy of the genre Rust, but I know its similar in nature to Ark. I love Ark, it’s broken, buggy and unbalanced but I love it. Those issues aside, the lack of structure is the biggest issue in these two games. While both are playable in PvE, both are more or less built for PvP.
When you combine lawless unrestricted freedom with a huge time-consuming grind, you get a mess of a game. In Ark, you can literally spend six hours taming a single dinosaur, for someone who has played longer to kill it within a few seconds. Worse, you can be offline raided in both games.
If you are at work, school or sleeping, other players can attack and wipe your base without you even being online to defend it. It is an anti-fun mechanic. It is not enjoyable to have everything destroyed while you are offline so you can’t even take part in the PvP. Its also far less fun to raid an unguarded base, but people will do it because it’s easy and has very little risk. We’re programmed to take the path of least resistance, even to the detriment of our own enjoyment.
These games really want you to assimilate into large tribes who then combat each other for supremacy, in reality, that never happens. Instead, a bunch of people form a single large tribe, take over an entire server and refuse to let anyone else play. There is some inherent attraction to the pure lawless freedom, but the lack of structure and consequences just doesn’t work in video-game form.
Conan is very similar to the previous two mentioned games. But it has a little bit more hand guided design to it. Structures have specific times of the day that they can be damaged, making bases safe for a certain amount of time each day. You can also enslave different types of thralls to help you guard your bases and if you’re able to time everything right, you can make sure you are online when the base is under threat of an attack.
You still benefit greatly from a large clan, as the one time you have other obligations when you are able to be raided, you will be. But having at least a little structure goes a long way. I find Conan’s theme to be less interesting than Arks, but it hits a good middle ground. If you have any kind of real-life obligations, your still going to struggle to enjoy it though, unless again, you have a large clan of allies.
Rend took a drastic new spin on the survival sandbox and in my opinion, is one of the best iterations of the concept. They fixed the mega tribe issue by making every server have three tribes coded in. Every player was in one of three tribes, so you always had a faction to play with at the start. They also cleanly sidestepped the offline raid issue. You could always take part in PvP in the world. But your factions main base was shielded most of the time. For a couple of hours every week, the shields would god down, a siege of AI beasts took place and factions were free to engage in siege warfare for a short time after the that before the shields went back up.
It had some issues where sometimes one faction would blow out the others, but it was a very good attempt to tackle the flaws of the genre. Unfortunately, some early exploits were slow at getting fixed which led to a hemorrhage of players. Attempting to stem the bleeding they implemented more traditional normal survival servers and PvE servers, ripping the heart and soul from the game and further fragmenting the dwindling player base. Today Rend is for all intents and purposes, dead in the water. It had a ton of potential, and I’m very sad to see the state that is in.
Last Oasis is coming in September into early access, or you can attempt to get into the beta by joining their official discord. I have high hopes for this one. The focus is more nomadic. Wooden structures can be packed up and you traverse the world on really cool looking walkers. All the facets of the genre are present, crafting, gathering, and warfare. However, assuming you have enough water, you can take your walker into certain zones and log off safely, protecting yourself from the bane of the genre, offline raiding.
Bases could still come under siege, but as I said before wooden ones can be packed up. We will have to see how much the game plays on its nomadic theme. If permanent bases aren’t super important, you can probably play in a manner where offline raiding is never a fear at all.
In Last Oasis the earth has stopped rotating, leaving a small area of livable land.
The economy is player driven and players can enact trade through known oasis’s. But travel can be dangerous with other nomads on the prowl. Combat uses a directional melee combat system as well as walker combat with a variety of armaments, you can even ram other walkers. Nomads have grappling hooks for fancy acrobatics and boarding maneuvers.
Even with the ability to log out safely, Last Oasis may still suffer from the alpha tribe issue other games in the genre have. However Last Oasis claims that solo players and small groups are the “backbone” of the game. It’s possible that the developer, Donkey Crew has it all figured out. They have the past mistakes of every game that came before them to learn from. Perhaps Last Oasis is the “chosen one” of the genre. I certainly hope so.
All that aside, the game itself looks really fun. Where Ark has dinosaurs, Last Oasis has awesome walkers, the way they look when they move is incredibly slick, and you can essentially have “ship” battles on land. I will certainly give you my impressions of the game when I get my hands on it. Until then I would suggest wish listing it on Steam and joining the discord to stay up to date on its development.
The survival genre is one of the most unique in gaming and allows for emergent gameplay you can’t find anywhere else. The formula just needs some tweaking to get the mixture right. Heres hoping Last Oasis has the recipe for a great blend.